25 Ways IT Will Morph in the Next 25 Years

15. Robots will outnumber humans.

Simple floor-cleaning robots and military drones of today point to the possibilities of widespread deployment of robots for industrial and consumer usage in the future. Special-purpose networks will be built to allow these machines to communicate with each other.

"Within 25 years, robots will surpass the human population in developed countries," Evans says. "These will all be machines connected to the network. Where this gets kind of interesting is the implications from a social networking perspective. . . . Over the coming decades, machine social networks, robotic social networks, will eclipse human social networks."

Progress in robotics is being driven "to a large extent by military applications, but we are seeing this in the commercial world, too," Rusinkiewicz says. "We'll have robots that are very small, can crawl, climb walls and things of that nature...In the case of the Japan nuclear crisis, I would expect there will be robots who could go in there and fix things."~~

16. More of your assets will be virtual.

From videos to music to books, almost everything you own will migrate from the physical to the virtual.

"Ownership in media and data will be based on metadata," Lewis says. "The physicality of owning a movie won't be a physical box or a DVD. It will involve metadata that says you have the rights to watch that movie."

There could even be 3-D, remote manufacturing of items that you want to buy.

"Within 25 years, you might go to Amazon.com and see a device that you want to buy. Instead of having it physically shipped to you, you will download the recipe for it and print it out locally with a 3-D printer," Evans says.

17. Augmented reality will become commonplace.

By 2036, we will have computer-generated sensory images that are integrated into our every day life in what's called augmented reality.

Augmented reality is already widely used in TV sportscasting; for example, the line that's transposed on a swimming race to show the world record holder's pace. This overlay of virtual reality on top of physical reality will increase in the future.

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For example, contact lenses could have real-time face recognition embedded in them, or pilots could wear special goggles with built-in navigational devices.

18. 3-D telepresence systems will emerge.

From telepresence to gaming, every computer experience will be 3-D and immersive. Indeed, some prognosticators say you will live your life going seamlessly between the virtual world and the real world.

"Telepresence will be a full, 3-D experience, where you can touch and see and smell what's going on," Rusinkiewicz says. "This I expect that we'll see in 25 years."

These 3-D telepresence systems won't require special glasses or avatars. A 3-D image of a person from another part of the world will appear life-sized and able to interact normally with the people in a conference room. It won't be that different from the holographic images of Princess Leia in the original "Star Wars" movies.

"We will be permeated by small machines at this point," Elliott says. "The whole environment we live in will be filled with sensors and actuators. We will be living half inside the computer and half inside the physical world...In the end, this will dissolve the difference between the physical world and the world inside the computer. There will be no difference 25 years from now."

19. Computers won't just solve problems; they'll prevent them from occurring.

Today's computer systems are reactive, but tomorrow's computer systems will be predictive and preventative. They'll be able to correlate larger data sets into larger models and create more realistic simulations of environments so they can prevent problems from occurring.

For example, a futuristic traffic management system won't just route you around a traffic jam; it will prevent traffic jams from occurring by changing the patterns of traffic lights.

"We can look at the velocity of vehicles and how many were on the roads. We can analyze and create models that project what traffic will look like at any given point of time...When we look at the actual data and the predictive data, they are dead-on, astonishingly accurate. With that data, we can proactively change the flow of traffic so that the traffic jam never happens," IBM's Meyerson says.

These sorts of predictive and preventative systems could have a significant impact on the cities of tomorrow, affecting not only traffic but also water and electrical supplies. "This is a tremendous step forward for urban living," Meyerson says, adding that "cities are systems of systems."

20. Computers will be more like humans.

Until now, computers have been bad at understanding the context of information, but progress will be made as more processing power is available.

"I think we are at the point where we have enough horsepower to make major dents in some of the artificial intelligence problems," Rusinkiewicz says.

One example is software agents, which will be semi-autonomous virtual entities that handle simple chores for a person. A software agent might be able to locate the slides for a presentation, or talk to another person's software agent to coordinate an activity.

"They'll be able to recruit other agents as needed to come up with the desired outcome. This is something that will happen," Rusinkiewicz says. "It may be your agent talking to my agent for this interview 25 years from now."~~

21. A fundamentally different Internet architecture may evolve.

Researchers at PARC are working on a new underlying architecture for the Internet called content-centric networking that they hope will be adopted in the next decade or two.

The Internet was designed 40 years ago to make connections between two end points, and over the years it has been overlaid with systems for caching content closer to end users. PARC envisions a new Internet architecture that is designed from the ground up to distribute content, software and services to end users.

"Content centric networking doesn't have the concept of end points," explains Van Jacobson, a PARC Research Fellow. "If you're asking for something, it's like standing up in a room and asking for the time. Anybody that has that information can reply with it. It turns out that you can make a communication model that's as efficient as IP by removing the source-and-destination model."

Last September, PARC and a team of 10 universities received a three-year, $8 million research grant from the National Science Foundation's Future Internet Architecture program. Jacobson estimates that it will take another 10 years after the NSF grant is complete for the content centric networking scheme to be widely deployed.

Jacobson says the content centric networking approach will create less long-distance traffic on the Internet and will be more energy efficient because all content is served up closer to the user. It also may improve the information security landscape.

"Right now, our security model is that we secure containers of information and we secure the process of communications," Jacobson says. "If you go to a model where you're asking for information, and information has a name but not a location...you can secure the information. All of our packets are cryptographically signed by the producer of that entity."

22. Information security will continue to be a problem.

We'll have more powerful encryption systems 25 years from now, but it's unlikely that we will have eradicated the information security problem entirely.

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"There will be a constant battle between people who want to protect information and people who want to destroy information," Newell says. "I don't see that fight going away. There are always going to be people who want to steal from you and people who want to monitor you, and they will have the same compute power available."

"Information security issues will not be solved," EMC's Lewis agrees. "We're going to continue to struggle to secure, copyright and share information."

23. An Internet catastrophe will occur.

Internet policymakers are already planning for the possibility of a fundamental catastrophic failure of the Internet.

For example, as new security measures for the DNS were rolled out last summer, policymakers prepared for catastrophic failure of the so-called DNS Security Extensions (DNSSEC.) Five people around the world were given digital keys that would allow them to restart the process of signing the DNS root zone in the event of such a disaster.

"The path we're on now with the computers and the Internet is a disaster waiting to happen," Elliott says. "We wait for the disaster, and then we try to react. We have huge vulnerabilities in our society with our financial systems, our electrical systems....More likely than not, we'll have a catastrophic scenario in the next 25 years."

24. Your job may be outsourced - to a computer.

If your job involves research and analysis, you may be replaced by a computer, thanks to expected developments in the Semantic Web. The Semantic Web refers to a set of technologies being created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that allows computers to understand the meaning of information so they can access the Web intelligently and perform tasks on behalf of users.

"There will be a growing capability of computers to analyze data, sift through it and extract meaning, as programmers become more capable of organizing and finding semantic content," Newell says. "I do think that will change things tremendously. It will make more information readily accessible, but it will put some people out of business...including people who today do research and analysis."

25. Only the agile will survive.

In a world where the pace of change is getting faster and faster, CIOs and other IT executives will be looking for the most agile workers, those who are flexible and best able to embrace change.

"Technology is going to innovate very rapidly," Lewis says. "The challenge for IT professionals will be to find ways to adopt new technology and not break the business by doing it but be able to exploit the advantages of it. That's going to be absolutely critical."

Another key attribute of tomorrow's IT workforce: creativity. Future work environments will become increasingly open, collaborative and creative.

"It used to be physical strength that mattered, but the value of that has diminished to the point where it is non-existent now. Then it was intellectual work that mattered," Rusinkiewicz says. "In the future it will be about creativity, the ability to make unexpected connections and the ability to adapt."

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

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