The Thinker

InfoWorld peers ten years out into our technology future

I had no choice but to give up reading InfoWorld when it ended its print publication. It still has a presence online. Although I still think it is far less useful as a pure web publication, I find myself straying over to the website from time to time. I also belatedly signed up for a few email newsletters, figuring half an InfoWorld was better than none. That is how I stumbled across this InfoWorld article: 10 Future Shocks for the next 10 years. InfoWorld, which is celebrating thirty years, is now looking ahead and imagining what information technology (IT) shocks might occur over the next ten years. Here are the predictions and my critiques as someone who also earns his living in IT.

Shock No. 1: Triumph of the cloud (Brian Chee)

My main prediction is that the high cost of power and space is going to force the IT world to look at cloud services, with a shift to computing as a cloud resource occurring in the next five years.

To me this is a “no-duh”. Everything in the IT stack is moving toward commoditization and optimization. Location is becoming irrelevant. Storage and systems are becoming wholly abstracted and the Internet is becoming a reliable enough medium to make a local data center obsolete. All the messy logistics of moving and securing data services and systems will be transparent when they are hosted in the cloud for a fraction of the cost of rolling your own data center. Many standards will have to be developed first, but the market will drive it, so it should happen.

Shock No. 2: Cyborg chic (Bob Lewis)

By 2018, geek chic will look a lot like what today we’d call a cyborg. The human/machine interface will be ubiquitous, with people walking around giving voice/whisper commands and using earbud audio and an eyeglass display that superimposes a machine-enhanced view of the world on ordinary vision.

I think we will get partly there, but we will not choose to go all the way there. Even with electronics miniaturization, such a vision would require multiple devices with plenty of portable power, probably not enough to walk around with them on all day. This will mean that we cannot be mobile and networked 24/7 because, like our cell phones, these devices would often need to time-consuming battery recharges. In addition, the human-machine interface cannot be only be made elegant to a degree. We will look unfashionable walking around so closely tethered to electronic devices. Instead. we will choose the minimal portable technology we need. Most of the time, our portable integrated systems will be turned off or on standby since most of the time we won’t want to drain their batteries.

Shock No. 3: Everything works (Sean McCown)

The interface is intuitive and sleek. It even changes based off what you’re currently doing so that you can access features of the OS that you need while you’re, say, working with e-mail or editing pics. We’ll call this OS “Windows Sci-Fi” because we’re all dreaming if we think that’ll ever happen.

This one is easy to call too: it’s not going to happen. Expecting that all information technology will work easily, quickly and transparently and all magically integrate together is just fantasy, yes, even if you are using Mac OS/X. Heck, we’ll still be trying to integrate our existing systems to work with LDAP directories. I guarantee you that ten years from now you will still be in password hell because the vast majority of your system will still be stove-piped systems that are just too expensive or specialized to reengineer. Even if it could be done, it will be something like trying to hold a conversation with a man on Mars. The latency of all the system impedance matches will be too much.

Shock No. 4: Nothing escapes you (Savio Rodrigues)

Vannevar’s Memex vision will come to fruition through your next-next-next-generation PDA. The device will continuously capture all audio and video from your daily experiences and upload that content to the cloud, where it will be parsed to succinctly recognize your tasks, interesting information, and reminders — all searchable, of course.

Sorry, no. First, there will be so much conversation going on that it will be difficult to impossible to sift through all the voices, articulate it all, and assign names to the voices. Second, such a device also raises all sorts of privacy issues. Third, there is a point of information overload and this volume of data is simply too much. Fourth, even if all that information could be captured it would be a virtually impossible task to be able to develop software smart enough to automatically and transparently record information like you have a dental appointment next Tuesday at ten o’clock. Human speech is too complex.

Shock No. 5: Smartphones take center stage (Martin Heller)

I see the smartphone evolving into the preferred instrument for constant connectivity, with voice interaction, facial recognition, location awareness, constant video and sound input, and multitouch screens.

This is within the realm of possibility, but it is unlikely we will see all these features within the next ten years. It is doubtful such a device would be widely in demand.

Shock No. 6: Human-free manufacturing (Bob Lewis)

I think the trend will accelerate but I cannot see manufacturing becoming completely human-free. Will computer assisted robots be able to unload a truck packed with supplies? Is any machine so perfect that it will be able to work without any maintenance whatsoever, or could be completely serviced by another machine?

Shock No. 7: Perfect image recognition (Sean McCown)

One day you’ll be able to see a picture of something or take a picture of something, and load it into a search engine and have it scan the pic, search, and tell you what it is. So you see a flower, stop and take a pic of it, and Google will tell you what kind of flower it is.

One day I think this is likely, but not in the next ten years.

Shock No. 8: Big Brother never sleeps (Bob Lewis)

In the next 10 years, perfect governmental tracking and monitoring of each human being will become reality.

Civil libertarians of course would do their best to make sure this does not happen. Technically, I am not sure it can be done. I do not think we have the storage, network or computer capacity to monitor everyone in real time and apply intelligence to it. Thank goodness! Technology like anything else suffers from the triple constraints of time, scope and cost. It may turn out to be technically possible but cost prohibitive or require generations to develop and deploy. Most likely this is one desire that is simply too complex and costly to create.

Shock No. 9: Unbroken connectivity (Curtis Franklin)

Checking to see if you’re connected to a network will seem as old-fashioned as turning on a device to get information in 10 years. From sports scores to friends’ activities, the idea of interrupting your activities to get the news will be a thing of the past.

While it may be possible in ten years to be always connected to a high speed data network, I suspect it will be cost prohibitive to do so, particularly in remote locations. I am also skeptical that data networks will ever be as reliable as say the phone system, because a data network is far more complex. The phone system is reliable because it is relatively simple and has redundancy built in.

Shock No. 10: Relationship enhancement (Jon Williams)

My 2018 prediction is that we use technology to remember and fortify social connections. You’ll get together socially with a friend, geo-locate, take pictures, Twitter, make notes and videos, and so on, and it all gets automatically filed away. There will be no difference between “online friends” and “real friends”. This will be life-altering.

I think we can make on-line relationships better with improved information technology but there will be no substitute for in-person relationships because meeting someone in person is a much richer and more intimate experience.


One Response to “InfoWorld peers ten years out into our technology future”

  1. 8:05 am on March 31 2011, someone said:

    me thinks you’ve already been proven wrong on a couple of those. lol. they are guilty of wishful thinking but i think u were a bit too skeptical as well.

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