Fingerprints on screens point to future

  • Talking tech: Jeff Pulver with Gina Tucker, director of education at the FinTech Business Unit, at the Bermuda Tech Education Summit (Photograph by Scott Neil)

    Talking tech: Jeff Pulver with Gina Tucker, director of education at the FinTech Business Unit, at the Bermuda Tech Education Summit (Photograph by Scott Neil)


Small fingerprints on TV and computer screens are a foreshadowing of the world to come.

Those marks are created by the younger generation who are so familiar with the concept of “pinching” a screen to expand its content that they assume every monitor or TV has such capability.

While touchscreen functionality is widespread it is not yet ubiquitous, but that day is coming and it will be the result of the younger generation fashioning the world to their preferences and expectations.

That’s a view of Jeff Pulver, a technology pioneer, who visited the island to participate in Bermuda Tech Week.

Mr Pulver has a celebrated history in technology; perhaps most significantly for his trailblazing in the field of voice over internet protocol in the 1990s, many years before the emergence of services such as Skype.

That advancement was groundbreaking for the older generation who remembered a time when telephone calls involved landlines and the need to have a telephone plugged in at your office or in your lounge. But the world has changed in the past 30 years since the arrival of the internet, and with it VoIP.

“There have only been two generations of people who now take communication for granted — it doesn’t matter the distance or the modality, they take it for granted. So it is a different mindset,” Mr Pulver said.

“There are things that are intuitively obvious to that [new] generation that no one here sees. And successful companies are successful at doing the obvious.

“People who are getting a lot of success are doing the easy thing — they see it and they do it. And we go ‘Oh, I should have seen it too.’”

He said the young generation will solve problems that the older generation do not even see.

“I have a great belief we will see amazing things happen, sooner rather than later.”

He said that during the past 12 years the older generation is likely to have noticed “teeny fingerprints on screens where young kids are trying to expand TVs and ‘pinch’ them as if they had an iPad”.

Mr Pulver said: “So finally, those kids from 12 years ago are now growing up and in the near future we are going to have a revolution in user interface design, where all of a sudden the devices will start to work the way they intuitively should have.

“We will not be limited to pinching a phone, we’ll be able to pinch and touch things; whatever we come in contact with.

“The people who are visual are going to create a brave new world of interfaces — that’s what they are intuitive to, that’s how they grew up. So their language is not only to communicate, but is also to see and visualise.

“We are going to have a revolution in user design very soon.”

The American entrepreneur said the next generation will live an “online life” that will be different than any previous generation. He said there has never before been a time when more than three billion people are connected in the way they are today through the internet.

“Three billion people together can make a difference — they could collectively shift and change the world as we know it.

“We’ve never had that. We’ve had pockets of communication, but the internet, after the promise of 25-plus years ago, is now giving us a level playing field so that no matter where you are in the world you can contribute to the internet economy.”

It no longer matters where you live as long as you have connectivity, he said, and while the world has challenges there has never before been a generation that has had such tools to effect positive change.

“I have confidence that however this evolves, it will be an interesting place to be,” he said.

Mr Pulver was a guest speaker at the Bermuda Tech Education Summit, where he shared with school students his story and lessons he has learnt. One of the messages related to how, when he was growing up, he was a misfit.

“I didn’t really fit in. I didn’t have many friends, but I found the path to communicate, and it was my hobby and ultimately my passion to communicate,” he said.

“It not only saved my life, because I got fired from my day job, but it gave me a platform to explore the future and I had no idea that my passion to communicate would help me to discover, ultimately, voice on the internet — thinking ‘Okay, why can’t we connect a telephone to the internet. What does that do?’.”

In 1995, seven years before Skype, he cofounded and launched Free World Dialup, the first phone network on the internet.

In 2003, he filed a petition asking the US Federal Communications Commission for regulatory clarity that voice communication that originates on the internet should not be regulated as telecommunications. That led to the issuance of what is commonly called the Pulver Order.

“It is honoured in over 100 countries around the world, which is why we are able to freely communicate so much today,” he said.

“I did not invent communications, but I certainly made communications easier for those who want to play. I did not go to school for that, but my parents allowed me to be curious, to embrace a hobby.”

He said he was fortunate to have parents who allowed him to explore, and who encouraged him in his hobbies and pastimes, which included building and launching toy rockets, and playing with chemistry.

“I did not need permits from anyone. We played, we explored. Part of me says we don’t blow enough things up any more, because we are so constrained by getting hurt. But it is that creativity to have ideas and try things out that we learn from.

“I’ve taught myself. I strongly believe in education, but I also believe in education of the self — allowing ourselves to be passionate, even if none of our friends get it.

“Fitting in is nice sometimes, but you have to find the strength to become who you are, and allow who you are to just be. That’s a life lesson.”

In addition, he told students that ten years from now, and ten years after that, “they are going to be the same person they are today”.

He said as you get older you have more responsibilities, “but the personality you show when you’re 15 is pretty much the person you are, with a few exceptions”.

Mr Pulver praised the island for holding the Bermuda Tech Education Summit, which included hands-on demonstrations.

“It is transformational. I promise you, five years from now, ten years from now, there are people here who will look at this time as when something made sense to them,” he said.

“We never know when we crystallise and we fine-tune our minds, when we get inspired and feel good about who we are. And you don’t know whether it was an AI demo or machine learning. But something gives someone an idea and they change with that.

“Events like this; I don’t know anywhere else in the world where high school students are exposed to fintech. It is amazing to see people open to sharing, listening, and they are very polite and processing. It is a very receptive, respectful crowd. I’m in awe.”

The tech education event was presented by the Bermuda Business Development Agency and the FinTech Business Unit.

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Published Oct 25, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Oct 25, 2019 at 12:03 am)

Fingerprints on screens point to future

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