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Network World 20th Anniversary

Future shock

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

Up close and personal

Network World - Superintelligent personal agents will anticipate your needs and change your life.

Daniel Burrus
Founder and CEO, Burrus Research Associates
Book: Technotrends

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 >

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