It's that time of the year again. You know, that time of year when technologists, pundits and bloggers get into the festive spirit and share technology predictions for the coming year. Being partially curious and possibly not wanting to be left out of the fun, I thought I'd throw my hat into the ring with my own set of prognoses.
In terms of timeframe, whether it’s 2014 or 2050 is another story. Alas, this is a story about intersecting trends, asking the simple yet infinitely complex question of where is technology taking us?
The famous computer scientist Alan Kay can best sum up my opinion on technology predictions in his famous 1971 quote; “Don’t worry about what anybody else is going to do… The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Really smart people with reasonable funding can do just about anything that doesn’t violate too many of Newton’s Laws!”
Alan Kay may have been right. Among the most amazing recent technological advancements has been what some describe as the “Age of Surprise.” A concept originally described by the U.S. Air Force Center for Strategy and Technology at The Air University, as part of a project known as Blue Horizons. The project was a multi-year future study conducted for the Air Force Chief of Staff. According to the study’s authors, the exponential advancement of technology have reached a critical point where not even governments can project the direction humanity is headed. Some researchers have even forecast an eventual singularity where the lines between humans and machines are blurred.
The Air Force determined that “We can predict broad outlines, but we don’t know the ramifications. Information travels everywhere; anyone can access everything — the collective intelligence of humanity drives innovation in every direction while enabling new threats from super-empowered individuals with new domains, interconnecting faster than ever before. Unlimited combinations create unforeseen consequences.”
In the simplest terms, the Age of Surprise may form the basis for the emergence of new powerful forms of technology that are practically impossible to predict. A recent example of this is SnapChat, a photo messaging application developed in 2011 by Evan Spiegel and Robert Murphy, then Stanford University students. The service has grown so quickly that in November, Google reportedly offered $4B for the company which the company founders declined.
The Age of Surprise makes determining what will be the next big thing more difficult than ever. But thanks in part to the emergence of cloud computing, big data and advanced analytics, we can now attempt to make predictions based upon the macro trends driving us toward a future where technology plays an ever-increasing role in our everyday lives.
Over the last few years several trends have begun to take shape, among them has been the transformation of the Internet as a form of basic content or information delivery to a fundamental social system at the heart of modern society. SnapChat is just one example among many recent viral startup success stories. A quick stroll down any street, in any major city, and you’ll see the Internet has already become woven into modern life. Yet this convergence of our physical and digital realities barely scratches the surface of the opportunities it holds for us.
Although viewed by some as “science fiction” the concept of a technological singularity, or more commonly known as singularity, may hold the key. Singularity is the theoretical moment in time when artificial intelligence will have progressed to the point of a greater-than-human intelligence, radically changing civilization, and perhaps human nature. The first step may be contextual based computing which is rapidly evolving from basic forms like Google’s Now service to more complex integrated experiences such as various wearable tech. As we move forward, this technology maybe begins to mix our digital and physical realities into a singular unified experience tailer to our particular needs, technology as unique as we are.
A major driving factor has been Moore’s law, which states over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. Combined with a global network of connected people and things, our future may lead to a period where progress in technology occurs almost instantly via a global nervous system of interconnected devices. What’s more, this point of technical achievement may not be as far off in the future as you think, thanks in part to the ever increasing speed of computing collectively around the globe. What Moore’s Law started, the Internet has supercharged.
At a supercomputing conference in 2009, Computerworld projected exascale implementation by 2018. Exascale computing refers to computing systems capable of at least one exaFLOPS. (One exaflops is a thousand petaflops or a quintillion, 10(18), floating point operations per second.) Exascale computing holds significance in the technology world because it is believed that it is the order of processing power of the human brain. It is for instance the target power of the Human Brain Project, which aims to simulate the complete human brain on supercomputers.
But even if we are able to build computers as fast as human brains, building the complex program that actually simulates the brain and possibly consciousness is probably decades away. But by understanding the fundamental programming of our biology, we may be able to develop applications and systems specifically tuned for us as individuals. Imagine being able to download the ability to speak a new language as easily as downloading an App for your phone, or the ability to learn something or do something new with the ease of one click.
Which brings me back to my original question? What’s the future of technology?
The future of technology may very well lie in our ability to understand the world around us, and how we fit into it. But more importantly, how these things are actually implemented will probably remain a surprise, I guess you can call it the age of surprise.