Ten prophecies for the digital millennium
December 9, 2008
A summary of the main trends in IT, from the rise of the supernet
to the threat posed by intelligent machines.
Recently I was asked to speak at a conference about what's going to happen in IT predictions in the next 10 years. It's always hard to tell the future, but here goes anyway - 10 predictions, in no particular order. I have mentioned most of these ideas in various columns during the past year or two. So treat this, my last column for the year, as sort of a summary of what I believe to be the trends in IT as we near the end of the first decade of the digital millennium.
1. The internet will become the "supernet"
The internet has been around since 1969, but it's only 15 years since it has become the web - easy to use, easy to navigate, with billions of web pages and billions of users.
We have already reached the point at which most devices connected to the internet are mobile - phones, cars, even household appliances. That trend will continue, with the move to "embedded computing", where the internet links objects as well as general-purpose computers.
2. The decline of the PC
This is a consequence of the first prediction. PCs will not die - indeed, they will become massively more powerful, but they will become only one of many types of computing device. Mobile phones and "thin clients" will be much more popular ways of connecting to the supernet.
3. The rise of software as a service
Again, a consequence of the rise of other types of computing device. Data and processing and applications are moving off fixed computers - or even mobile computers - and on to the web.
This is increasingly being called "cloud computing" as all processing takes place in the "cloud" that is the internet. An important example is the craze for "software as a service", in which applications reside elsewhere and are accessed through a web browser.
4. The decline of copyright
Regular readers of this column will know this is a hobbyhorse of mine. Copyright and most intellectual property laws are now an anachronism. Attempts by record companies and film studios and book publishers to stop people copying digital media are doomed to failure.
Technology is forcing big changes to business models.
5. The greening of IT
Computers contribute about as much to carbon emissions as do aircraft - about 2per cent of the world's total. Many users and vendors are working out clever ways to reduce this figure - virtualisation, data centre consolidation, thin clients and telecommuting. All worthy stuff. But the real greening of IT comes when the power of information systems is harnessed to increase efficiencies throughout the organisation, in logistics, in manufacturing and in power distribution. IT is also an integral part of the carbon footprint monitoring and measuring process.
6. The threat from intelligent machines
Look up "The Singularity" in Wikipedia or somewhere. The term, invented by American writers Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil, refers to the time in the near future when machines become more intelligent than humans and start replicating themselves. Who then will be the dominant life form on the planet?
7. Increased importance of technology for the aged
The population is ageing. The proportion of people disabled by the illnesses of old age is growing rapidly. Digital technology has a big role to play in helping people live independently and in keeping them out of expensive and soulless institutions.
The rise of so-called "e-health" is a big trend in this direction - use of technology to remotely monitor people's vital signs, to provide diagnoses at a distance and to supplement communications systems.
8. The decline of IT as a speciality
A hundred years ago it seems someone predicted that if telephony job opportunities continued to grow at the same rate, within a generation everybody in the world would be a telephone operator. Well, with automatic dialling, everyone is. Somebody else once predicted a similar thing about computer programmers. Today we all program computers, by the very act of using them. There are fewer specialists, but many more generalists.
9. The death of newspapers
Newspapers as we know them are in decline. Are you reading this in hard copy or online? Around the world, newspapers are shutting down or moving to the web. Blogs are replacing the mainstream media.
The profession of journalism, and the way we consume media and get our news, is being transformed. I'm not sure whether this is a good or bad thing, but there's no doubt it's happening.
10. The growth of internet TV
TV is going digital. At the same time, internet bandwidth is quickly increasing, and most of the data it carries is video.
Many kids simply don't watch TV any more - they download stuff. All sorts of people are offering all sorts of video content on the net, from legitimate TV stations seeking another distribution medium to amateurs on YouTube and elsewhere.
The existing pay TV model of expensive content over a proprietary distribution medium has only a few years left. And "free-to-air" will become "free-to-internet".
Call me at the end of 2018 to see how all this has panned out. And do have a Merry Christmas.