DR SRISAKDI is working to make sure people can use the Internet to future their education.

Dr Srisakdi Charmonman, 67, is often referred to as the "Father of Thailand's Internet" because of his pioneering role in introducing the now ubiquitous information and communication technology to this country back in the late 1960s after earning a PhD in computing from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1964.

Over the last four decades, Srisakdi, the current chairman of Assumption University's College of Internet Distance Education, has authored as many as 900 academic papers on computers and the Internet and has lectured in over 20 countries.

In short, Srisakdi, who has been a professor of computation since he was 36, has been a first-hand witness of the relentless evolution of computation from its earliest stages of development in the 1960s, when a computer was as large as a 20-metre-long storage room but had very little capacity, to the technology-saturated environment of today, in which scientists are devising ways to manufacture computers on the nano-scale (a nanometre is a billionth of a metre).

"The machines in the 1960s could be called the first genertion of computers. Now, we're in the fourth of fifth generations of computing, in which artificial intelligence has been making headway. In the fifth generation, we will be able to tell computers to solve this or that problem for us because the machines will recognise and understand our speech. The blink of an eye will soon let machines know exactly what we want them to do.

"These technologies could be ubiquitous within a decade from now. The other day, I was asked what we could do if robots decided they wanted to take over our world one day like in a Hollywood blockbuster movie. I said jokingly that in such a scenario, I would kindly ask for permission to have sex with my girlfriend. For the sake of politeness, all of these robots would have to turn around. Then, I would have a good chance to unplug their batteries or their power sources, without which they'd be nothing," says smiling Srisakdi.

Of the Internet, he says that technology has undoubtedly altered the way people live, work and play.

"Our refrigerators can now be connected to the Net, allowing us to order groceries onine for home delivery. Or the shoes of professional runners may be connected to the Net to get expert advice on how to improve their performance. Or our belts may be put online to help us control our diet and weight," he says.

On the subject of education, he says the era of e-learning will allow anyone, physically fit and disabled alike, to have access to education and training, whereever they are and whenever it is convenient.

"Equal opportunities are emerging for those who aspire to gain new knowledge. At Assumption University, we've built one of the world's largest educational institutes for integrated Internet-based education. Located at Bang Na-Trat campus, the Bt500-million certre, named after me, will officially be opened by HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn next month."

"The 10,000-square-metre, 10-storey centre is expected to serve 100,000 students a year for short courses, certificate courses, bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees, some of them in partnership with foreign universities in places like the UK or Malaysia. In provincial or rural communities, people may access our network via public computer kiosks if they wish to take courses.

"There will also be 400 terminals - out of the centre's total of 2,000 - dedicated to use by blind, deaf and autistic kids. There will also be an incubator service for IT business start-ups, Internet radio and TV studios as well as an IT literacy and skills-development facility for senior citizens aged over 60.

"In fact, we aim to serve people at virtually all levels. There could be online training courses for new moms raising their first babies, courses for the elderly on how to live healthily at an advanced age in terms of diet and exercise or we could work with other parties to develop a cyber community for senior citizens."

"As for myself, at 67, I'm still very busy with work. On an average business day, I receive dozens of mobile phone calls or have to respond to as many as 300 emails. At this age, the trick for good health is managing your diet, exercise, be happy, smile and do good things for the public. As for my diet, I've completely stopped eating carbohydrates. I hope to live into my 90s," he says.


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