Future shock

Enough with the past. We ask 5 futurists to describe the changes coming our way.

How will IT change out future? Here are some intelligent guesses.

You wake up, turn on the TV and you're greeted by your personal agent, who says, "Good morning; you're flying to Boston this morning, and it's raining, so take a raincoat."

As you approach the airport, your agent whispers into your holographic ear bud, telling you exactly where to find a parking space at the airport parking garage.

You go to the gym. Your agent asks what you'd like to watch on television, sets the channel and monitors your workout. Your agent monitors your caloric intake throughout the day via wireless microsensors.

You go to work. Your agent keeps track of your appointments, and provides you with real-time information needed to run your company or your department.

Need to do some research? No typing in search terms on Google and clicking around to find what you're looking for. You ask your agent to find something out, and the agent does it - in a nanosecond. You decide what this superintelligent agent looks and sounds like? It could be John Wayne or it could be Wile E. Coyote.

And how likely is this to really happen? "This will happen. This is for sure, guaranteed," Daniel Burrus says.

"There are a lot of forces coming together to drive technological change at a faster rate than we've ever seen before," Burrus says. For example, breakthroughs in quantum computing could blow Moore's Law out of the water. Instead of processing power doubling every 18 months, the growth in computing power could move in an almost vertical path.

That would pave the way for ultraintelligent electronic agents that would use neural networks to learn and eventually get to the point where they anticipate what you want. Because you're mobile and would need to access your agent from a variety of locations, Burrus envisions Web-based services from a company such as Google or Yahoo, or maybe from a company that doesn't even exist yet, providing access to your agent.

Let's say you get an agent. You would start off slowly, giving the agent more and more information about you over time. And you would be able to add plug-ins to the agent. For example, you might get a medical plug-in from your doctor, or a financial plug-in from your broker.

Burrus emphasizes that your agent will be needed in the future to help you deal with the mountains of information that will be available. "We are humans, and we will continue to live in a human world," Burrus says, "and these are the tools we will use."


Next: James Canton on the next convergence >

The next convergence

Biotechnology, nanotechnology and IT will come together in amazing ways.

James CantonCEO, Institute for Global FuturesBook: Technofutures, The Extreme Future

You're the CEO of a company in the age of Internet 3.

There are 2.5 billion people connected to the Internet, an increase from about 1 billion in 2006. And people aren't just connected - they have pervasive, wireless broadband access.

You understand that IT is your ticket to competitive advantage in virtually all areas of business. So you tap into your corporate portal.

"Find me all of my unhappy customers . . . and make them happy."

"Find me the best talent, wherever it is in the world."

"I'm thinking about developing a new product. Find me new customers who would be interested in this product. Oh, and find out how I can produce and distribute it."

"I have an idea for a better way to manage currency fluctuations for transnational clients that I want to monetize. Find me customers who will pay me 1% of whatever I save their company via my new idea, and sign customers up . . . even before I've developed the idea into anything tangible. Once we come to an agreement, I'll embed my service into their networks, and they'll deposit digital dollars into my account."

According to James Canton, this will all be possible because of the rapidly accelerating convergence of IT, nanotechnology and biotechnology. This convergence will create networks that are highly collaborative, deeply personalized, intuitive, predictive, self-healing and self-reflective.

Companies will take advantage of these networks to gain competitive advantage in virtually all areas of business, from supply chain to making employees more productive to customer relations management. "The CIOs of today are CEOs of tomorrow," Canton says. "There will not be a business decision that will not be technology driven."

Canton predicts this nano-bio-IT convergence will lead to embedded devices that will enhance human productivity, such as chips that stream information directly to the cerebral cortex, or embedded devices that enhance human intelligence or memory.

And these advances aren't as far off in the future as you might think, Canton says. Nanotechnology - the manipulation of matter at the atomic level - is just starting to take off. Governments around the world have begun investing seriously in nanotechnology, Canton says. "We've started a global wildfire," he says.


Next: Marc Lurie on nanotechnology >

Let's get small

Nanotechnology will topple Moore's Law and bring unimaginable changes in IT.

Marc LuriePresident, Foresight Nanotech Institute

Some people are concerned that Moore's Law - the idea that computing power doubles every 18 months - may start to reach the point of diminishing returns over the next five years as current semiconductor manufacturing techniques bump up against the limits of how small transistors can be shrunk.

But nanotechnology will take care of that problem, says Marc Lurie. "A whole new set of technologies will come to the fore. We will see semiconductors and network systems derived from human ribosomes," which are biological components that manufacture protein.

He predicts that within 10 years, advanced nanomaterials will bring about a 1,000-fold improvement in network computing power and performance.

Nanotechnology also will bring huge changes at corporate IT shops, which will be scrambling to find material scientists instead of Java programmers. Data centers will continue to be the large presence they are today, but there will be so much computing capacity that companies will be able to "leverage data in ways that are only barely conceivable today."

Lurie sees advances in nanotechnology occurring in two phases. First, nanotechnology will be used to make things that already exist into smaller forms, such as shrinking circuits on chips.

The second phase will be breakthroughs that can barely be conceived of today, such as using biological mechanisms to make artificial mechanisms. An example is an antenna the width of a human hair built right into the fabric of clothes.

"There will be all sorts of opportunities in non-intrusive ways to integrate people with information," Lurie says.


Next: David Smith on the digital home >

The digital home

Get ready for on-demand gaming, IP TV and do-it-yourself everything.

David Smith

Vice president, consulting, alliances and education, Technology Futures

The expansion of electronic gaming and MP3-based services will transform the digital home. Look for do-it-yourself, individual content creation on peer-to-peer networks. These networks will ride on the back of expanding computing power, storage expansion, broadband penetration and Reed's law of community building, which says usefulness of large networks, particularly social networks, can scale exponentially with the size of the network.

The power of the games will expand beyond PCs and game consoles to many other forms and devices. On-demand gaming will become part of many households. IP TV will take off because of broadband penetration and new business models.


Next: Sid Ahuja on the virtual enterprise >

The virtual enterprise

With broadband video, everybody stays connected and works from anywhere.

Sid AhujaVice President, Software Media Research, AT&T Labs

You're an IT executive for a large company. Employees are scattered all over the world and moving all the time. Still, they are always connected to the network and all of the information they need to do their jobs is at their fingertips.

The network doesn't just accommodate e-mails and business documents. Real-time video is the preferred method of communication. That means the network must be able to handle streaming video between all types of devices.

The network also needs to provide encryption, single sign-on, VPN tunneling, wireless access anywhere in the world, biometrics, identity management and personalization.

Most of this will be outsourced to mobile virtual network operators, who will provide this service to companies, Sid Ahuja predicts. IT executives will still have control over internal networks, databases of key corporate information, but they won't need to own the routers and switches.


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