Brian Gammage, Chief Market Technologist, VMware
Ahead of this year’s IP EXPO I attended a roundtable discussion on some of the technology trends and issues we might see before 2050. The panel touched on a number of interesting topics – including data privacy, web segmentation and society’s ever-deepening relationship with IT.
Futurologist Tom Cheesewright kicked off proceedings by observing how IT interfaces are becoming increasingly humanised. He reminded us that not so long ago computers expected you to speak their language, rather than presenting information and actions in a fashion that was easy for everyone to understand. Now, Tom noted, we live in a society where the boundaries between consumers and technology are already quite blurred – to the point where we’re now reliant on technology, rather than just using it as a pastime or to enhance our experiences. At the heart of this notion is the way we’ve started to actually ‘outsource’ aspects of our mental faculties – with Tom admitting that he’s guilty of farming out large parts of his memory and sense of direction to his iPhone.
Our Own Private Webs?
Dan Simmons chaired the event and directed the first part of the debate to the idea of ‘personal internet’, or the possibility of some segmentation being applied to the World Wide Web with individual countries breaking away and introducing their own self-contained internets. While some of the panel believed the concept was very viable, I disagreed – yes, we have the right technology to achieve this (specifically in the increasingly mature field of network virtualisation), but I don’t believe we have the will. Trade is global and so are many of our inter-connections, and despite Angela Merkel’s proposals to create a European-only web, no one would really want to shut themselves away from the rest of the world in a commercial perspective.
There will, of course, be big changes to way we secure information and audit our data protection policies. Issues of privacy will have a big part to play in the development of the web over the next few years, never mind decades.
Lifting Value Out of the Technology Stack
We also talked around the commoditisation of technology – something that most of the panel agreed is already happening in the infrastructure market. I proposed the view that value will continue to rise through the technology stack. Process and business results will continue to abstract away from a direct dependence on hardware, leaving value, capability and speed of reaction defined entirely through software. Sensory data will be built out, with the impending post-screen world opening new opportunities to interact with technology.
In a similar way, humans will start to distinguish between knowledge and skills. After all, with more information at your fingertips than you could consider consuming in a lifetime and the ever increasing sophistication of Artificial Intelligence, what was previously believed to be a crucial expertise may eventually be consigned to history. We’ll have to reconsider the skills we believe are uniquely human before considering how we to add further value to the technology, rather than simply being pulled along for the ride.
Changing Society’s Mindset for Innovation
Finally, one of the most important things I took away from the debate was the idea that as a species we’re held back from advancing by constantly looking behind us. The problems we solve all come from yesterday, not tomorrow. In the past, when the rate of change was slower and permitted the luxury of such wistful reflection, this model worked – now it is simply no longer viable.
We (as societies, communities and individuals) are barely keeping pace with the technology we have today and this is before we’ve even scratched the surface of the promise of some newer technologies like wearables, the internet of things, smart buildings.
In reality, we didn’t come close to understanding what the web of 2050 might look like – after all, we’re still far away from getting to grips with the web of 2015.