Internet World: Intel's vision: 3-D, talking Internet

Here's what the future of the Internet looks like for a computer chip maker: everything's 3-D, requires immensely fast servers and accepts voice commands.

Well, this is Intel Corp. after all. And a presentation by senior vice president Sean Maloney Wednesday morning at Spring Internet World in Los Angeles rather predictably focused on the way next-generation processors can solve many of the problems that are cropping up as the Internet becomes more widespread in business and personal life.

For example, how to cut down on the information overload that comes with the vast amounts of content flying around on e-mail and the World Wide Web? Simple: just represent all the information in flashy, rotating 3-D carousels, as Excite Corp. does with a new service called Excite Extreme. "This is, needless to say, very computationally intensive," Maloney said. "So we've all got, as you have at home, a 500 MHz Pentium III. There will be a lot of these around by the end of the year, I hope."

3-D can also be used to enhance the e-commerce experience, giving customers realistic constructions of consumer products that they can examine before buying. The Sharper Image is already using such a system on its site.

Maloney also demonstrated an application for accessing SQL databases using plain-English terms. The complex relational databases usually require a complex programming language. The system can even accept voice commands, a feature Intel clearly sees as an integral part of future Internet use. For example, the spoken words "get me a pie chart showing sales by category" instantly generated a graphical table.

Other key problems Maloney identified were a faster, more reliable Internet infrastructure and ubiquitous online access. Web servers need to be able to handle immense traffic spikes, just as the telephone system does. "One of the great fears in the banking industry is that at five minutes after midnight on Jan. 1, 2000, everybody is going to wonder whether the Y2K bug wiped out their bank balance," Maloney said. "Compare that traffic to five minutes before midnight, when everyone is having a toast of champagne." One answer to this problem is to build more powerful servers, with faster processors, he suggested.

In the home, fast processors could make Web access practical where it wasn't before. In the kitchen, people could use voice-recognition and voice-synthesis software to access recipe information on the Web, without having to deal with a mouse or keyboard, Maloney said. "If it's easy to use, you could make an argument for having an Internet connection in every room in your home," he said.