IBM Chairman Thomas Watson famously predicted in 1943: “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” In the same decade the magazine Popular Mechanics also weighed in, predicting that “Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” Even Microsoft founder Bill Gates predicted in 1981 that for computer memory,”640K ought to be enough for anybody.” Computers now come standard with more than 3000 times that. And even that’s not enough.
Such is the pace of the digital revolution that looking into the future is a daunting task. But daunting as it may be, here are 12 predictions for the future:
1. Internet connectivity: The internet will be dirt cheap, lightening fast and “always on”. Eventually computers will be cheap, dumb terminals, pretty much needing to be connected to the net to work. Applications will be web-based, which is the most efficient way of running and delivering them. This also makes data storage and data sharing more efficient. E-mail has long been available in the guise of a web-based application, but now we are now seeing Google release its web-based apps to challenge the software models of Microsoft’s Word and Excel. Soon our desktops will be virtual and purely web-based.
2. All digital devices will be connected: In the future any digital device that is not networked or connected to the internet will be a strange thing. Everything from your camera, phone, radio – even your fridge – will be networked to each other and connected to the net via Wi-Max networks for full functionality and a feature-rich experience. Non digital devices such as sunglasses and clothes will also probably contain microchips and be networked. All digital devices will constantly talk to each other.
3. Rise of mobile internet: Rapid improvements in mobile screens and connectivity mean this will be the main way people access the web. It’s happening already in countries like Japan, where their present is the rest of the world’s future. Cellphone operators face both challenge and opportunity as voice calls on our mobiles become chiefly internet-based as opposed to the current networks. Instant Messaging (IM) becomes the preferred means of communication over SMS/Text. Your mobile will become your wallet and credit card, and perhaps citizens will vote in democratic elections via their phones for the first time?
4. Rise of the individual and entrepreneur: The internet’s open source movement has given individuals unprecedented access to code, knowledge and resources. It’s easier than ever before for people to create their own media online, particularly via blogs and open content management systems, also known as Wikis. In many respects a teenager in a basement has almost as much opportunity as a worker in a big company. This is the era of the entrepreneur and the individual — and the balance of power is tipping.
5. Strides against digital divide: Increased internet access via mobile phones means meaningful participation in the digital economy by the developing world, which exhibit healthy mobile penetration rates. Even today cellphones are more ubiquitous than landlines in these countries. A cellphone has been the first time many people in developing countries have owned a phone and been able to participate in the communication revolution. Illiteracy issues in education may even be overcome via video and audio streaming to handsets in a world where broadband is fast, cheap and ubiquitous. New opportunities for collaboration and education are created out of this.,
6. Kiss privacy goodbye: We are being “Googled” and people are baring their hearts and souls on social networking sites like Facebook. It will create privacy issues, but this will be okay because everyone will be in the same boat.
7. Rise of the Virtual Universe: Virtual worlds like Second Life will become increasingly mainstream, especially as internet connectivity and graphic cards improve. Standards are created which allow avatars to move seamlessly from one virtual world to another, creating a virtual universe. Eventually, this becomes a visual alternative to the world wide web. Google becomes a dominant player in virtual world search, but also includes virtual world search results with that of the world wide web. As Second Life becomes bigger, it’s citizens orchestrate a coup d’etat, and the virtual world is eventually ceded by it’s creators Linden Labs. From now on Second Life is governed democratically by its citizens, rather than a corporation.
8. Information pollution and overload: The next big challenge will be to manage the information clutter of the digital age. There will be a focus on creating filters and aggregators to make sure we get only the good stuff. People will complain of “digital fatigue” and “digital noise”. Doctors will prescribe “switch off” holidays. Anti-digital movements will rise and urge people to “get back to basics”. Perhaps even a second world wide web is announced in response to the clutter. Sadly, participation in this new web is not automatic and free, but controlled.
9. More Googles and Facebooks: These internet behemoths finally get good competition. Facebook becomes a virtual OS/desktop with the Microsoft influence. Microsoft eventually goes open source, and much like Google, realises that the main revenue game is in advertising, following the basic principle of the market: connecting buyers with sellers.
10. Media production and distribution changes: All media is eventually delivered and consumed via the internet, including what was known then as “TV” (Internet video) and “Radio” (Internet audio). There are no specialist print, TV or radio media companies left. All become fully converged multimedia operations that appear on many digital platforms via the net. Print does not become completely extinct, but becomes a niche, luxury lifestyle thing. It’s a preference, part of that treasured “off time”, a break from the digital noise all around us.
11. Role of media changes: The traditional media model changes. Media are more than just publishers, but aggregators and facilitators of content. The business is to capture audience by all means. Traditional media wake up and ask themselves: Why let Google have all the fun? Media outlets also look to own the medium and the channels and do deals to bring out their own, branded digital devices such as their own phones. Media also become powerful social and business networks and develop a more sophisticated relationship with their users.
12. Fragmented media environment: Non-media companies become de facto media players, including cellphone operators and handset makers. The media world is filled with new competitors. The world of user generated content explodes and the readers/consumers themselves become tough competition as the Long Tail wags. It actually starts to wag the dog as the barriers-to-entry to publish and do business falls even more dramatically in a connected, digital world.
A while back I did a powerpoint presentation with some of these predictions, which can be seen here