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10 technologies that will change the world in the next 10 years

3D printers, sensor networks, virtual humans and other technologies under development now will drastically change our world in the decade to come, according to Cisco chief futurist Dave Evans

By , Network World
July 15, 2011 12:29 PM ET
working bicycle created via a 3D printer

Network World - As computational power rises exponentially, not linearly, so does the rate of change -- and that means the next 10 years should pack in far more technological change than the last 10.

Disruptive technology is, by its very nature, unpredictable, but it is still possible to look at the work being done by R&D labs around the world and see clues as to what the future holds. That's the full-time job of Dave Evans, Cisco's chief futurist and chief technologist for the Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG).

At Cisco Live, Evans outlined what he believed to be the top 10 trends that will change the world in 10 years. Here is his list, with commentary augmented by yours truly based on interviews in the past year with numerous other industry analysts and visionaries.

No. 1: The Internet of Things

We have passed the threshold where more things are connected to the Internet than people. The transition to IPv6 also supports seemingly limitless connectivity. Cisco IBSG predicts the number of Internet-connected things will reach 50 billion by 2020, which equates to more than six devices for every person on Earth. Many of us in the developed world already have three or more full-time devices connected to the Internet when factoring in PCs, smartphones, tablets, television devices and the like. Next up are sensor networks, using low-power sensors that "collect, transmit, analyze and distribute data on a massive scale," says Evans.

Such sensors, based on standards like Zigbee, 6LoWPAN and Z-wave, are currently being used in both predictable and surprising ways. Zigbee is being embedded in smart appliances and smart meters. 6LoWPAN (over IPv6) is used by Vint Cerf for his wine cellar climate-monitoring system. Z-Wave is the basis for Verizon's smart home automation service. But more creative uses are emerging, too. Sparked, a Dutch startup, implants sensors in the ears of cattle to monitor cows' health and whereabouts. Sensors are being embedded in shoes, medicine like asthma inhalers, and medical exploratory surgery devices. There's even a tree in Sweden wired with sensors that tweets its mood and thoughts, with a bit of translation help from an interpretive engine developed by Ericsson (@connectedtree or #ectree).

No. 2: Not just Big Data, but a zettaflood

About 5 exabytes of unique information were created in 2008. That's 1 billion DVDs. Fast forward three years and we are creating 1.2 zettabytes, with one zettabyte equal to 1,024 exabytes. "This is the same as every person on Earth tweeting for 100 years, or 125 million years of your favorite one-hour TV show," says Evans. Our love of high-definition video accounts for much of the increase. By Cisco's count, 91% of Internet data in 2015 will be video.

VISUALIZE: Volume of data darn near indescribable ... without the iPad

Much of Cisco's development focus (not to mention its marketing) preaches that the so-called "zettaflood" will require vastly improved networks to move more data, and not drop the ball (or the packets) of our beloved video.

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