What will the future of computing bring?
If you believe Cisco Systems Inc. futurist Dave Evan, in five years we’ll be creating the equivalent of 92 million Libraries of Congress worth of data a year, in 20 years artificial brain implants will be available and in 25 years robots will replace all workers.
Small wonder Evans told a group of Canadian reporters and IT analysts Wednesday that what he calls the coming technology avalanche “will be incredibly destructive” to some.
“It behooves those organizations and individuals and governments to really get this and embrace this,” he warned. “This is a fundamental shift in how we as a species will operate forward.”
Evans, whose job is to look at emerging and advanced technologies for Cisco’s consulting arm, said the predictions are based on a number of assumptions, including the pace of change we’ve seen recently accelerating over the next 30 years.
“Things are no longer growing at a linear rate,” he argues. “Because of the law of large numbers things are accelerating at an exponential rate.”
Not surprisingly, perhaps, considering the way organizations and individuals are reluctant to purge their hard drives, Evans foresees the world’s data will increase six times in each of the next two years – including corporate data multiplying 50 times a year. So by 2029 we’ll pay a mere US$100 for 11 petabytes of storage.
We’ll want to push that data around, so by 2013, wireless network traffic will reach 400 petabytes a month, compared to the 9 PB a month that flow today through both wired and wireless networks.
Moore’s Law, the dictum that the number of transistors that can be put on an integrated circuit will double roughly every 18 months, will be extended “for some time,” despite fears that the limits of reducing silicon will be reached soon. It will – around 2021.
By then, a breakthrough in quantum computing will make “mindblowingly fast” computers that will allow instantaneous language translation and machines that recognize faces, that think and networks that can transmit an unlimited amount of data any distance.
Each of us may have a virtual assistant – a digital creation with feelings – taking over the drudgery of online tasks like going through our inboxes and monitoring e-Bay auctions.
Or, he added, because “data does not equal knowledge,” intelligent machines will be put to use mining those mountains of digital files, videos and music we’ll be storing to help us make smart decisions about our lives.
“There’s enough problems now to keep us busy for a millennium,” he said at one point, “whether it’s global climate change, resource depletion, Africa, AIDs, disease, you name it.”
Evans has no worries emotionally-saturated intelligent machines will over-run humanity, as they sometimes do in Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. Just in case, he said, there will be a “kill switch” available on each.
The picture he painted was not always rosy. At one point he cautioned that we have to close the digital divide between nations. “If we don’t think about what we’re doing to the planet, we may fall into the trap where the divide gets greater and greater.”
Warren Shiau, lead IT analyst at Toronto’s Strategic Counsel who was at the session, found the outlook fascinating. But, he said, Evans was “talking about things from a technological perspective. Will it happen from a social or economic or business perspective?” he asked.
Robots replacing all workers? “What are we all going to be doing?” Shiau wondered. Today some people in China are rioting because there isn’t enough work, he said.
Evans assumes the pace of technological progress will continue almost exponentially, Shiau pointed out. While Evans admitting that silicon computing has some physical limits, the analyst added, some of the predictions assume the next leap in computing, quantum computing will be successful and within a relatively short time.
While Evans believes home networking speeds will be 20 times faster than they are today, Shiau noted the futurist didn’t guess what service providers will charge for the privilege. Today, Shiau pointed out, providers impose charges for exceeding data caps.
“There’s a lot of dreamwork” in Evans’ predictions, he said.
Still, he conceded, the technological changes in the past 25 years have been astounding. “Who is to say it won’t be just as astounding in the next 30 years?”