Pittsburgh, Pa. --The future of computing will be shaped by the emergence of virtual enterprises that ere enabled by high performance computers, global connectivity, and digitized information, according to IBM Fellow Frances Allen. In the keynote speech at Supercomputing 96 here, Allen also foresaw a future dominated by large enterprises such as Boeing, Chrysler, major insurance companies, and government. She anticipates far-reaching disintermediation -- an end to local representatives such as insurance agents or neighborhood bank branches. Corporations and government would communicate directly with customers. These communications would be very targeted, Allen said, as companies personalize and customize products and services to match the tastes, known buying preferences, and financial means of each individual. This will in turn require thoughtful attention to issues of privacy and to technical issues like means of verifying identity. This new future for computing would be built on the technological foundation and human experience of the past 50 years, Allen emphasized. Today's solutions must be scaled up. New contexts should be found for old methods, she remarked. Old algorithms would be given new work. Specifically, this transformation would draw upon rapidly-evolving solutions like decision support, based in turn on data mining, and stress visualization to assure full understanding of the results -- and their implications. On the organizational level, this would require integration and collaboration within institutions -- many of which are now burdened with multiple, incompatible systems. Change should encourage the development of new process models that should lead in turn to new efficiencies. THE CRISIS MANAGEMENT MODEL Allen described crisis management -- responses to unpredictable but nevertheless inescapable events like hurricanes, earthquakes, major accidents such as the recent TWA crash, and terrorist incidents like the bombing in Oklahoma City. Effective management of crises like this depends upon the availability and use of databases. Such applications may have a national or even global scale. These events tend to be important, big and urgent. Preparations may be made fur such eventualities, but the specifics are unpredictable. They stretch the limits of computing and communication. Furthermore, such crises primarily involve responsibilities of the public sector. Solutions must be found quickly to solve problems or provide services. Different organizations and bureaus must form dynamic alliances and collaborations. The entire enterprise must be highly adaptive. It must also be realized, Allen emphasized, that people are part of the enterprise -- not technical operators standing off to one side. People are in the middle of the problem and the solution, she said. Computer specialists have not been very good at developing a people-centric attitude, she added. COPING WITH THE CURRENT LIMITS In the broader context of the new virtual enterprise, current limits should be acknowledged. These include the need for more communications bandwidth and, in many circumstances, the lack of adequate networks. Software is also a problem, Allen said. And this is another area in which [computer specialists] have not done a great job. She was confident, however, that these problems would be solved. The next 50 years of computing will face the need to develop the global reach and credibility that people have come to expect from telephone services. Furthermore, these changes will be accompanied by serious dislocations in the marketplace as accustomed patterns of human interaction and communication change rapidly. This will have profound impacts on education, health, government, and business. Other the next 50 years, moreover, computing should become a tool for improving the environment and helping to provide opportunities for all people. --------------------- Norris Parker Smith is a technology journalist specializing in coverage of high performance computing. Reader comments and suggestions are welcome. -------------------- LIVEwire is a free special supplement produced on location at Supercomputing 96 by HPCwire, the publication of record for high-performance computing.