Commentary

What They Predicted About 2015...In 2005

It must be the vanity of the era, whatever the era, to think you won’t be completely fooled again. And yet, that happens all the time. 

Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center asked around 3,000 Internet experts and scholars a series of questions, to develop a vision of what technology and society would look like in 2025.  It’s a fun read, and I think you should keep it somewhere until 2025 comes around (though suggesting how you keep it seems problematic. Maybe, print it out?)

Here are the bullet points:

*"The Internet will become ‘like electricity’ in people’s lives – omnipresent and less ‘visible.’ ”  We’ll always be on the Internet. It’s almost like we’ll always be in the Internet.

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*"Some very fundamental human activities — things like learning, thinking, working, and being ‘present’ with others — will be transformed by these changes.”

*"The problems of privacy and digital divides could worsen. Some new difficulties could arise.” Many of the experts predict big “social fissures” between those who have the money and wits to afford and master gadgetry. The future will be “unevenly distributed.”

*“Humans, their institutions, and their norms never adapt to changed circumstances as quickly as the technology advances and often do not respond even to obviously pressing problems until after catastrophe occurs.” Pew says many of the experts worry  that governments will try to protect themselves and their population and split up the global Internet to do so.

*"Clear majorities of experts we canvassed favored an open Internet with end-to-end architecture and Net neutrality principles, and they fear that powerful organizations like corporations and governments might foul things up.”

It’s not all so cheery (Pew’s seven reports that form the summary here clearly point out how their experts divide, optimistically or more dimly, to what’s ahead.)

But while much of this report is big picture and no doubt, well-reasoned, it’s also talking out of its hat, as are all futuristic plots.  It might be -- it almost surely will be -- that life and the Internet in 2025 will be very unlike those predictions.  

I thought, OK, let’s go back and see what was said about the Internet in 2005, and see how that worked out.

One 2005 look ahead to 2015 theorized that by now, “The highest-paid celebrity is synthetic,” and it’s really hard to say if that one was was way-off or just needed to define its terms better. But that same report said, with a lot more emphasis, that “autopilot” vehicles would be “common.” Not quite there yet, but close. That batch of predictions, by the way, also came out of Elon University.

Then I quickly remembered that two giant players--that have changed a lot about communication, life, advertising and the rest of the media world -- weren’t even in the discussion in 2005, because they didn’t really exist. YouTube didn’t start until February of that year; Facebook didn’t open to the whole wide world until 2006. Even Google, although up and running since the late 90s, didn’t have its first public offering until the summer of 2004. ($85 a share). And  it wasn’t until 2003 or so that taking photos via cellphone was beginning to be very common.

But that list of “other possibilities” for life in 2015, as imagined in 2005 and compiled for that 2005 report, are right on the mark. Here’s the complete list:

  • Highest-earning celebrity is synthetic

  • Dolls come with a personality chip and full sensory input

  • 25% of TV celebrities are synthetic

  • Expert systems surpass average human learning and logic abilities

  • Computer agents start being thought of as colleagues instead of tools

  • Autonomous AI sales staff units become AI stalkers

  • First multi-celled organism assembled from scratch

  • Self-aware machine intelligence

  • Computer-enhanced dreaming

  • Thought-recognition used in sleep enhancement

  • High-speed civil transport supersonic jet, 300 passengers, 1,500 mph

  • GPS and engine-management systems linked to limit speed automatically

  • Paper and coins largely replaced by electronic cash

  • Most tickets electronic

  • Personal taxation at point of sale

  • Automatic dialing from smart business cards

  • Augmented-reality overlays used in stores

  • Reverse auctions in personal shopping devices (nearby stores bid to provide items on shopping list)

  • Hotel in orbit

  • Scalable AI as major military threat

  • Positive clean ID required for access to many places

  • Terrorist use of genetic modification to pollute crops and damage economy

  • Most fighters and bombers flown remotely

  • Use of network resonance as security threat

  • Ambient intelligence detection of minor crimes & anti-social behavior

  • Identity theft forces all transactions to use biometrics

  • Domestic augmented-reality used to give virtual makeovers

  • Biometric ID required for every phone call

  • Use of mutant insects for attack purposes

  • Robot dance tutors

  • Nanowalkers, nanoworms, nanofish

  • Mechanical intelligence using MEMS and NEMS

  • Supercomputers with speed exceeding 1 ExaFLOPS

  • DNA computer

  • Use of bacteria for processing and storage

  • Desktop computer as fast as human brain

  • Use of polymer gels for information processing

  • Kitchen rage caused by electronic gadgets

  • Electronic implant equivalent to Botox

  • Use of virtual-reality scenes in household rooms as decor

  • Replacement of people leads to anti-technology subculture

  • Most electronic toys are hybrids, with half on internet

  • Anti-noise technology built into homes

  • Active wallpaper responds to inhabitants' moods, etc.

  • Neighborhood video-surveillance networks

  • Washing machine aware of contents and selects cycle

  • Augmented-reality offices used in telework centers

  • Palm-top printing puts buttons on skin

  • Glasses-based computer displays dominate in the office

  • Electronic responses can be automated based on conversational inference

  • Windows with coatings to re-direct sunlight

  • Nanotechnology toys

  • Paper money replaced by smart media

  • Spread of nomadic information companies leads to global taxation

  • Academic learning is argued to be unnecessary in the age of smart machines

  • Integrated taxation in all transactions

  • Return-to-sender viruses, corporate counterattacks

  • Nano devices roaming within blood vessels under own power

  • Use of humans' own tissues to grow replacement organs

  • Direct electronic pleasure production

  • Context-sensitive cyber-drugs

  • Electronic stimulation of brain sensations as recreational substitute for drugs

  • Some implants seen as status symbols

  • Gene-gel stimulation of re-growth of natural teeth on demand

  • Retina regeneration using fetal retinal cell injection

  • Emotion logging and recording

  • Emotionally specific drugs

  • Micro-fluidic chips used for gene sequencing in every GP surgery

  • Self-certification for prescriptions using electronic diagnostics

  • Outpatients at home - remote tele-medical consultations

  • Genetic links of 90 percent of diseases identified

  • Individual's genome part of their medical record

  • Synthetic organs created by printing layers of cells

  • Synthetic viruses created

  • Sensory augmentation using sensory implants, nanoparticles, etc.

  • Use of stem cells to treat human brain after strokes or accidents

  • Gene therapy generates new hair cells in humans

  • Sensory implants allow direct sensing of cyberspace entities

  • Robotic cleaners in hospitals

  • Biometrics and medical tests linked to benefits and disability allowance

Tonight at midnight, we start again. What’s next? Unpredictable.

Happy New Year, and thanks for reading.


pj@mediapost.com

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