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第4册 - Unit 4, Section B - The Information Superhighway

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Are you too tired to go to the video store but you want to see the movie Beauty and the Beast at home? Want to listen to your favorite guitar player's latest jazz cassette? Need some new reading material, like a magazine or book? No problem. Just sit down in front of your home computer or TV and enter what you want, when you want it, from an electronic catalogue containing thousands of titles.

Your school has no professors of Japanese, a language you want to learn before visiting Japan during the coming summer holiday. Don't worry. Just sign up for the language course offered by a school in another district or city, have the latest edition of the course teaching materials sent to your computer, and attend by video. If you need extra help with a translation assignment or your pronunciation, a tutor can give you feedback via your computer.

Welcome to the information superhighway.

While nearly everyone has heard of the information superhighway, even experts differ on exactly what the term means and what the future it promises will look like. Broadly speaking, however, the superhighway refers to the union of today's broadcasting, cable, video, telephone, and computer and semiconductor industries into one large all-connected industry.

Directing the union are technological advances that have made it easier to store and rapidly transmit information into homes and offices. Fiber-optic cable, for example - made up of hair-thin glass fibers - is a tremendously efficient carrier of information. Lasers shooting light through glass fiber can transmit 250,000 times as much data as a standard telephone wire, or tens of thousands of paragraphs such as this one every second.

The greatly increased volume and speed of data transmission that these technologies permit can be compared to the way in which a highway with many lanes allows more cars to move at faster speeds than a two-lane highway - hence, the information superhighway.

The closest thing to an information superhighway today is the Internet, the system of linked computer networks that allows up to 25 million people in 135 countries to exchange information.

But while the Internet primarily moves words, the information superhighway will soon make routine the electronic transmission of data in other formats, such as audio files and images. That means, for example, that a doctor in Europe who is particularly learned will be able to treat patients in America after viewing their records via computer, deciding the correct dose of medicine to give the patient, or perhaps even remotely controlling a blade wielding robot during surgery.

'Sending a segment of video mail down the hall or across the country will be easier than typing out a message on a keyboard,' predicts one correspondent who specializes in technology.

The world is on 'the eve of a new era', says the former United States Vice President Al Gore, the Clinton administration's leading high-technology advocate. Gore wants the federal government to play the leading role in shaping the superhighway. However, in an era of smaller budgets, the United States government is unlikely to come up with the money needed during the next 20 years to construct the superhighway.

That leaves private industry - computer, phone, and cable companies - to move into the vacuum left by the government's absence. And while these industries are pioneering the most exciting new technologies, some critics fear that profit-minded companies will only develop services for the wealthy. 'If left in the hands of private enterprise, the data highway could become little more than a synthetic universe for the rich,' worries Jeffrey Chester, president of the Center for Media Education in Washington, D.C.

Poor people must also have access to high technology, says another expert. 'Such access will be crucial to obtaining a high-quality education and getting a good job. So many transactions and exchanges are going to be made through this medium - banking, shopping, communication, and information - that those who have to rely on the postman to send their correspondence risk really falling behind,' he says.

Some experts were alarmed earlier this year when diagrams showed that four regional phone companies who are building components of the superhighway were only connecting wealthy communities.

The companies denied they were avoiding the poor, but conceded that the wealthy would likely be the first to benefit. 'We had to start building some place,' says a spokesman for one of the companies, 'and that was in areas where there are customers we believe will buy the service. This is a business.'

Advocates for the poor want the companies building the data highway to devote a portion of their profits to insuring universal access. Advocates of universal access have already launched a number of projects of their own. In Berkeley, California, the city's Community Memory Project has placed computer terminals in public buildings and subway stations, where a message can be sent for 25 cents. In Santa Monica, California, computers have replaced typewriters in all public libraries, and anyone, not just librarians, can send correspondence via computer.

Many challenges face us as we move closer to the reality of the information superhighway. In order for it to be of value to most people, individuals need to become informed about what is possible and how being connected will be of benefit. The possibilities are endless but in order for the information superhighway to become a reality, some concrete steps need to be taken to get the process started.

你是否太累了,不想去录像店却又想在家看《美女与野兽》?

是不是想听听你最喜欢的吉他演奏家最新的爵士乐磁带?

或需要一些新的阅读材料,比如杂志或书?

没问题。

只要坐在家中的电脑或电视机前,在一个含有上千条目的电子目录中输入你想要的东西和需要的时间就行了。

在暑假去日本之前你想学日语,可学校又没有日语老师。

不用担心,

你可以报名上另一地区或城市的学校的日语课,让他们将这门课程最新的教材传送到你的电脑上,然后通过看录像学习。

如果你在翻译作业或发音上还需额外帮助,辅导教师可通过电脑给你反馈。

欢迎来到信息高速公路。

尽管几乎人人都听说过信息高速公路,可即使专家们也对这一名称的确切含义以及它所预示的未来存在分歧。

但广义地说,信息高速公路是指由今天的广播、电视、录像、电话、电脑、半导体等产业组合而成的一个互相关联的大产业。

是技术进步在引导着这一大联合。这些技术进步已使存储信息以及向家庭和办公室快速传输信息变得更为容易。

例如,由细如发丝的玻璃纤维制成的光纤电缆是一种极为高效的信息载体。

射过玻璃纤维的激光可以传送的数据是标准电话线的25万倍,或者说,它每秒可传送几万段像这样的文字。

这些技术使得数据传送的容量和速度大大提高。这种情况可以与高速公路相比,相比双车道,多车道能使更多的车以更快的速度行驶──信息高速公路由此得名。

今天,与信息高速公路最接近的就是互联网,这是一个由电脑连接而成的网络系统,它能使135个国家多达2,500万人进行信息交换。

但是,互联网主要是传送文字,而信息高速公路不久将使其他形式的电子数据传送(如声音文件和图像的传送)成为普遍现象。

举个例子,这将意味着欧洲的一位医道高明的医生通过电脑看了病历就能给美洲的病人治病,决定病人用药的剂量,甚至还可以遥控一个操手术刀的机器人施行手术。

一位专门从事科技报道的记者预言道:"把录像邮件的片段传送到大楼的其他地方或国内其他地方要比在键盘上打出文字来更为容易。"

美国前副总统阿尔·戈尔说,我们这个世界正处于"新时代的前夜"。他是克林顿政府中推行高科技的主要人物。

戈尔希望联邦政府在决定信息高速公路的发展方面发挥领导作用。

然而,在一个预算拨款相对较少的时期,美国政府不可能拿得出今后20年里建设信息高速公路所需的资金。

这就使得私人企业──电脑公司、电话公司、有线电视公司──得以填补由于政府无法顾及所留下的空缺。

尽管这些企业在最令人振奋的新技术上领先,一些批评者担心追逐利润的企业会只开发面向富人的服务项目。

华盛顿大众媒介教育中心主任杰弗里·切斯特担心地说:"如果数据高速公路控制在私人企业手中,它可能只会成为富人的虚拟世界。"

另一位专家说,必须让穷人也用得上高科技。

他说:"这种权利对于获得高质量的教育、找到好工作都将至关重要。

那么多的交易、交流──银行业务、购物、通信、信息交流──都将通过这一媒介进行,因此那些只能靠邮递员发送邮件的人实在是有落伍的危险了。"

今年年初,当图表显示正在建设信息高速公路设施的四家地区性电话公司只接通了富人社区时,一些专家对此不无担忧。

这几家公司否认自己避开穷人,但也承认有钱人会成为首批受益者。

其中一家公司的发言人说:"我们总要先从某些地区开始,即我们认为会有顾客购买这些服务的地区。做生意就是这样。"

维护穷人权益的人士希望这些正在建设数据高速公路的公司能够将其利润的一部分用于此项技术的普及。

提倡技术普及的人士已启动了他们自己的几个项目。

在加利福尼亚的伯克利,"社区存储器项目"已在公共建筑物和地铁站里安装了电脑终端,花25美分就可发送信息。

在加州的圣莫尼卡,所有公共图书馆里的打字机都被换成了电脑;任何人,不仅仅是图书馆管理员,都可通过电脑发信件。

随着我们日益临近信息高速公路的实现,我们也面临着许多挑战。

为了使信息高速公路对大多数人有价值,人们应该了解哪些是可能做到的,以及连通后如何能从中受益。

信息高速公路带来的可能性不胜枚举,但要使其成为现实,还必须采取具体的措施来开展这一工作。

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