Where Will The Next Nobel Prize Come From?

By Sarah Sorensen
October 12, 2009

I would like to take a moment to recognize this year's Nobel Prize winners in physics and highlight the role they played in advancing the sustainable network. Americans Charles K. Kao, Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith were all instrumental in progressing the network, which has turned into one of the most powerful tools we have available to create change around the world.

Kao was honored for discovering how to transmit light signals long distances through hair-thin glass fibers. If you have fiber cables delivering the services from your telephone switch directly to your home or building then you have benefited from this discovery. You are enjoying a high bandwidth connection that allows you to take advantage of all the network has to offer.

To date, only 6% of all households worldwide have access to fiber cables (primarily in the Asia-Pacific region). Investment in fiber will need to continue as it represents one of the best options we have to date to handle the future bandwidth requirements of home users - there are predictions we could need as much as 30 Gbit/s per household, in 2030, due to all the video, voice, gaming and data we will be consuming (check out Fiber to the Home Council).

Boyle and Smith received the prize for opening the door to digital cameras by inventing a sensor that turns light into electrical signals. This breakthrough has enabled the digitization of much of the world's resources and has truly revolutionized how we consume, manipulate and store digital images. It's what allows us to zip mass amounts of digital images all around the world - personalizing events and creating new connections in virtual real-time. It's one of the drivers repsonsible for the doubling of Internet traffic every 18 months...

Both of these inventions have been instrumental in fueling the growth and utility of the network, which in turn fuels it's relevancy and spurs ongoing innovation. I call this in my book the Sustainable Network Law: The more broadband made available to network users, the faster sustainable network innovation occurs. It's a virtuous cycle.

So, which innovations will be next on the Nobel Prize list? Perhaps it will be a new way to make sense of all this digitized information (see interesting story in the NY Times - is there such a thing as too much information?). Maybe it will take the form of a new way to access the network or power it? Which will be game changers that drive new and better ways for the network to connect the world's people and resources? Only time will tell, but with all the world connected and working on it, imagine the possibilities.

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