October 9, 2014

Killer Apps in the Gigabit Age

Big-Picture Responses: Part 1

Some of the most evocative future scenarios are expressed by these big thinkers’ imaginings of what may be by 2025.

Massive change is likely to impact cities, and 3D video and printing will advance

Vint Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google, responded, “Entertainment appliances, environmental control systems, and security alarm systems will all benefit from third-party service providers managing these systems on our behalf. Smart cities will amass substantial information in real time to deal with traffic, power generation, and distribution. High-speed connectivity means streaming will be replaced by download/playback except for real-time events. Group interaction and perhaps 3D video will become a reality. Already we see a lot of the former in Google’s Hangouts. 3D printing will lead to completely new supply chains including for raw materials. Designs will be transferred on the Net and devices created at the end points with 3D printing and manual or automatic assembly.”

Sensors will be everywhere, contributing to information visualizations

Jonathan Grudin, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, commented, “I expect that the management of networks of embedded sensors and effectors will be the largest change between now and 2025, sensors everywhere—on property, on our clothes, on (and perhaps in) our bodies, all of it feeding digital information to be processed on servers or filtered and passed to the cloud. By 2025 small devices might be powered by harvested energy, in which case the possibilities expand dramatically. On the receiving end of this massive information flow will be large displays at work and in many homes through which vast quantities of information can be rapidly visualized. We have lagged in exploiting this because it is more difficult to model or demo than a simple application, but it will come.”

‘Cloud immigrants’ will appear as holograms and compete for jobs

Marcel Bullinga, a technology futures speaker, trend watcher, and futurist, replied, “No doubt the killer app will be real-life holograms operating in real time: for instance, as doctors, as surgeons, as coworkers. It will change the workplace. Not only will it diminish the need for business travel, it will also increase competition in the labor market immensely. Whereas before you had to compete with fellow humans in the same physical area, immigrants for example, in the future you have to compete with ‘cloud immigrants’—coworkers appearing in their work as a hologram.”

People will learn more about themselves and ‘avoid coercive marketing’

Patrick Tucker, author of The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move? observed, “Today, large organizations, including corporations and government agencies, use personal data to make predictions about the behavior of individuals. In the next 10 years, users will have access to a variety of apps that constantly collect and analyze data to output personalized predictions that will better enable users to avoid coercive marketing and learn more about themselves. Big data will shrink to become personalized data in app form as every individual user develops a much better understanding of how her behavior influences her rapidly-evolving future.”

Bye-bye phones: Devices will manage things machine-to-machine

Paul Saffo, managing director at Discern Analytics and consulting associate professor at Stanford University, wrote, “Never underestimate the transformative power of Moore’s law. The fastest growth will be communications options aimed at machines as data consumers. Your devices will subscribe to content and apps on your behalf. Smartphones will disappear rapidly.”

And Mark Johnson, CTO and vice president for architecture at MCNC, wrote, “We are approaching the post-bandwidth era where we are not constantly limited by the capabilities of our connections. We’ll expect to be able to access and control everything we own that uses electricity all the time from any location using a device we always have with us. We won’t think about ‘phones’ and ‘television’ as distinct things or even as services any more.”

‘Apps’ will be so over by 2025

Stephen Abram, a self-employed consultant with Lighthouse Consulting Inc. and CEO of the Federation of Ontario Public Libraries, wrote, “We haven’t begun to see the big stuff yet. So far we are seeing traditional face-to-face and 20th century stuff being turned into apps. The real change will come with convergence of the total experience as smart card, phones, and appliances as well as smart wall and augmented reality really start to invent new modes on the backs of old ones. Just one small example—fiction and non-fiction e-books are merely the Gutenberg product wrapped in a digital wrapper. Where they’ll be when they truly try to entertain or support pedagogy beggars the imagination. The year 2025 will be a much different place and ‘apps’ actually will have gone by the wayside as the need to bind them disappears into the social-cultural and workplace eco-system.”

Katie Derthick, a PhD candidate in human-centered design and engineering at the University of Washington, responded, “Applications are the wrong scale and quality of technological innovation and solution. In 22 years, I hope we are no longer churning out application after application for problems that require solutions at the institutional, social, family, or individual (as in, choices about daily life) levels. Innovation will persist at the application scale for a while, but a backlash against technologizing everything, at the cost of time, health, relationships, social skills, spirituality, presence, attention, and cultural and class divides is coming. Finally, rather than apps, the innovation with technology will be at the device and environment level, meaning communication between devices (in ways that don’t require apps), in the places we live (first) and work (later).”

Think bigger about ‘apps’ and the change becomes impressive

Bruce Mehlman, Co-Chair & Co-Founder, Internet Innovation Alliance, wrote, “The App Economy spawned by mobile broadband innovations is already changing every aspect of Americans’ lives, with exponentially more ahead of us.  A health care revolution will save lives, save money and meaningfully enhance patients’ quality of life, with wearable monitoring devices barely scratching the surface of what’s to come.  Transformative educational apps promise a future free from the one-size-fits-all broadcasting-from-the-front-of-the-room teaching model that disserves so many learners who assimilate information differently.  Real-time sensor networks will do for traffic congestion and fuel consumption what millions of dollars in public transportation advertising has failed to accomplish, with even late-adopting governments leveraging citizen-facing apps for better constituent service and internally-focused apps for less waste, fraud and abuse.  And evolving apps will give citizens more privacy and security as consumers increasingly vote with their feet for differentiated solutions that return control and choice to the user.  In short, we have only just begun to witness a revolutionary transformation as profound as the Internet itself.”

Machines will have ‘more-complex intelligence’ and decision-making capability

Susan Etlinger, an industry analyst for the Altimeter Group predicted, “In the next 10 years, we’ll see tremendous advances in the fields of automation (robotics) and information (data). We’re already seeing the emergence of drones for simple commercial use; in time, these devices will be invested with more-complex intelligence and a more sophisticated range of uses and decision-making capability. We’ll also continue to see blurring of the lines between physical and virtual reality, as well as an infusion of social, linguistic, and neuro-scientific research into technology development. New and more complex big data streams—images, sensor data, sound files, video, natural language—will continue to challenge us, however, as there is a limit to the ability of algorithms to account for human language and behavior. As a result, we’ll need to see dramatic advances in machine-learning capability. This will invest machines with a kind of sentience, although one far removed from the dystopian vision of a William Gibson. Our struggles with privacy, identity, and ethics will continue as technology advancements exceed our capacity to understand their implications.”

The Snowcrash Metaverse arises

Stowe Boyd, lead researcher for GigaOM Research, predicted, “High-fidelity meeting tools will decrease the need for business travel. These will present participants with artificially constructed online places to meet, and create high-fidelity renderings of people’s real-time actions based on cameras and other devices. For example, I could be writing on a ‘whiteboard’ with others, as well as seeing them standing next to me. In fact, I would be in my office in Beacon, New York, wearing an Oculus-ish headset and writing on my wall, while meeting with people from London and San Francisco. The culmination of that meeting trend will be the true online conference, where I might be sitting in my office, again, but sensing that I am in a large conference hall with hundreds of others, hearing a lecture, and being able to chat with the people on either side of me. I sneeze, and five people say ‘Gesundheit.’ Basically, it is the Metaverse from Snowcrash.”

How will automated sensing and human decision-making mesh in this future?

Marjory Blumenthal, a science and technology policy analyst, replied, “The evolution of the ‘Internet of things’ and the associated proliferation of sensors will feed new applications; how automated sensing and human decision-making will mesh is what is most uncertain.”

The ‘Internet of context’ could help us solve major social problems

Jerry Michalski, founder of REX, the Relationship Economy eXpedition, wrote, “If someone had told me in 2005 that there was room between blogging and instant messaging for an application I would like and use more than either, I would have said it was impossible. Yet I use Twitter all the time. So by 2025, a long time from now, I’m certain several innovations like that will have taken place. That said, I don’t think full-time, high-definition video, the obvious higher-bandwidth application, is the answer. Google Glass is facing backlash already, videoconferencing is interesting but not compelling. One possibility, if we turn back copyright laws (egregious at their current terms) and help people weave a context for their lives, is that we’ll have a rich Internet of content in context, representing many different points of view. This will allow us to dive deeper into conversations than the superficial modes of today’s discourse, where the same shallow ideas are repeated over and over. Context will give us depth, which will help us solve major social problems.”

The fundamental constraint is time

Joe Touch, director of the Information Sciences Institute’s Postel Center at the University of Southern California, responded, “Approaches and solutions change when a property shifts from being a constraint to being a resource, i.e., when it shifts from being part of the challenge to being part of the solution. We’ve seen that shift happen with CPU power, memory, and storage (disk) already, and we’ll soon start to see bandwidth in that light. The fundamental constraint is time—it’s fundamentally what we care about, and it’s the one thing we can’t speed up. We can trade bandwidth for latency; I explored this 25 years ago in my thesis, and the time is now becoming ready for that approach.”

Or none of the above Part I: Developments conspire against such progress

David Ellis, course director for the Department of Communication Studies at York University in Toronto, commented, “There’s a prior question: Will increases in bandwidth up to a gigabit materialize by 2025? A lot of developments continue to conspire against this outcome. One, the access business stays firmly on the path to concentration, especially on the cable side. Two, and despite the foregoing, the integrated ISPs in Canada and the United States have a vested interest in continuing to treat bandwidth as scarce and expensive. Three, a conservative school of thought continues to argue that the status of US (and Canadian) broadband is just fine, while invidious comparisons with other developed nations are irrelevant or misleading. Four, the progress in municipal Wi-Fi and fiber alternatives, and other carrier-neutral transmission platforms, is still not very encouraging, in part because of the extent to which the incumbents have convinced many US jurisdictions that publicly-funded connectivity should be outlawed. Five, the FCC’s pushback against further entrenchment by the incumbents on the content side (Open Internet Order) seems likely to get tossed by the DC Circuit this year.”

Or none of the above Part II: Intellectual property issues could squelch the whole thing

Jamais Cascio, a writer and futurist specializing in possible futures scenario outcomes commented, “The development of new killer apps for the gigabit age is, if not predetermined, highly likely simply as a consequence of greater numbers of people experimenting with the technology. The big potential roadblock—and the main reason I could just as easily have answered ‘no’—is the disturbingly high likelihood that intellectual property controls and the demise of network neutrality will undermine the end-to-end agnosticism of the Internet. If the gigabit future is essentially the modern wireless/cellular network writ large, then incremental innovation may even be difficult, let alone radical innovation.”