Future Tense — Conclusion

What is interesting here is that a lot of the trends we will see over the next few years are about blurring distinctions between online and offline world. I used to joke around that I lived online and went to the real world just for power sources but, as a new generation that considers online applications a given and fails to see where those boundaries are comes of age, we are going to see some major changes.

The first change I envision is a generational conflict over rights and governance on the Internet. I alluded to it in a previous entry but I am increasingly wondering whether we are not seeing the end of the care-free internet. As IPzation impacts more businesses, they will ask for government help and government regulation. Similarly, some business will flock to the Internet to avoid regulations (for example, one could see television companies producing edgier content for the unregulated online medium than they do for the TV medium which, in the US, is under the watchful eyes of the FCC). IPzation allows for sidestepping a lot of laws because it is in an area where few laws have been enforced.

The second change I believe will happen is a move to a more connected set of data across all systems. I capture this trend as IPzation, a new word I coined to reflect the belief that every system will have an IP and the net will become the underlying infrastructure for every form of communication. One of the downside of this is that it will increase the potential impact on such a critical architecture. One could envision armies trying to take down portions of the network in countries they are at war with. Similarly, one could see radical groups or terrorists try to attack Internet infrastructures to undermine economic activity. At the current time, little safeguards are in place to present such catastrophic attack but we’ve been saved by the fact that, while important in people’s lives, the net is not critical yet.

The third change I see is a potential fight between large network providers and users. As the net becomes a more critical infrastructure, there will be a push to lower access cost to it to ensure that everyone is connected (something known as closing the digital divide). However, large network providers will see this as a unique opportunity to solidify their power and their economic potential and will fight any attempt at government regulation. On the other hand, governments, seeing that economic power, will want to move towards stronger regulations of the net. One other potential outcome of all this would be that some users would start creating a net infrastructure outside of the existing one, only connecting it to the current Internet in a very loose fashion.

The fourth change I see is that software applications are going to become harder to program. As one injects the human element as a key actor in the development of a system, the level of complexity of that system will start getting to the point where it adapts to human behavior. The issue here is that such self-healing code (a dream at the current time but potentially a reality in the future) will evolve beyond human comprehension, not because they will become smarter than human but because they will rely on the collective intelligence of their user base, thus making it almost impossible for a single user to comprehend how it works.

The fifth change I see is a large shift in economic value to virtual worlds. Electronic games have already taken a substantial chunk of money from more traditional form of entertainment. I suspect that they will actually move beyond entertainment and start realizing some of the dreams or distopias envisioned in many science fiction books. There are already millions of dollars going through those environments and thus, I would venture to say that companies in that space are currently undervalued as people are still stuck in a mindset that sees them as entertainment and not potential business areas.

Those, of course, are long-term trends. In my view, I’ll consider myself lucky if I’m right within the scope of a decade. I suspect that those changes may take longer than a generation to fully come through but either way, I will continue writing about them over the next few years.

This is the sixth article in a 6 part series. You can read the following parts here:

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