Forging the future from the scraps of yesterday and the hopes of tomorrow

It is interesting to me when I see people with grand visions of the future of computing. I enjoy the excitement of some relatively arcane conceptual leap somebody makes regarding technology. I just rarely share that excitement. Most people when thinking about the future of technology simply don’t go far enough. Future thinking is looking at the obvious and expanding upon that in ways that nobody has considered. Yet understanding that we’re all humans and have particular ways of dealing with things and people in our environment.

The cell phone is a great example of future thinking that makes sense. The handheld devices of Star Trek used as a tricorder and communicator have already merged into the smart phone of today. With the ability to scan barcodes, purchases, pictures, and more to relay data through a world wide network the device has more functionality than the devices in Star Trek, and all of that converged into one device. With the addition of locative technology the Gibsonian world of locative art and experience is now opened up. A transcendent cyber scape becomes possible today, but was scheduled by futurists for sometime in the far future. Even the visionaries don’t go far enough.

Issue: If we define our future on the speculations of the few do we artificially restrict the innovative potential moving forward from the past?

Think of this little lament. In 2008 over a quintillion transistors were made in total. In 7 Moores Law generations (aprox 14 years) there will be nearly that many transistors in one device. That is a lot of processing power, but it is handicapped by transmission (network) and storage. The one area we have not seen rapid rising rates is the relatively narrow speed of networks. Storage has nearly kept pace with the much more scalable processing aspect. Some of the issues are handled by not placing all of the processing and storage on a single device, but only providing the results through relatively fast bandwidth. Outsource the horsepower, but keep the Corinthian leather.

Issue: What happens when you have a quintillion transistors changing state at some outrageous speed, but that speed is dwarfed by the number of operations to execute one instruction?

If I were to look out to the future to 2030 think about the changes that might occur I would start by imagining a century previous. If you were standing on the dock in New York city in 1911 and looked out at the water you would see steamships, freighters, and the backbone of world wide commerce at 12 knots an hour. You might catch a glimpse of a technology relatively infantile in flying. The road behind you would be littered with the dung of horse drawn cabs. People would still be buying whale oil, and newspapers would be local businesses. 19 years later a world war fought, a new form of aerial combat tested, and a world connected at the speed of the airlines burgeoning to expand their reach. The telephone starting to make a rise and a world transfigured by the new petroleum economy, but slipping into a depression of monumental proportions. In retrospect it might be nice to enjoy those days of 1911. The dystopian future that was looming is likely somebody’s future today too.

For my predictions of the future some of them are obvious and some of them are not so obvious.

1) Back to the cloud. Cloud computing is where the world of information technology started, and cloud computing is where we will go again. The cost of maintaining state of the art processing devices to write emails, browse the web, or play online games is simply wasteful. Outsourcing the horsepower makes for common sense for the connected individual. That crazy ambiguous term of ‘cloud’ is less important than highly connected individuals will be using the ‘cloud’ to be highly connected. This is the bedrock of many changes. It is at the heart a basic and fundamental change if implemented correctly. This is a device independent, secured information environment, inherently risk averse, and quite resilient solution to many of the problems of today. Unfortunately most people keep trying to put PC’s online as clouds instead of information. It will get sorted out by somebody who has vision of what cloud was, and can be, and that person will be richer than Bill Gates and Warren Buffet combined. Watch for a solution that basically says do your work, your way, and is able to morph to your information needs, but not your processing requirements. If you talk processing speed, or storage size, you’re going down the wrong path. It is all about the information and user experience.

2) Somewhere between Gibsonian cyberspace, locative art, and the d-space of Suarez is the future we call tomorrow. Already possible in many ways the commercial, technical, and visualization possibilities are enormous. The addition of locative visualizations for medicine (diagnosis and scanning in real time), military (blue force tracking), and entertainment (pron? I can see through your clothes for real!), are not to be trifled with. The externalization of the cyber space realm as projected into meat space through mechanisms (glasses, iPhones, etc.) will change culture and all of the elements that interact with knowledge. The fundamental expectations of what knowledge is will change. Watch for Suarez’esque d-space glasses to be added to the classroom for mutli-channel education.

3) The human body has been ignored as an agent of future change. I’ll talk about the physical later, but for now we need to think about the brain. Instead of using processing technologies to enhance the intellectual capacity of the human we have become nearly cognitive slaves to the hive mind of keyword search techniques. Whereas, that may be a great skill of the past. The future will be a semantic web of real communication based on the emotive and logical requirements. With this overarching requirement the ability to make inquisitive queries an educational experience rises exponentially. Each query becomes a teachable moment. A painless, seamless, and enjoyable teachable moment. Every minute of interaction with the communications tools of the future will enhance the cognitive ability of the individual rather than pandering to the lowest common denominator.

4) In the future the automobile is dead and long live the personal transportation plan. Peak oil is past. Collapsing auto-tocracies (punific) have driven the suburbanites back to the city, and resurgence in nuclear power (yes I know all about Japan) has led to electric rail systems taking over the former right of ways previously used by cars. Suddenly light fast rail is not only possible but cheaper than keeping Interstates repaired and the extra road sidings not used by the light rail system are turned over to pedestrian and bicycles. Since highways already have the roadbed capable of handling light rail, the Interstate systems already have on-off ramp systems, and it is basically seamless. Light rail can be laid rapidly (hundreds of miles a week), and projects projected at trillions of dollars are mere billions for a rapid high-speed light rail system. Truck traffic is rapidly shunted to traditional rail systems and perishable goods to night trains on the light rail system. All run on cheap thorium nuclear reaction materials in a hub and spoke electrical system breaking the much maligned grid system currently used. I look for a key point to be when Fed Ex moves to rail travel and distributes their package system to a hub and spoke system exclusively.

5) Good bye to the knowledge worker in 2030, and hello to the craftsman. Industry is not merely the drone attending to a task in the factory of the rich for the wages of debt. Neither is there industry in the shuffling of paper for the mere act of shuffling paper. The ability to escape the paper cut is not a skill worthy of a highly paid worker. It is imperative that society integrates and reward the task of “doing” and “creating” with the same aplomb as acquiring. Money churning may be a way to make money today, but the cost to society is extensive. It will not take long until the task of creation rises again and superior creation is rewarded. Craftsmanship will rise in all career fields as a certification. The cost of having knowledge workers who don’t do anything, but know a lot simply is an untenable position for a society. This largesse is best expressed by the following. In most information technology environments if there are 100 workers (say programmers) then 10 will be highly skilled, and 1 will be the hero who knows enough to push the project. This rule is consistent with the Pareto rule. Though the 99 might do stuff it is the 1 that matters.

As such if there are 100,000 opening for IT people what we really want to do is just hire the right 1000 people. It will not be long until businesses realize this little secret and implement upon it. As information technology skills expand towards utility into the larger population this shrinking demand will become a trend. As current professionals (some of them heroes) quit and move into other fields this will become evident. Much like the axiom, “Why would I become a historian? I can become an engineer (do something) and read about history.” This will come true about information technology as a discipline too. Don’t believe me? In 1911 one of the most vaunted new fangled jobs you could get was as an electrician. Now it is merely a utility that to get a job requires a union card as a journeyman. A craftsman’s trade.

6) In this new future monolithic computing is dead. Monolithic computing is not cloud computing, but the centralization of numerous resources into a single device. The idea of large multipurpose computers like the PC with operating systems and mega-featured applications is done. Smaller devices like the cell phone are already moving forward. Apple Computer became Apple and most of the company’s sales are now in consumer devices. Related to point one, but already trending in the now. It is going to become obvious as embedded functional computers enter the environment with broadband mobile access the world will change. Not to put to fine of point on it, but if you have more functionality into a smaller device that fits your life better. Then why would lug around an extra 8 pounds?

7) The human body is more than the mind, and more than merely meat in the future. If the brain has to be changed then what about the body? I’m not sure how this will play out. But, it appears that the slovenly human of the last 50 years is dying out. Besides literally, it appears that the trend is toward healthier and more adventuresome. I think we will see that the ailing human was a product of car culture and that the reduction in the automobile will be directly corollary to the rise of the fit human. Since transportation costs are already rising faster than the reduction in profit the local purchase/disposition strategy of organic gardeners/consumers will make them very attractive to the newly frugal. I put this one in the “duh” category, but I think the farmers market of the future will be the market of choice. Fuel prices will drive this heavily. Even with easier/faster/cheaper rail transport. So the overall cost incentives will align with better eating, living, exercise for the average individual.

These are a few predictions for the year 2030 so we’ll have to wait and see. I could be wrong. I could be right. I think what we will definitely see are the fusion of locative technologies with information conduits to a utility infrastructure. I think the current models of transportation are weak and change is necessary along with a cheap and safe energy to run that new transportation plan. People who shuffle papers are done. Unfortunately that means professors in the education market too. If you don’t DO something you are going to end up doing a lot of nothing and get to see the darker prediction stream of the unemployed. Oh yeah. There is a whole set of dystopian predictions, but they are much less interesting.

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