Economic growth hinges on support for virtual technology


By John Chambers

The key to the United States remaining the most dynamic and robust
economy in the world may be something that was viewed as purely science
fiction two decades ago. It's the ability to manage or conduct crucial
aspects of our lives virtually, and in practically every aspect of our
economy and society it is changing our approach to our daily activities.

Whether it's working from home, taking online classes, using virtual
simulations for fun or to improve professional skills or conducting
important aspects of our jobs, many of us today have learned to adapt
to a virtual environment. Virtuality is the natural evolution of a
networked world and a powerful tool to be used to keep our economy
dynamic and competitive in the face of growing overseas challenges.
Americans have an innate ability to adapt and change, and virtuality
should be our sweet spot. It gives our businesses a competitive
advantage, enables our citizens to advance themselves through education
and training and enables our governments to provide better services to
its citizens.

It is clear we are just starting to rely on our ability to successfully
live and work in a virtual world. For example, more than 2 million a
year enroll in online classes; the University of Phoenix alone has
awarded more than 170,000 online degrees. Virtuality has also changed
the way we receive health care -- today people with diabetes or heart
disease are having their conditions monitored remotely.

It's changed our military training, with our military leaders now using
simulations to prepare them to make split-second battlefield decisions.
And virtuality allows more than 1 million Americans to play online

Across industry, virtualization is changing manufacturing. For example,
automobile manufacturers now use simulations instead of physical models
to test and experiment with manufacturing techniques. General Motors
saved $75 million in the first year it shifted to digital prototypes.

And while virtuality has already had a profound impact on our lives
from how we work to the games we play, we have really only scratched
the surface. Virtual manufacturing is about to go to another level with
the adoption of RFID technology. RFID stands for radio frequency
identification, and it ultimately will replace bar codes on many
products. This will enable retailers and manufacturers to virtually
track products through the supply chain, which will dramatically
improve the efficiency of our nation's manufacturing.

But perhaps nowhere will this virtual capability be felt as much as
health care. We are steadily making the transition to a health care
system that enables doctors to treat patients remotely when
appropriate, even in their homes. For those of us who see a doctor
rarely, that may not be significant, but if you have a chronic
condition it makes a world of difference. Instead of making three or
more visits to a doctor a week to be tested, a patient will be able to
test themselves at home and have the information transmitted and
analyzed by their doctor in his or her office.

To realize this vision, we must make sure that we have the
infrastructure in place to support it. We must, as a nation, insist on
having the fastest and most robust broadband network in the world. We
must also be realistic with ourselves that this is an area where we are
falling further behind our global competitors. It is critical to our
ability to advances in business, health care and education. Our
policy-makers must also be forward thinking when it comes to fostering
new technologies. Communications advances such as VoIP, voice over
Internet protocol, enable new services including the ability to be
remotely connected to your office. Burdening these new technologies
with onerous regulations will stifle them and therefore hinder
America's ability to remain a technology leader.

The last decade has brought profound changes that prompt us to rethink
how we conduct daily lives -- from our work to how we enhance our
skills to how we use our downtime. If we rise to the challenge as a
nation, we can continue to drive dynamic changes that make us more
productive and ensure our competitiveness in an increasingly global

JOHN CHAMBERS is CEO of Cisco Systems. He wrote this article for the Mercury News.

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