The Communication Revolution Has Not Started Yet


KEMA Conference - October 26, 1993


The communication revolution has not started yet. We think we are in themiddle of it because of rapid progress in cinema, telephone, televisionand the media in general.

More recently we have seen spectacular progress in the fields of fax, cellularphones, portable computers, satellite broadcasting. 

But this evolution is not in proportion with the coming revolution.

Twenty years ago, science fiction writers and futurologists told us aboutthe information utilities. They promised flat television screens, Dick Tracywrist watches with video screens. Nothing of this has happened yet. 

But twenty five years of research and development are leading today towardsan explosion of the field of communication. 

Computer, television and telephone are merging into systems and planetarynetworks. These networks will have a deep impact on society and on the waywe work.

I History of the information revolution 

1- Biological evolution 

Biosystems are communication systems. They use information to harness energy.Communication is based on chemistry. Molecules are exchanged between cells.Animals communicate through odours, colours, postures. The intricate communicationsystems of animals and plants create the cycles of the ecosystem.

Insects communicate through chemicals. Bees, ants have developped a complexsocial structure and organization. A collective intelligence emerges fromthe behaviour of millions of individuals.

Cells communicate through molecules using receptors and networks. 

The nervous, immune and hormonal systems function through chemical informationexchange.

2- Social evolution

Man is a communication machine building society. There were several stepsin its technological evolution : extension outside the body of certain tools,integration and acceleration.

Extension : TV is the extension of the eye. Radio, of the ear. The tool,of the hand. The computer, of the brain.

Speech started first. Then came writing 5000 years ago. Industrialisationof writing through printing is 500 years old. Audiovisual and computer technology,about 50 years old. Digital networks only 5 years. A tremendous acceleration. 

Now these systems integrate into global networks : economy and industry,through telecommunication and satellites. 

3- Planetary evolution

We are slowly creating a global organism. 

The first phase was survival, then development and from now on : sustainabledevelopment. (Slide 1)

· Survival was based of agriculture and solar renewable energy. 

· Development, on the harnessing of energy (mostly fossil fuels)and the creation of industry. This led to centralized, taylorised, specializedorganizations. 
The symbols of this era are : the car, steel industry, highways and concrete.
The major industries are energy intensive and based on the creation of infrastructures.

· Sustainable development has start ed with the communication societybased on information and computer networks. It is based on decentralizedstructures. 
The symbols are the chip, the computer and the electronic highways.
The major industries are information intensive and based on the creationof infostructures.

Progressively we are building a global planetary nervous system which Ihave called the "planetary brain". 

II The communication revolution

1- Why now ?

Science and technology have progressed during the last twenty five yearsof R&D. This has created a cumulative effect. 

There are five major reasons for the communication revolution :

a) Digitization and compression of data.

b) New powerful 64 bits chips.

c) Multimedia software making easier the interface between men andcomputer .

d) Hybride machines. For example: hybrides created by the fusion oftelevision, computers and telephone. The happening of multimedia and prefer ablyunimedia.

e) Powerful networks. Public and private.

2- How does it happen ? 

· There is a cross catalysis phenomenon. Plurimedia is just puttingtogether several different media. Unimedia is the integration of all mediainto one.

The classical sectors : printing, telephone, computer and audiovisual mergeinto one sector. (Slide 2 and 3)

· Industry and markets fuse into one global sector of communications.Particularly catalyzed by interactive multimedia television. I call thisfield "Videomatics". (Slide 4)

3- Who are the actors ? 

They come from television, cable, publishing, education, computers, telephonecompanies in the US, Europe and Japan.

The technical fields merge and creates an explosion of unimedia information.(Slide 5) 

4- What does it represent ?

New services and new products.

The communication revolution has not started yet ! 

For example :

· The home : around the years 1998-2000, we will have flat TVscreens, voice access to computers and television. The PC/TV, a televisionwith computer power. Possibility of printing from the television screen.1000 services of television through telephone lines with access to film,education, professional training, buying.

There will be new software for navigation into this hypermedia data bank. 

· The office : it will have desktop videoconference, cordlessphones, portable multimedia PC. The virtual office will link several companiesin different countries.

The virtual laboratory will allow people to work together through groupwaresoftware.

Virtual communication networks with electronic mail including graphics andimage.

· Public sector : certain functions of the energy, transportationand telecommunication networks will merge.

Infostructures and infrastructures will meet.

For instance : energy will use the power networks for telemetry.

Transport ation will use computers for controling traffic in the intelligenthighway systems (IHS)

Telecommunication will use the TV cable for telephone. 

III Impact on society and markets

1- The human and market impact will be huge through planetary developments.

a) The reverse marketing concept means that consumers will expresstheir will through the networks in real time.

b) Leadership will not be centralized but shared in a network.
c) Organization will move from hierarchical to fractal. 
d) Training will have to be adapted to complexity. 
e) Management of complex systems will move from cartesian logic tosystemic logic.

2- Risks and dangers of the communication revolution. 

· Complexity and information pollution will create "infojams".

· There will be a widening gap between the information richesand the information poors.

· The network will be fragile. Risk of viruses, pirates and breakdowns.

· There will be a risk of superficiality in the network with constantzapping and "channels surfing". Isolation of the users in their"electronic bubble".

· There is a risk of Big Brother finding out what people are doingconstantly through electronic surveillance (cedit cards, car tolls, TV programming,access to data banks) 

IV Future trends

Man/machine interface will improve through voice input, expert systems,miniaturized circuits.

"Agents" will help to interface man with computer with more "userfriendliness"

Virtual reality and cyberspace will create new opportunities for markets,architecture, medecine. But the risk of "virtual cloning" (electronicallyduplicating an individual) will be real. 

Molecular electronics will allow to build "wet computers" capableto interface with human systems.

The merging of infostructures and infrastructures will create a mega biology. 

Conclusion :

How can we handle such a communication revolution ?

The risk in Europe is the standardization of cultures and the incompatibilityof networks. But the real challenge is the reverse : diversity of culturesand standardization of communication networks. 

Our capability to handle the communication revolution will not come onlyfrom technology alone but from a set of values, meaning and ethics.


Joël de Rosnay 

Director of Strategy

Cité des Sciences et de l'Insdustrie – La Villette – Paris – France 

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