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Future Theories & Predictions

I’m not a future theorist, but I like to play one on the Internet. I was recently asked to participate in a survey of technology professionals that explored future theories based on current technology. The form indicated the survey was confidential, so I will not divulge the entity conducting it or the exact questions. What appears below is paraphrased based on the actual survey. I thought it would be fun to explore some of the topics because I think it will make for an interesting post to preserve – sort of a prognostication on things to come.

Question 1: The mobile phone will be the primary internet connection. Telephony will be offered under a set of universal standards and movement around the country and around the world will not be an issue. Those without Internet access now will comprise a significant portion of Internet users in the future.

My prediction: Since the 1996 telecommunications act, interconnection rights between telecom carriers in the US have been a significantly contentious issue. I see little to make me believe domestic carriers, let alone international carriers, will solve that problem in another 12 years (the forward projection in the survey). While I agree that more people will have access exclusively via their phone, I don’t think the phone of the future will look anything like the phones of today. Something like the LimePC with a full Linux OS on a small handheld device will be merged with a traditional phone and connected via Bluetooth to an earpiece for communications. The idea of having to hold a phone up to your head will be completely replaced by hands free technologies.

Question 2: Copyright-protection technology will increase dramatically by 2020 due to efforts by content owners, elected officials and network providers. Copyrighted material royalties will be instantly collected and enforced through internet service providers working with authorities. Free speech/Fair Use claims will rarely be successful.

My prediction: While the lock on content is likely to be true, the mechanisms of enforcement are not. ISPs would fight tooth and nail any requirement that they be held responsible for policing their networks. Even working with the MPAA, RIAA, and others on protecting content, the network providers will not be able to manage the process of guaranteeing collection of copyright royalties and enforcement of rights – especially given the huge growth in entertainment media. Suggestions to date that ISPs be asked or required to do so have met with fierce opposition. There is also a strong likelihood that copyright and patent laws will be reformed. Depending on the makeup of the Congress that tackles that, it could become more favorable to corporations or less.

Question 3: Our notions of privacy are altered and people share much more personal information online. People are freely trade anonymity for benefits gained through data mining. People have become more responsible for their own actions, but facing the consequences of past indiscretions no longer does as much damage to a person’s reputation. Investigative reports on reputation corrections are a trend in media.

My prediction: While I think there is a growing trend toward openness and transparency reflected in people sharing information on social networking sites, I think it is unlikely to be as open as described. Most Facebook profiles today, for instance, are viewable only to friends, not to the public. I don’t think that’s likely to change. What people share will not change dramatically, but the depth of that sharing will still be dependent on trust. I also think the idea of media investigation of such things is a bit of an overreach. The media has enough fun with the celeb debacle of the day, they won’t focus on clearing the debacles of the past. Unless our culture changes it’s voyeuristic tendencies, we’ll always look for celebs to fall and revel in their decline.

Question 4: Social tolerance has advanced due to the internet exposing people to other views and cultures. As a result, violent crime is down, as is sectarian conflict, bigotry and hate crime.

My prediction: Highly unlikely. The very idea of “tolerance” is a myth. Tolerance is simply the oppression of subversive paradigms by believers in the dominant paradigm. What most define as tolerance is simply acceptance of their behavior, adherence to their concpet of others “bad behavior”, and condemnation of it. At no point does either side bother to explore why they feel the need to judge others. They simply score others based on how close to their own norms the other comes.

As an example, you can dislike homosexuality without committing crimes against homosexuals. The current notion of ‘tolerance’ precludes you from disliking it or at least certianly precludes you from gving voice to that feeling. If you do, you are labeled a homophobe. You must accept it simply because someone else says you must. That’s not tolerance.

True tolerance would be, “I don’t like you being homosexual, but accept that you are. You don’t like my aversion to your sexual preference, but accept that I am uncomfortable with it.” That does not exist in the current definition of “tolerance.” Unless and until we move toward a political paradigm built on “I do what I want and you do what you want and that’s it” we’ll never see an increase in tolerance and a decrease in other ill effects.

Even a cursory look at the question reveals the logical fallacy. “Tolerance advances due to the understanding of others culture.” That would imply that in addition to religious believers becoming familiar with and accepting homosexuality, homosexuals would all need to understand and respect the religious traditions that shape others. They would have to understand that in the eyes of the devoutly religious, they are evil and they would have to accept that. That is not likley to be accepted by proponents of “tolerance.”

The definition of tolerance above implies a gradual shift of everyone toward a commonly held belief system. That is exceptionally unlikely.

Question 5: People interact more in virtual space. Organizations and people will have a presence in the “metaverse” and/or the “geoweb.” Most internet users will work and play in virtual worlds. “Real life” is a blend of offline and online living.

My prediction: The promise of virtual reality has been the stuff of science fiction almost since the advent of computing technology. The principal reason it has not become more prevalent is the competing models and universes employed and the graphic limitations. As computing power increases and graphics and input devices improve, use of these worlds for practical applications will evolve.

As an example, something like Second Life can be used to conduct virtual press conferences, but the avatars and limitations on direct interaction leave them feeling lifeless. Imagine the same press conference if your PC included a webcam that could detect your facial gestures and movements. That press conference would become a completely different experience. If the person hosting the conference appeared uncomfortable or their motions belied their words, it would be closer to “real life.”

As the technology improves and the avatars look, react, and behave like the real person, you could create virtual conference rooms where we could log in and meet with people around the world without ever leaving our desk. We could bring all our senses to the table because the avatar would covey the same emotions as a face-to-face meeting.

One other limiting factor is the number of virtual worlds. If they were standards based and I could move seamlessly from a Second Life press conference to an EverQuest adventure, to a virtual representation of a tropical beach to a virtual conference with colleagues, that becomes more inviting than having to contstantly log in and out of different applications.

While the use of such technologies is likely, I would quibble with the timeframe. It may not be in the next 12 years, but certainly it is coming.

Question 6: Talk and touch are common technology interfaces. People talk to their computing devices in public and full-size virtual keyboards can be projected on any flat surface for “private” communications with your devices. “Air-typing” on keyboards visible only to you is common.

My prediction: This is highly plausible. Just a few years ago people who used wireless headsets with their cell phones were looked at as obsessive compulsive types by those “tethered” to the handset. That is changing with Bluetooth technologies that let you keep both hands free while conducting a call on a phone in another room. The use of virtual keyboards, personal viewing devices (like the MyVu), and other methods of interaction with the computing platform are certainly realistic.

Question 7: Next-generation research will improve the current internet, not replace it. The original internet hasn’t been replaced by a completely new system. Search, security and reliability on the internet are better, but crimes and mischief are still common.

My prediction: In 12 years it is unlikely that a wholesale shift in the underlying technology of the Net will take place. The basics will remain with dramatic improvements in speed and capabilities. No system will ever be crime proof, so crime and mischief will never go away.

Question 8: Professional and personal time is not separate and distinct. Knowledge workers in developed nations have eliminated boundaries between work and personal time. People work when called upon to do so and take care of personal activities when convenient.

My prediction: While personal hours are definitely blending with work hours, it is unlikely that corporations will willingly relinquish the idea that they are paying for your time and expect you to spend specific hours doing what they ask, where they ask, in a way they ask. That’s certainly not willing to change in 12 years. If business attitudes shifted that fast and that dramatically, the idea of the neck tie would have gone the way of the DoDo years ago. It is likely that people will spend more of their ‘personal’ time working, it is unlikely that they will spend more ‘work’ time on personal issues. It just doesn’t fit into the corporate ideology of the US.

So that’s the end of the survey. I’d be curious to hear your opinions. Feel free to leave a comment with your answers to some or all of these.

Written by Michael Turk