Ten future shocks for the next 10 years

A look back at the changes wrought by technology since 1978, and predictions of the shocking developments we can expect between now and 2018

The past 30 years of InfoWorld's existence have seen a series of future shocks, from the ascent of the personal computer to horrifying strains of malware to the sizzling sex appeal of the iPhone. In honor of InfoWorld's 30th anniversary, we've decided to take a playful look ahead at the future shocks that could occur in the next 10 years (30 years seemed a little too sci-fi).

An all-points bulletin went out to InfoWorld contributors, the replies to which we culled into 10 future shocks -- ranging from radical changes in IT's responsibility to "1984"-ish scenarios where privacy is a quaint notion. No doubt you've considered many of these possibilities yourself. Even more likely, you have just as many interesting scenarios to bring to the party, and we urge you to share them in the comments section of this article. Dream big -- given the drama of the past 30 years, the next 10 are anyone's guess.

Shock No. 1: Triumph of the cloud

My main prediction is that the high cost of power and space is going to force the IT world to look at cloud services, with a shift to computing as a cloud resource occurring in the next five years. So like the old mainframe model where we didn't care how the machine is configured, we just dump requests to the machine and get results. In fact, cloud computing services will resemble mainframe service bureaus. We're already starting to see cloud service bureaus, such as Amazon's EC2. Ultimately, the emergence of cloud computing will reduce the need for computing at the enterprise level. -- Brian Chee

Shock No. 2: Cyborg chic

By 2018, geek chic will look a lot like what today we'd call a cyborg. The human/machine interface will be ubiquitous, with people walking around giving voice/whisper commands and using earbud audio and an eyeglass display that superimposes a machine-enhanced view of the world on ordinary vision. Nobody will notice that half the population is cyborg, because we'll get there one small step at a time, as iPhone belt-clip holders give way to the iBeltBuckle, iGlasses (hey, that's catchy!), and iEarRings. A new generation of computer viruses will take over the new display technology. Sometimes they're fatal, as when the computer display shows an empty street, when in Actual Reality (AR) the street is filled with high-speed traffic. Other times they're just funny, as when the display insists on showing mustaches on every face in view. -- Bob Lewis

Shock No. 3: Everything works

You come home to do a little work on the computer, and when you turn it on, it boots up in just a few seconds with no issues. You open e-mail and it comes up without your having to wait. In fact, this new OS doesn't even have an hourglass icon! For the rest of the night, your computer does everything you ask it to do, without any waiting, hiccups, or errors. The interface is intuitive and sleek. It even changes based off what you're currently doing so that you can access features of the OS that you need while you're, say, working with e-mail or editing pics. We'll call this OS "Windows Sci-Fi" because we're all dreaming if we think that'll ever happen. -- Sean McCown

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Shock No. 4: Nothing escapes you

In 1945, Vannevar Bush conceived of a device called a Memex that would store and retrieve all information accumulated throughout one's life. In the next 30 years, advances in speech and video recognition, the power of cloud-based computing, and real-time, continuous, wearable content capture will bring the Memex vision to life. Just think: You'll be able to leave a meeting without worrying about manually capturing your to-dos. You won't have to remember that interesting thing your friend mentioned over coffee. You won't have to write down the thought that sprung to mind when you saw an advertisement on TV or a billboard on the way home.

Vannevar's Memex vision will come to fruition through your next-next-next-generation PDA. The device will continuously capture all audio and video from your daily experiences and upload that content to the cloud, where it will be parsed to succinctly recognize your tasks, interesting information, and reminders -- all searchable, of course. A summary of important content from your day will be available through your PDA automatically. And yes, like Google Chrome, a "p0rn mode" option will ensure that the things you don't want remembered won't be. -- Savio Rodriguez

Shock No. 5: Smartphones take center stage

I see the smartphone evolving into the preferred instrument for constant connectivity, with voice interaction, facial recognition, location awareness, constant video and sound input, and multitouch screens. The keyboard won't go away completely, but it might be virtual: Think about typing in the air on an image projected from your "smart glasses." Business desktops would evolve into docking stations for your smartphone, with large screens and input devices, Gigabit or better connectivity, and local resources comparable to one of today's big servers (technical desktops would be similar, but with way more onboard CPU and GPU power, as well as massive memory and storage, all connected to massive servers and cloud resources). In this vision, the laptop nearly goes away. -- Martin Heller

Shock No. 6: Human-free manufacturing

We're already close to the perfect factory. (It employs one human and one dog; the human is there to feed the dog, and the dog is there to keep the human from touching anything.) Right now, manufacturing in the U.S. is up, while manufacturing employment is down. By 2018, automation will have hit enough labor sectors that while the GDP will continue to grow, fewer and fewer people will receive that growth in the form of wages. This will drive either social collapse or the establishment of a no-apologies welfare state. -- Bob Lewis

Shock No. 7: Perfect image recognition

I've actually always had this search engine dream. One day you'll be able to see a picture of something or take a picture of something, and load it into a search engine and have it scan the pic, search, and tell you what it is. So you see a flower, stop and take a pic of it, and Google will tell you what kind of flower it is. Or you can take a pic of a fungus growing on your favorite plant and Google will be able to tell you what it is by scanning the characteristics of the pic. Cars, people, buildings -- it should work for whatever you can photograph. -- Sean McCown

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Shock No. 8: Big Brother never sleeps

In the next 10 years, perfect governmental tracking and monitoring of each human being will become reality. Some people will accept LoJack implants for personal safety. Face-recognition technology tied to video monitors at street corners will also contribute. Also very possible: LoJack-style technology along with a digital voice recorder embedded in drivers' licenses (it's optional -- hey, driving is a privilege, not a right). The actual trigger will be pulled when Mercedes-Benz buys General Motors and acquires OnStar, which by then will be private industry's principle purveyor of "Personal LoJack" systems. Shortly thereafter, Russia will have acquired Mercedes, either through conquest or by buying it with oil money, so Russia will know the exact location and movement of most affluent Americans. So will China, which will have manufactured the LoJack transmitters, surreptitiously adding a backdoor feature that lets the Chinese government track everyone as well. -- Bob Lewis

Shock No. 9: Unbroken connectivity

Checking to see if you're connected to a network will seem as old-fashioned as turning on a device to get information in 10 years. Devices that are always receiving information (and displaying it on low-draw screens in the cover of phones and portable computers) will meet networks that are always available to make your interaction with the information world more like a flowing stream than a chain of data lakes. From sports scores to friends' activities, the idea of interrupting your activities to get the news will be a thing of the past. -- Curtis Franklin

Shock No. 10: Relationship enhancement

My 2018 prediction is that we use technology to remember and fortify social connections. You'll get together socially with a friend, geo-locate, take pictures, Twitter, make notes and videos, and so on, and it all gets automatically filed away. You may forget what happened, but you can access it all again when you search your own personal store, either by matching keywords or simply preparing for the next social event with same friend. There will be no difference between "online friends" and "real friends". This will be life-altering. We already have the freedom of not having to remember street directions. When we have the freedom not to remember what happened in social interactions, it raises a fascinating question: Will this solidify personal relationships or change them in some other way? -- Jon Williams