From: John Young <jya@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 12 Jul 1997 07:35:24 -0400
July 11, 1997, The New York Times, p. A4:
All the Sights of the City Just a Mouse Click Away
By Youseff M. Ibrahim
Helsinki, Finland -- When it comes to Finland's virtual reality Yellow
Pages, forget your fingers. Your personal computer will do the walking,
talking and listening.
It will take you to your banker or tax collector during working hours
for an argument over bills. Interactive cameras hanging on trees or
buildings will let you check which speakers are protesting and which
musicians are playing in the central square on Sunday morning. You can
drop in on any number of concerts, plays, casinos or simply friends
for an afternoon chat -- all in real time.
Helsinki Arena 2000, which is scheduled to begin service in less than
three years, is an interactive guide to the entire city, with its
streets, shops, government offices, companies and landmarks
meticulously reproduced and connected, interactively and audio-visually,
by way of the Internet.
City telecommunications engineers, company chief executives and the
dreamers who put the project together are confident that Helsinki Arena
2000 will give the 1 million residents of the Finnish capital a new
concept of bringing people together.
"What we are making is a 3-D interface that will create 100,000 private
television stations in the city, uniting people through a combination
of the telephone, the computer and the Internet," said Risto Linturi,
a computer engineer who is the Helsinki Telephone Co.'s technology
director. The company is financing the project. That such an avant-
garde project should first appear in Helsinki, where floating into
cyberspace is about as familiar as ordering Chinese food is in New
York, is not surprising.
Finland has the highest per-capita use of the Internet and mobile
phones in the world; it is estimated that more than 60 percent of the
country's 5 million people are linked to the Internet.
Linturi, who works with a large team of researchers and technicians,
sees only imagination as a limit to commercial and service applications.
"You can check out what is happening on Main Street, or click
a university and pick a lecture to attend in real time," he said.
"Everyone who places a tiny camera, a cheap device that is
already common, on their personal computer -- from your banker to your
barber -- can be accessible by video and sound in real time."
The click of a mouse button would produce the telephone numbers of all
of a building's tenants, except those who are unlisted. There would be
instant phone or video access to theaters and restaurants. From a
wallet icon, a computer user would be able to pay and be ushered into
a play in progress.
The fire department or the police would be able, instantly, to identify
the building, street and home number from which a distress call is
coming. Fire officials, at the touch of a button, could call everyone in
the immediate vicinity with a recorded message to leave their homes.
"Our target is 100,000 simultaneous users, all wired in," said Immo
Teperi, an easygoing Finnish architect working on the project, who
started building computer models of vast sites nine years ago.
As he explains and demonstrates at the Helsinki Telephone Co.'s advanced
technology laboratory, a guitarist sitting in a theater several blocks
away uses a computer's live microphone to ask what the guests would like
"What is new," Teperi said, "is the mass application."
"Instead of making just one square or one building accessible, we are
making a whole city accessible in a multimedia network with its everyday
life," he said.
It is, of course, fun. But it is also big business.
"I think virtual reality is the main area" where communications can be
used in the future, said Pekka Vennamo, president and chief executive
of the government-owned Telecom Finland, which also runs the country's
postal services and was the first in the world to offer its customers
phone connections over the Internet, an application that is becoming
"It's like luxury cruises which are a concept, not just a boat," Vennamo
said at his offices, where his desk computer is topped with a tiny
camera that allows him to run conference calls with his executives across
town and throughout the country.
Business is also the reason the Helsinki Telephone Co., which is the
largest private-sector operator in Finland, was willing to pour big money
into Helsinki Arena 2000.
Linturi estimates that the cost of installing the support system, which
is under way, could reach $100 million. The fiber-optic and copper wiring
being placed underground all over town will serve several purposes,
including telephone and electronic connections that will expand Internet
and television use.
Linturi, the man behind the virtual reality dream, lives up to the part.
Working strictly from home, he has no offices in the telephone company.
At his new house, being built on the shore of the Baltic Sea in Helsinki,
the ground floor is designed to have computers and large screens from
which he will peer into the city and teach his students, a side
occupation he cherishes.
"I am always afraid of the moment you stop feeling like a child, or
wanting to be free as a child," he said, staring out the windows at his
completed state-of-the-art sauna at the water's edge -- a place where
Finns do their thinking and their relaxing.
"I believe more and more of us will be engaged in remote work from home,
mobile phones or personal computers," he said. "I am already there."