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Daily Update--Wednesday

Having the Nobel Laureate and former Vice President on a panel with the CEO of Cisco was a statement to this audience that communications technology has a role to play in solving the climate change problem. Gore opened the session with a recap of the challenge facing the world because of global warming, and closed with an appeal that this generation leave its children a legacy of solving the crisis, rather than leaving behind a devastated planet.

TelePresence has obviously caught Gore's attention, and he suggested that he plans a role for the technology in his own efforts to bring international leaders together to work on climate change. He described the system's quality as "spectacular."

One question to which Gore gave a somewhat surprising answer was on the issue of balancing innovation and regulation. The question was posed by session moderator Lawrence McGinty, who's Science Editor of London-based ITV News (and who appeared from London via Telepresence), and Gore focused not on regulations that governments should impose, but rather regulations they should eliminate.

Specifically, Gore said countries should stop subsidizing carbon-emitting technologies. His example was when he learned, on a visit to India, that the government there subsidizes citizens' purchase of kerosene. Innovative solar-powered systems are available and people prefer them when they get these systems, Gore said, but it's not surprising that people stick with the subsidized, polluting power source.

Gore proposed that the U.S. reduce direct taxes on businesses and individuals, and replace these with a carbon tax that would create incentives to reduce emissions. To applause from the nearly 3,000 in attendance here, Gore said, "All of our choices would be instantly clarified if we put a price on carbon."

For his part, Chambers emphasized the need for investment tax credits to foster innovation in new energy technologies to complement the ability of networks and information technology to replace carbon-emitting energy use in the near term.

His message: We can change the world and grow the economy at the same time. "We know how to make dreams come true in Silicon Valley," Chambers said.


The day's other keynote address came from Mike Rhodin, GM of IBM Lotus Software. Rhodin focused on the ways in which Unified Communications can improve work for the ever-virtualizing U.S. workforce. Rhodin noted that 60-70% of U.S. employees don't work at the same location as their first-line manager, and he introduced several new enhancements to IBM's Lotus Sametime 8.0 to assist in this enablement (see the writeup on the announcements at No Jitter, here:

Rhodin offered 5 keys to understanding the future of enterprise communications:

1. "The virtual workplace is here to stay."

2. Collaborative business process will streamline company operations.

3. The new generation of workers will bring new expectations as to how they'll be able to communicate at work.

4. Interoperability and open standards are a must.

5. There will be new models for how we "meet."

To illustrate this last point, Rhodin and his demo crew showed an application that IBM built in conjunction with a newly-announced business partner, Forterra, which creates "virtual worlds." The demo (which resembled the look and feel of Second Life) showed the two demo presenters' avatars entering a meeting room, joined by a worker connecting in remotely. To find this other person and conference him in, the avatars went to a rolodex on the conference table, looked him up and dialed him in. A business card popped up for him and could be brought up throughout the teleconference, and the card turned green when the remote worker was speaking. That's useful for those conferences where you're never quite sure who's speaking--my only quibble: A rolodex? Even I don't use a rolodex any more, and I'm an old guy.

In many ways, this demo was the exact opposite of the Gore-Chambers telepresence session. The IBM conference room didn't exist in physical space, the avatars had that funky motion and at one point one avatar was able to hop up onto the conference table from a standing start. And yet both technologies are part of the same transformation that's under way in communications. Neither is something you're going to be rolling out to your entire end user base anytime soon, but they clearly tell us a lot about where the technology is headed for that generation coming behind us that Al Gore asked us to keep in mind.

Tomorrow VoiceCon concludes with keynote panel discussions on Unified Communications and user case studies. The show has been chock full of nitty-gritty technical discussions as well as futuristic projections.