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Countdown to Tomorrowland

If you could turn back the clock to, say, 1990, if you knew then that the world wide web would allow you to become a global merchandiser, would allow you to wipe out Sears and others with your powerful “digital shop” and that manufacturers would be lining up to place their product on your “platform” what would you do? Answer? Become a multi-billionaire.

A few men and women learned about computer advances in the pipeline and so they sat down and thought: How can we, with this advance knowledge, grab a share of the new world and make it ours, making billions? Names pop out like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Larry Ellison, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. They started with nothing more than imagination built on the technology they had learned was coming. Again, I’ll repeat that: They knew nothing, had nothing, more than a foresight of technology that was going to sweep across the planet.

Let’s look at one man: Jeff Bezos. In 1993 at a TED3 meeting, I heard him say he was starting with books because books had a fair discounting system (same discounts federally mandated to all bookstores, no matter how large or small). In the end he wanted to expand to every other category, much like the Sears Roebuck model... sell manufacturers’ wares without having to warehouse anything. The idea of a retail world wide web sales’ platform was the heart of his genius. He saw the Internet as a means to put a catalogue in every home on the planet. Instead of the Sears catalogue, he would show you pretty pictures on your personal TV (computer screen). It was Sears combined with the Home Shopping Network, rolled into one. It took him until June 1994. eBay? 1995. Google? 1998.

So here’s the big news you need to know and share with your kids: Worldwide connectivity is about to change, completely change. Some have likened this change to the advent of the Atomic age – good and bad. Certainly, the major world players are already posturing and negotiating for superiority. Yes, governments are worried they will become, in one simple push of a button, obsolete and sub-servient to more powerful players. So, yes, it is like the atomic age all over again.

Connectivity is everything. Amazon and every major manufacturer, retailer, medical service, government program, power grid and production, military readiness, every business, all employment, and, yes, all personal relationships are dependent on connectivity. Connectivity was letter writing, then a postal service, then radio, phones, TV, the Internet and then the world wide web... ending with connectivity within the grasp of every cell phone and portable computer everywhere. An engineer in Vegas can access the power grid coming out of the Hoover Dam and reroute power to southern California while on the beach in the Caribbean using his cellphone. 10 years ago he couldn’t. Just 10 years.

Currently, the speed of connectivity varies across America and many countries from cell service at around 10-18 megabits per second, to DSL at around 12-18 megabits per second, to cable up to 100 megabits per second, and fiber-optic cables up to 2 Gigabits per second (2,000 megabits per second). Except for the cell service, all connectivity to date requires a physical connection or proximity to a step-down WiFi connection to the provider source. What would happen if, everywhere, anywhere, you could have connection at 453 megabits per second?

It’s here and about to be rolled out world-wide: G5 cell service from towers across the planet, direct from satellites, and high altitude balloons and planes. And 453 megabits per second is only stage one.

Here’s what we already know: Every car, every plane, every shipment, every electric component (heart pumps, refrigerators, sewage valves, generators, iPad, computers, cameras, phone, robot, truck, ship, shipping container... the list is endless) would stay in constant contact with every operator, controller, supplier, and end-user. Driverless cars become instantly viable... city power, water, sewage, public transportation, every street light, every traffic light, all connected, all the time, in real time. And when that happens, AI comes into its own, programs written, humans not needed.

In this age of man, the primitive spark that set us apart from the animals around us was communication; writing, drawing, and language. 5G could be a bigger leap forward than the original Internet, or even electricity. 5G’s capability to override borders, override geographical and political superiority could allow a new world order without your ever knowing who was controlling what. And so, yes, 5G will be politically, not just technologically, disruptive.

But 5G will also open the door for new creativity, just as the Internet did. Tell your kids and let them have the keys to the garage.

Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.