The visionaries

IT leaders make predictions about the future


Q: What major technology issues today will become inconsequential or significantly less important in the future?

A: Upgrades, integration, and maintenance issues become issues of the past with on-demand computing and open APIs that enable simpler and more effective use of Web service technology. On-demand technology also engenders a higher level of success -- for example, companies don't continue to pay the electric company if the electricity isn't working. By the same token, the on-demand service model requires high performance and 24/7 delivery. The abysmal failure rates of major software implementations will become a thing of the past.

Q: What transformative technologies will be coming down the pike in the next 25 years, and when do you think those will happen?

A: On-demand computing: Companies are realizing more and more they no longer have to tie themselves to large software investments. Such growing awareness is already forcing software companies and system integrators to change the way they do business. The risk shifts from the customer back to provider.

Wireless: As mobile applications continue to push the barriers on innovation, we will see more devices that connect people and every aspect of their lives no matter where they might be. Wireless will not only transform the way applications are built, but how we communicate and relate to each other on both personal and professional levels. Mobile devices will become easier to use, smaller, smarter and be integrated more effectively into our daily lives versus us conforming to our devices.

Biometrics: Although obviously still in the early stages of development, biometric technology has some exciting implications for identification, fraud prevention, security, and customer service application innovation.

Nanotechnology: Advances in nanotechnology will be critical in more precisely fashioning a new generation of products and goods that are cleaner, stronger, and lighter. Nanotechnology is literally transforming the way things are built.

Q: What obstacles need to be overcome before all Web applications become hosted?

A: We are entering the era of on-demand computing. As with any new technology, it will take time for the technology to fully mature and for education to penetrate the market, but ultimately we foresee everything transitioning to a service. Over the last four years, we have spent a great deal of time showing the market that hosted services are not only secure and reliable, but an all-around better business choice. A company doesn't dig a well or build an electric plant to access water and heat. The same goes for IT. More and more companies understand they don't have buy software to reap the benefits. Instead, they see they can use the power of the Internet to access all the resources they need securely, anytime, anywhere. Over the next few decades, we will see a transition -- the Amazons, Yahoos and salesforce.coms of the world will overtake the software behemoths and lead the way through the on-demand era.


Q: Can you take a stab at labeling the technology eras of the future, out to the year 2028?

A: The Wireless Networking Era

The Embedded Computing Era (8B embedded microprocessors shipped annually already)

The Genomic Computing Era

The Superhuman Computing Era (when computers are finally smarter than people)

The Store-Everything-Forever Era

Q: What major technology issues today will become inconsequential or significantly less important in the future?

A: Spam. Ugly mess for now. Filtering and criminalizing are the wrong solutions. Permission-based and postage for e-mail are the obvious solutions, we'll realize soon.

Q: What transformative technologies will be coming down the pike in the next 25 years, and when do you think those will happen?

A: Some overdue autonomous networked reliable operating system beyond Windows and Linux, which are OLD. We are on the verge of storing everything forever. RFIDs

Q: What comes after Ethernet? What's the next revolution in networking?

A: Wireless networking in the newly accessible bands above 50GHz (although it will still be called Ethernet).


Q: Wireless throughput and power -- where do they eventually lead?

A: Wireless connections will be everywhere and we will use the technology without being conscious that we are doing so. We don’t think very much about the wires that we plug in today -- in the future we’ll have even less reason to think about the invisible wireless technology powering our daily lives. Throughput will seem almost unlimited, because the technology can provide far more capacity than people have the need for or ability to handle. We’ll also overcome issues of power consumption and battery life that have so significantly limited our use of wireless technology.

Q: What is the greatest threat to wireless communications and collaboration?

A: Shortsighted government intervention; in particular, the auctioning of spectrum that allows a few companies to monopolize the air. For technology to reach its full potential, the notions of sharing and collaboration are essential. The air belongs to everybody. An analogy is driving a car. The government’s role may be to set rules such as how fast we can drive, but it doesn’t dictate what manufacturer’s vehicle we must use to get on the freeway. The freeway is built for everybody. As long as we follow the rules -- and these rules have to be fair and reasonable -- then everybody can move forward.

Q: What technology issues today will become inconsequential or significantly less important in the future?

A: Two issues in particular come to mind. Increasing the clock rate in CPUs is one. The architecture of current-day microprocessors was defined 50 years ago and doesn’t really fit with today’s silicon technology. Architectures more suitable for future-scaled technology will be developed within the next ten years. These architectures will perform computation tasks at a much lower power level, and they will eliminate the constant need to increase clock rate as the only resort for delivering high performance. Another issue is software. We spend way too much time worrying about software issues such as correctness, verification, security, bugs, and viruses. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be concerned; we simply don’t have the right solutions yet. Revolutionary changes in software development strategies are necessary and imminent, and we’ll no longer be held captive by these problems in the future.

Q: Can you take a stab at labeling the technology eras of the future, out to the year 2028?

A: Today the technology world is motivated by advancements in communications. During the next 10-15 years we will figure out how to deliver that technology in the best way. And if conditions do not impede development, within 10 years wireless technology will dominate communications. Afterwards, the paradigm changes. In 20-25 years, communications and microprocessors will no longer be at the heart of technology, and we’ll be entering the era of biologically inspired computation models and applications.


Q: What will XML evolve into?

A: Eventually, and soon, I believe XML will evolve into a distributed, cross-platform and widely adopted infrastructure that is capable of discovering the resources associated with the data so it can process it in a universal way. This infrastructure is just starting to evolve now -- developers are looking at things like how to move information around; how to find, catalog, and reuse it in a secure manner; and how to find a program that knows how to deal with the actual piece of information.

Q: Can you take a stab at labeling the technology eras of the future, out to the year 2028?

A: Words that will be used to define the technology eras over the next five, ten, or even fifteen years will include words like “seamless,” “wireless,” “mobile,” and “connected.” Connectivity between everything -- documents, devices, and even objects that traditionally have not been electronic—will become more seamless in ways that will seem revolutionary compared to what is possible now. If you look at how broadly the industry has supported XML over the last few years, it’s obvious that sharing and integrating information from many different sources in increasingly sophisticated ways is the trend of the future. XML is about creating documents in which the content is delimited, or set apart, by tags that explain the meaning of that content. This means that businesses can set up company-specific or industry-specific XML schema for their documents, which will allow them to share business-critical data in a richer, more semantic way. It also means they can integrate the information contained in different documents and databases across the organization. In the XML and SGML community, we have been working so hard on this vision for more than 15 years and I am so excited that the vision is getting implemented by the industry, for example with Microsoft Office 2003. Looking out over the next five years, I think the sharing of information in this way will reach critical mass, to the point where these connected, semantic documents will be widely adopted by businesses everywhere…

In the next 10 to 15 years -- once semantic documents have been commonplace in business and personal computing for a number of years -- volumes and volumes of information on the Internet and company intranets will be connected. This will spawn the development of software programs that can locate and retrieve information from many disparate sources specifically tailored to the profile of the reader or user.

Q: What major technology issues today will become inconsequential or significantly less important in the future?

A: Because of our high demand for connectivity, some of the network problems we see today like inadequate bandwidth will be less and less problematic in a practical sense. Already you can see the beginnings of this -- in some countries, the majority of households are already equipped with high-speed Internet access.


Q: Will computers be more or less secure in 2028 than they are today?

A: Computers will be just as insecure, but computing will be more secure. Right now our major problem is that computer security is brittle; when it breaks, it breaks completely. As computing becomes embedded and invisible, it will become more resilient. Different systems will work in tandem, providing defense in depth. Cyberspace is no different than the real world: The individual pieces may be insecure, but the collection of pieces we call society hums along just fine.

Q: If you were to take a stab at labeling the technology eras of the future, out to the year 2028, what would you call them?

A: Ten year: the embedded era. I think we've moving from computers to small embedded computing devices. Fifteen year: the invisible era. Eventually computing devices will become invisible, just as they are today in cars. Twenty year: the intelligent era. Invisible devices communicating with each other will mimic intelligence. The world around us will become "smart."

Q: What transformative technologies will be coming down the pike in the next 25 years, and when do you think those will happen?

A: Pattern recognition is the key to so many activities. It'll be able to find things we're interested in, identify people as they're walking down the street, and detect interesting events before they're perceptible to us. It's not AI [artificial intelligence], but it'll be the closest thing to intelligence we're likely to see for a while. As to when, I have no idea. Substantive changes require jumps in thinking, which are hard to predict.

Q: What major technology issues today will become inconsequential or significantly less important in the future?

A: Bandwidth, certainly. Eventually bandwidth will be free, just as storage largely is today. On the other hand, user interface will become vital in the future. Computers need to be intuitive, and they're just not. They're not really mass-market consumer items, even though they are sold as such.


Q: What is the next step after on-demand computing?

A: To make much much better use of all that information in something that we would call "intelligence," but the technical term people really use is "semantic Web," or adding semantics to the Internet. Semantics really means that it is possible to analyze the information … when I say information, I mean oceans of information, and extract what's going on in [such a way] that you would say, "My God, this is intelligent" -- it's doing it at such lightning speed that what emerges is truly the closest thing we have to intelligence. … So the era beyond integrating all the processes is making it all far more intelligent, so that it's much easier to use.

Q: What transformative technologies will be coming down the pike in the next 25 years, and when do you think those will happen?

A: The whole evolution of standards into grid and Web services is one. … I call them all the Internet standards. I think the second one is this whole notion [that] we'll learn how to do much more semantic analysis to extract intelligence out of all this information.

Q: What must happen to make this possible?

A: No. 1, we need massive research. These are really difficult problems, so you need big investments in R&D. In the United States, the government needs to make sure there is long-term funding for research. Private companies like IBM need to make sure they invest in R&D to make sure these things happen. Those things will happen if you put the right R&D punch behind it, and it will take time.

Q: What major technology issues will become inconsequential or significantly less important in the future?

A: Worrying about .Net or J2EE will be seen as a quaint little problem at the turn of the century. … I think that a lot of the issues on operating systems will become more and more commoditized. People will say, "And wasn't there this silly lawsuit [where] some bad people tried to stop progress?' A lot of the skirmishes will just disappear, because progress requires more agreement by companies and government for standards. This bad behavior just gets shoved aside. You cannot tolerate it because of the common good. I think that a lot of the skirmishes will just get drowned.

Q: What about the problem of security?

A: Security has to be built into everything. I think that as technologies get more and more powerful, the ability to encrypt all communications will just be a matter of fact. … There will always be people trying to break into things and so on, so you're never done, but I'm pretty comfortable that it's an area where huge progress will continue to be made.


Q: What major technology issues today will become inconsequential or significantly less important in the future?

A: Outsourcing, offshoring to India and other countries. There's a lot of concern about that in the United States, and I think it's completely unfounded. It's great for consumers because they get products and services that are cheaper; it's good for American companies, so it increases profits. Since we still have the most entrepreneurial culture, we have the opportunity to take great advantage of that trend. The danger is that our paranoia is going to rebound in a really negative way and kill a lot of those benefits.

Q: Can you take a stab at labeling the technology eras of the future, out to the year 2028?

A: I actually think that a lot of these technology changes are generational, so they play out over 25 years. We're only eight years into the Internet era; we have another 15-17 years to go.

Q: What transformative technologies will be coming down the pike in the next 25 years, and when do you think those will happen?

A: The good news about transformative technologies is that you don't know they're going to hit until they hit … so they have to seem crazy in order to seem transformative. You look for the things that sound crazy and nevertheless are taken up. I think they're likely to come out of left field. Linux (a really, really big deal moving very fast), utility computing, the automated grid (definitely something coming around that people thought was crazy a few years ago). Nanotechnology, I think, is 10 or 20 years out.

In the industry right now, Internet telephony is one example I think is going to be hitting big in the next few years and I think it will have unpredictable consequences … [because] it may take what today is a very large telecomm industry and reduce it to a much, much smaller industry … it may represent a massive destruction of industrial value, which will be exciting for people and good for communications but bad for the telecom industry.

Q: How will the Internet look in the future?

A: I think it will be completely different, and in a very unpredictable way. The reason is that the Internet is a medium, the first medium we've ever had [that is] just defined by its software. We've never dealt with something like that before. TV, railroads, the telephone do only one thing … [and they] look pretty much the same way they did when they first started. Fundamentally, a railroad is a railroad, and a TV is a TV; wheras the Internet, every year it seems to fundamentally change.

One thing I will bet on: the average Internet user in 1996 used the Internet for about five hours per month. As of this summer, the average number is [up to] about 26 hours per month. That number is going to continue to grow a lot. 


Q: Can you take a stab at labeling the technology eras of the future, out to the year 2028?

A: When a computing paradigm changes, it takes at least a decade for the world to catch up.  Consider how years after the advent of the PC in the early 80s, Ken Olsen of DEC (Digital Equipment Corp.) could still deride it as a toy. It wasn't until the 90s that it really became clear that the PC was the center of gravity of the computing universe. In short, I think we've got a long way to go before we realize the full potential of the Internet era. We're going to see network effects -- and network-effect businesses -- having impact on fields from politics to human interaction.

That being said, I also very much like IBM's phrase, "pervasive computing," which emphasizes not just the Internet but the omnipresence of computing. We are starting to see the real blurring of handhelds, cell phones, cameras, and other consumer devices. Everything is becoming connected, and computing truly is becoming pervasive.

Wireless is a big part of this. (That is, you could also call it the mobile era, or the unwired era.) As people get seamlessly connected, wherever they are, devices become less important, even throwaway, and the continuity of the user's data becomes most important. An interesting corollary is that a huge part of the value premium of Internet-era powerhouses like Amazon and eBay is not in their software but in the critical mass of participating users ...

It's hard to see even ten years out -- the pace of change is increasing. However, it's clear that life sciences are going to have a huge impact in years ahead. While the human genome project hasn't lived up to the short-term hype, it's clear that we're getting very close to many breakthroughs. And any one of many could so redefine society that we'd immediately consider it a "new era."

I expect to see a lot more happening with robotics, as well as with human augmentation. We'll start with disabled people wearing powered exoskeletons and other devices, and then they'll be adopted by otherwise healthy people. I … also expect to see a [progression] through wearable computers to "embedded"  computers -- chips and devices embedded in the human body for everything from health maintenance to communications, and in a dystopian vein, even location tracking…

Distributed, low-power sensor networks are going to revolutionize many devices.

In some ways, you can think of the next ten years being about the interpenetration of the real and the virtual worlds. People and things are going to get wired (or rather unwired), not just "computers" in the traditional sense…

In a darker vein, it's also the era that will see the end of privacy, or rather, the illusion of privacy.

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