The Future of the Internet III, a report issued by the Pew Internet and American Life Project and Elon University of North Carolina, paints a pretty picture of the Internet in the year 2020: The reader is going to think it either is pretty cool or pretty scary.
The report, summarized at NewsFactor, predicts that most people will connect wirelessly. Voice recognition, touch-based interfaces and virtual reality will be common. The line between work and personal time will fade, the understanding of privacy will change, and people will be more open-minded because they will be exposed to a wider variety of views and lifestyles.
This all sounds very futuristic and, of course, it is. But by the same token, 2020 is only 11 years away. Looking back the same amount of time-to 1997-makes the gap seem a bit shorter. Titanic was the big movie, Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule and Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone was published in England. Looking forward instead of behind, it seems that we are closing in on a fascinating, exciting and nerdy reality fairly quickly.
The 11-year time frame means that a lot of the groundwork must already be done. Christopher Dawson, the education editor for CNET, correctly points out in his reaction piece to the study that a lot of it coming at an even faster clip, at least as far as learning is concerned.
The technology pieces indeed are rapidly evolving. The voice recognition user interface mentioned in the NewsFactor piece is explored in a long overview by Express Computer Online. Clearly, a lot of the progress that will be necessary to make that 2020 "deadline" has been done. The piece begins with a simple definition: Speech recognition software enables a person to control a computer by speaking to it. Companies mentioned are IBM, Microsoft and Nuance, whose Dragon NatuallySpeaking is a mainstay of the field. Besides being cool, speech recognition is an important enabler for folks who have difficulty with typing and manipulating a mouse. The piece offers a nice summary of offerings from the three companies.
Touch screen technology is the other user interface mentioned by Pew and Elon. This Busineess Weekly post surveys the field in briefer fashion than Express Computer Online. The writer gives credit to Apple's iPhone as the catalyst for the sector. The writer mentions the Instinct from Samsung, the Touch from HTC and newer entrants XpressMusic from Nokia, the Blackberry Storm from Research in Motion and the T-Mobile G1 from Google. The main advantages of these and other approaches, the writer says, is that they avoid the need to use confusing combination of keys to trigger functions.
Voice recognition and touch screens are great advances, but perhaps the most important step toward the future of 2020 is the move from the desktop into the cloud. Humans see advances in a near-term, myopic way, not for their revolutionary potential: The invention of the radio probably wasn't seen as something that would revolutionize communications. It is more likely perceived as a novel form of entertainment. The relocation processing, applications and storage to a remote site is perceived by many as mainly a way to save some money and improve efficiency. The bottom line, though, is that the movement of all of these functions to the cloud-which, with only slight hyperbole, makes the earth into one big PC-is the kind of disruptive transition that could lead to the massive changes the Pew and Elon study predicts.