Tech chiefs ponder the Internet's future

July 22, 2008: 2:55 PM ET

By Jon Fortt, Fortune senior writer

HALF MOON Bay, Calif. - Sustainability will influence the next generation of Internet technology, according to Cisco (CSCO) chief technology office Padmasree Warrior.

At Fortune's Brainstorm Tech conference on Tuesday, Warrior and technology visionaries from Nokia and Xerox sat down with Strategic News Service's Mark Anderson Tuesday to talk about dealing with information overload, mobile innovation, and the major tech transitions ahead.

One idea that's likely to get a lot more attention, Warrior said, is doing more while consuming fewer resources. "Sustainability is going to be a great driver," she noted. "It's actually innovating for constraints that will drive the next generation of technology."

Warrior said some of the major innovation trends she's watching are the Internet's transition into an entertainment platform, the emergence of communities as a driving force in communication, the power of video as a business tool and the rise of new global economic powers like China and India.

Xerox (XRX) CTO Sophie Vandebroek talked about software her company is cooking up that sifts through oceans of digital information and serves up bits that are most likely to be relevant to the task at hand. For instance, for a law firm it could plow through digitized legal files and pull out information about people and events that are most likely to have an impact on a given case. It's an attempt to help knowledge workers who are drowning in data. "It's like food – we have too much food with these all you can eat buffets," Vandebroek said. "You have to control yourself."

Nokia (NOK) CTO Bob Iannucci said mobile technology is transitioning from a focus on hardware – handsets, towers and the like – to a focus on software and services. He said mainframes, mini computers and PCs all went through the same changes, and the implications were profound. One of the resulting challenges he's pondering in a service-oriented mobile world: How do you harness the value of people's personal information in a way that doesn't freak them out? Can companies like Nokia give customers access to their data in a way that helps them answer questions and make purchases?

From the audience, Google (GOOG) Chief Internet Evangelist (and Internet pioneer) Vint Cerf pointed out that the way people are beginning to use the mobile Internet is fundamentally different. More than with the PC based Internet, mobile users are likely to get online for information related to where they are and what they're doing at that moment. Warrior agreed that the tech world will have to pay more attention to that shift: "Context and location awareness will become really important," she said.

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