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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

2025: A Future Odyssey

Predicting the future is always a source of amusement for the future generations to whom the predictions are aimed. One need only look at the flashing buttons, irritating ‘bleeping’ sounds and laughable fashion choices on the early Star Trek series to see how visions of the future are often just extended visions of the present. However, one movie that is worth seeing for its potential insights into the future is Stephen Spielberg’s Minority Report.

Aside from the central premise – based on Philip K. Dick’s dystopian view of the future whereby crimes are solved before they happen by “Pre-Cogs” who have developed Extra Sensory Perception – the overall vision of Washington D.C. in 2054 maybe frighteningly accurate going by a new report commissioned by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
The Pew Internet & American Life Project (http://www.pewinternet.org/) produces reports that explore the impact of the Internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life in the US. It is an extremely well-funded project which “aims to be an authoritative source on the evolution of the Internet through collection of data and analysis of real-world developments as they affect the virtual world.” As such it is an extremely interesting source of information for anyone interested in digital media technology and content and where the future trends lie. In their latest study, they have surveyed 742 top technology thinkers and stakeholders and gave them a series of “future scenarios” involving the internet and digital technologies to comment on in order to get a consensus on the future. The result shows that the majority believe the internet will continue to spread in a “flattening” and improving world. There are many, though, who think major problems will accompany technology advances by 2020.

The database of responses is quite interesting:

- A low-cost global network will be thriving and creating new opportunities in a “flattening” world.

- Humans will remain in charge of technology, even as more activity is automated and “smart agents” proliferate. However, a significant 42% of survey respondents were pessimistic about humans’ ability to control the technology in the future. This significant majority agreed that dangers and dependencies will grow beyond our ability to stay in charge of technology. This was one of the major surprises in the survey.

- Virtual reality will be compelling enough to enhance worker productivity and also spawn new addiction problems.

- Tech “refuseniks” will emerge as a cultural group characterized by their choice to live off the network. Some will do this as a benign way to limit information overload, while others will commit acts of violence and terror against technology-inspired change.

- People will wittingly and unwittingly disclose more about themselves, gaining some benefits in the process even as they lose some privacy.

- English will be a universal language of global communications, but other languages will not be displaced. Indeed, many felt other languages such as Mandarin, would grow in prominence.

The most contentious issues were around the belief that governments and corporations will not necessarily embrace policies that will allow the network to spread to under-served populations; that serious social inequalities will persist and that “addiction” is an inappropriate notion to attach to people’s interest in virtual environments.

Also the experts were evenly split evenly on a central question as to whether the world will be a better place in 2020 due to the greater transparency of people and institutions afforded by the internet: 46% agreed that the benefits of greater transparency of organizations and individuals would outweigh the privacy costs and 49% disagreed.

To read the full report go to: http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Future_of_Internet_2006.pdf

The survey was done in collaboration with Elon University in North Carolina who also have another predictions database which looks at the next 150 years in terms of technologies and scientific progress. Sound like the stuff of science fiction? You decide:

2010-2014: Ubiquitous RFID tied to GPS. Super supercomputers. Intelligent materials.

2015: Genetic profiling. Human cloning. Autopilot vehicles. Adaptable materials.

2016-2025: VR immersion. Ubiquitous robots. Emotion-control devices. Paint-on power.

2026-2045: Biostasis in space. Space elevator. Moon base. A "singularity" due to accelerating change.

2046-2150: Mars colony. Time travel. Brain downloading. Humans assimilated into the internet.

Courtesy of Elon University http://www.elon.edu/predictions/default.html

posted by Neil Leyden @ 6:42 p.m.

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