Scientist Predicts 'Parasitic' Networks

Posted by Peter Cochrane on April 12, 2002

By Kevin Coughlin, The Star-Ledger
Friday, April 12, 2002

The words "computer" and "virus" usually spell trouble.

But digital communications are about to go viral -- and that's good news, said a British expert who sketched a vision of "parasitic networking" yesterday in Newark.

Peter Cochrane, former chief technologist for British Telecom Labs, described a near future in which information will hop among personal gadgets, homes and even taxi cabs, to the Internet.

No more fumbling for wall jacks. No more searching for mobile phone coverage.

"It's going to be a new society, where things become the network," Cochrane, 55, said at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. "It's going to look very biological. This is how somebody sneezes and influenza is propagated."

Cochrane spoke at a daylong conference to mark the first year of NJIT's College of Computing Sciences.

He was joined by Ben Schneiderman, a software design guru from the University of Maryland who urged the public to demand simpler, more reliable products from the computer industry.

Another speaker, Peter Freeman, dean of computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said he will try to promote computing careers to U.S. students when he takes a new job at the National Science Foundation.

Freeman said the field is increasingly dominated by foreign students, who get their education here but take their skills home.

Cochrane, a high school dropout, spent years as a telephone lineman before struggling to earn an engineering degree.

A co-founder of ConceptLabs, a startup incubator, he ranks among the tech world's most widely quoted futurists. His predictions include a form of electronic immortality dubbed the Soul Catcher.

Cochrane contends advances in sensors and storage devices will let people record every moment of their lives. Then, their essence can be shared with coming generations -- who might even "converse" with these digi-souls, via artificial intelligence programs that generate likely responses from a lifetime of data.

"It's going to happen," said Cochrane, who expects brain implants will be routine within 25 years.

Kevin Coughlin can be reached at kcoughlin@starledger.com or (973) 392-1763.