I’m pleased to see my recent cover story, “Connecting with Our Connected World” has been included in THE FUTURIST Magazine’s Best Stories of 2013. There are lots of great articles in this year’s issues and I highly recommend reading all of them if you’re at all interested in the future. Better still, consider becoming a member of the World Future Society so you can read about tomorrow’s world all year around.
“Connecting with Our Connected World” is my latest article and explores the coming era of the Internet of Things. It’s also the lead article for The Futurist magazine – my third cover story for them, which obviously I’m pleased about. While much has been written about IoT – or the Internet of Things – in recent years, this article takes a somewhat different tack.
We’re creating a world in which evermore aspects of our natural and man-made environments are becoming interconnected, capable of communicating with human operators as well as with each other. This will allow objects to keep us appraised of everything from their precise location to handling their own restocking and servicing and so much more.
However, there is a darker side to all this. For instance, issues of personal privacy and self-determism, not to mention some less well-behaved aspects of the technology:
“Once a system reaches a particular threshold of complexity, we can no longer be certain about specific cause-and-effect relationships; rather, we must think in terms of probabilities. Instead of being 100% certain that A will lead to B, we might assign a likelihood of, say, 99.98%.
For some events, this probabilistic approach works fine, but for others it could be disastrous: Power plants, automated weapons systems, and freeways full of self-driving cars all could experience catastrophes if operating on erroneous information. So these and other systems will need to be designed with greater safeguards and redundancies than they have today.”
My point is we’re at a stage in our relationship with our technology when we’ll need to start thinking in more and more nondeterministic ways. But in many respects, isn’t this how a great deal of our world has always been? So fortunately, we have lots of practice.
Information. There is probably nothing so important to our lives, to our culture, to our world. Information, and the ability to communicate it, has been at the foundation of humanity’s rise since before we used fire or stone tools. It has allowed us to grow from nomadic clans to villages to city-states to nations to become a world-spanning society.
As our society and technologies have grown, so too has our world of information. Its depth, breadth and sheer volume have expanded exponentially. This has occurred for millennia, probably throughout our entire history. Yet now, as we find ourselves in the midst of the Digital Age, we discover we’ve reached a point when the volume of data we generate threatens our very ability to utilize it.
Data grows exponentially. According to market research and analysis firm IDC, the world’s digital output is doubling every one and a half years. In 2010, they expect the world to create and replicate a record 1.2 zettabytes of data. That’s over a trillion billion bytes, or a stack of DVDs reaching to the Moon and back. By 2020, IDC expects this number to grow to 35 zettabytes, or enough DVDs to reach halfway to Mars. But there are reasons to believe this estimate may fall woefully short.
How we address the issues surrounding the information explosion and the overload that accompanies it will directly impact how we develop our society and technologies in the future. My new article “Treading in the Sea of Data” is the cover story for the latest issue of The Futurist (July/August 2011) and it explores what this “data deluge” could mean for our world. The challenges created by Big Data are significant not only from a technological perspective, but from personal and societal ones as well. However, there are a number of approaches we can take in dealing with what will only continue to be a growing condition of life in this time of accelerating progress. I welcome your comments.
(This article draws from my more in-depth paper in the World Future Society’s 2011 conference volume, Moving from Vision to Action, which may be preordered from www.wfs.org.)
My latest article “The Age of the Interface” is the cover story for the May/June issue of The Futurist which is out this week.
A properly designed and implemented interface not only facilitates system-to-system communication, but it also simplifies and automates control of otherwise complex functions. Interfaces let us operate on things that we can’t otherwise deal with and peer into regions where we couldn’t otherwise see. From steering aircraft carriers to moving atoms with atomic force microscopes, interfaces rescale our actions. They translate digital signals and invisible radiation into media that are readily accessible to our senses. In essence, they become our eyes, ears, hands, and even extensions of our minds.
As astounding and varied as our interfaces are today, they’re on track to become much more so in the near future. Under development now are a range of new methods for interacting with our devices in ways that would have been inconceivable only a few years ago. With so many advances now on the horizon, we may someday look back on this period as the Golden Age of the Interface.
This article grew out of some of my observations about the profusion of interfaces that are currently under development. Some of these will be coming onto the market this year, others five to ten years from now. Overall, the trend is toward more natural ways of interfacing with one (or more) of our senses and an increasingly immediate integration with our bodies.
I’m very pleased with how the article turned out and welcome your responses and critiques.