The development of the National Information Infrastructure is not an end in itself; it is a means by which the United States can achieve a broad range of economic and social goals. Although the NII is not a "silver bullet" for all of the problems we face, it can make an important contribution to our most pressing economic and social challenges.
This infrastructure can be used by all Americans, not just by scientists and engineers. As entrepreneurs, factory workers, doctors, teachers, federal employees, and citizens, Americans can harness this technology to:
This is not a far-fetched prediction. As shown below, our current information infrastructure is already making a difference in the lives of ordinary Americans, and we have just begun to tap its potential.
The National Information Infrastructure will help create high-wage jobs, stimulate economic growth, enable new products and services, and strengthen America's technological leadership. Whole new industries will be created, and the infrastructure will be used in ways we can only begin to imagine. Below are some of the potential benefits to the U.S. economy:
Although there are no definitive estimates for the total number of U.S. jobs the deployment of the NII will create, it is clear that it has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of jobs. For example:
Industry experts believe that the Personal Communications Services industry, a new family of wireless services, could create as many as 300,000 jobs in the next 10-15 years. The development of this industry will be accelerated by the Emerging Telecommunications Technology Act, which was signed by President Clinton as part of the budget package.
The NII will serve as the driver for a wide variety of technologies, such as semiconductors, high-speed networking, advanced displays, software, and human/computer interfaces such as speech recognition.
This technology will be used to create exciting new products and services, strengthening U.S. leadership in the electronics and information technology sector. For example, experts envision the production of powerful computers that will be held in the palm of our hand, "as mobile as a watch and as personal as a wallet, ... [they] will recognize speech, navigate streets, take notes, keep schedules, collect mail, manage money, open the door and start the car, among other computer functions we cannot imagine today."
In today's knowledge-based, global economy in which capital and technology are increasingly mobile, the quality of America's information infrastructure will help determine whether companies invest here or overseas. States and regions increasingly recognize that development of their information infrastructure is key to creating jobs and attracting new businesses:
Electronic commerce (e.g., on-line parts catalogues, multi- media mail, electronic payment, brokering services, collaborative engineering) can dramatically reduce the time required to design, manufacture, and market new products. "Time to market" is a critical success factor in today's global marketplace.
Electronic commerce will also strengthen the relationships between manufacturer, suppliers, and joint developers. In today's marketplace, it is not unusual to have 12 or more companies collaborating to develop and manufacture new products.
The NII can help solve America's health care crisis. The Clinton Administration is committed to health care reform that will ensure that Americans will never again lose their health care coverage and that controls skyrocketing health care costs. The costs of doing nothing are prohibitive:
Below are some of the existing and potential applications:
Example: In Texas, over 70 hospitals, primarily in rural areas, have been forced to close since 1984. The Texas Telemedicine Project in Austin, Texas offers interactive video consultation to primary care physicians in rural hospitals as a way of alleviating the shortage of specialists in rural areas. This trial is increasing the quality of care in rural areas and providing at least 14 percent savings by cutting patient transfer costs and provider travel.
Example: InterPractice Systems, a joint venture of Harvard Community Health Plan in Boston and Electronic Data Systems, has placed terminals in the homes of heavy users of health care, such as the elderly, pregnant women, and families with young children. Based on a patient's symptoms and their medical history, an electronic advice system makes recommendations to HCHP's members about using self care, talking with a doctor, or scheduling an appointment. In one instance, "an 11-year old who regularly played with the terminal heard his father complain one day of chest pains and turned to the system for help; it diagnosed the symptoms as a probable heart attack. The diagnosis was correct."
The benefits of the NII extend far beyond economic growth. As the Center for Civic Networking observed,
"A country that works smarter; enjoys efficient, less costly government, guided by a well-informed citizenry; that produces high quality jobs and educated citizens to fill them; that paves a road away from poverty; that promotes life-long learning, public life and the cultural life of our communities. This is the promise of the National Information Infrastructure."
The NII could be used to create an "electronic commons" and promote the public interest in the following ways:
Example: The Heartland FreeNet in Peoria, Illinois provides a wide range of community information to the citizens of Central Illinois 24 hours a day. Topics covered include 113 areas of social services; a year long community calendar; the American Red Cross; current listings from the Illinois Job Service; resources for local businesses; and local government information. Experts in all fields from law to the Red Cross to chemical dependency volunteer their time and expertise to answer questions anonymously asked by the public.
Example: The Big Sky Telegraph began operation in 1988 as an electronic bulletin board system linking Montana's 114 one-room schools to each other and to Western Montana College. Today, the Big Sky Telegraph enables the formation of "virtual communities" -- linking schools, libraries, county extension services, women's centers, and hospitals. Montana's high-school students learning Russian can now communicate with Russian students, and science students are participating in a course on "chaos theory" offered by MIT.
Example: Some of the most powerful examples of the power inherent in information collection and dissemination come from the experience of Federal agencies. For example, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 established a Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), which required industries to report their estimated total releases of toxic chemicals to the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency has used a variety of means for making the data available to the public, including a collaborative effort involving the agency, the nonprofit community, and philanthropy. This effort involved making the TRI available through an online service called RTK NET (the Right-to-Know Computer Network), operated by OMB Watch and Unison Institute.
As a result of the TRI program, EPA and industry developed the "33/50" program, in which CEOs set a goal of reducing their pollution by 33 percent by 1992 and 50 percent by 1995. Because of RTK NET's success, EPA is seeking to expand the information available on the service.
Example: As part of a recent cable franchise negotiation, fiber optic cable was deployed in Harlem, where 40 percent of the residents live below the poverty line. New York City is exploring the use of interactive video conferencing between community rooms in housing projects and government offices, schools, and New York corporations. These facilities could be used to teach parenting to teenage mothers, and promote mentoring programs between inner city youth and employees of New York corporations.
One of the central objectives of the High Performance Computing and Communications Initiative (HPCCI) is to increase the productivity of the research community and enable scientists and engineers to tackle "Grand Challenges," such as forecasting the weather, building more energy-efficient cars, designing life- saving drugs, and understanding how galaxies are formed.
As a result of advances in computing and networking technologies promoted by the HPCCI, America's scientists and engineers (and their colleagues and peers around the world) are able to solve fundamental problems that would have been impossible to solve in the past. U.S. researchers will continue to benefit from the HPCCI and the emerging National Information Infrastructure. Below are just a few of the ways in which this technology is being used by U.S. researchers:
Increasingly, what we earn depends on what we learn. Americans must be well-educated and well-trained if we are compete internationally and enjoy a healthy democracy. The magnitude of the challenge we face is well-known:
Although technology alone can not fix what is wrong with America's education and training system, the NII can help. Studies have shown that computer-based instruction is cost- effective, enabling 30% percent more learning in 40% less time at 30% less cost. Fortune recently reported that:
"From Harlem to Honolulu, electronic networks are sparking the kind of excitement not seen in America's classrooms since the space race ... In scores of programs and pilot projects, networks are changing the way teachers teach and students learn."The United States has just begun to exploit the educational applications of computers and networks. Students and teachers can use the NII to promote collaborative learning between students, teachers, and experts; access on-line "digital libraries"; and take "virtual" field trips to museums and science exhibits without leaving the classroom.
Example: Headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts and funded by the National Science Foundation, the Global Laboratory Project links students from over 101 schools in 27 states and 17 foreign countries, including Japan, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Argentina. All over the world, students establish environmental monitoring stations to study climate change, monitor pollutants such as pesticides and heavy metals, and measure ultraviolet radiation. Students share their data over the Global Lab telecommunications network with each other and with scientists to make comparisons, conduct analyses, and gain a global perspective on environmental problems.
Example: In Texas, the Texas Education Network (TENET) now serves over 25,000 educators, and is making the resources of the Internet available to classrooms. One Texas educator from a small school district described the impact it was having on the learning experiences of children:
"The smaller districts can now access NASA, leave messages for the astronauts, browse around in libraries larger than ever they will ever be able to visit, discuss the Superconducting Supercollider project with the physicist in charge, discuss world ecology with students in countries around the world, read world and national news that appears in newspapers that are not available in their small towns, work on projects as equals and collaborators with those in urban areas, and change the way they feel about the size of their world. This will create students that we could not create otherwise. This is a new education and instruction."
As computers become more powerful and less expensive, students may eventually carry hand-held, computer-based "intelligent tutors," or learn in elaborate simulated environments. One expert predicted the following educational use of virtual reality:
"Imagine a biology student entering an immersive virtual laboratory environment that includes simulated molecules. The learner can pick up two molecules and attempt to fit them together, exploring docking sites. In addition to the three-dimensional images in the head-mounted display, the gesture gloves on his hands press back to provide feedback to his sense of touch. Alternatively, the student can expand a molecule to the size of a large building and fly around in it, examining the internal structure."
The Vice President Gore's National Performance Review (NPR) provides a bold vision of a federal government which is effective, efficient and responsive. Moving from red tape to results will require sweeping changes: emphasizing accountability for achieving results as opposed to following rules; putting customers first; empowering employees; and reengineering how government agencies do their work. As part of this vision, the NPR emphasizes the importance of information technology as a tool for reinventing government:
"With computers and telecommunications, we need not do things as we have in the past. We can design a customer- driven electronic government that operates in ways that, 10 years ago, the most visionary planner could not have imagined."
The NPR has identified a number of ways in which "electronic government" can improve the quality of government services while cutting costs, some of which are described below:
Example: Info/California is a network of kiosks in places like libraries and shopping malls. Californians can use these touch-screen computers to renew vehicle registration, register for employment openings, and get information on 90 different subjects, such as applying for student loans or resolving tenant-landlord disputes. These kiosks have reduced the cost of job- match services from $150 to $40 per person.
Agenda for Action Task Force