Friday, March 11, 2016

The future of technology

The road to the future can be difficult to predict. Even Jedi Master Yoda could not always see the path ahead; you may remember his famous quote, "Always in motion is the future."

Sometimes, rather than building a complete picture of technology to come, we need to describe the broad shapes that it will contain. I use this analogy: My mother likes to do quilting. When she starts a new quilt project, I may not be able to tell you what the quilt will look like exactly, but I can tell you about the colors that will be in the quilt.

Apply that to your forward thinking. Maybe you can't provide great detail about the state of technology in five years' time, but you can describe the future landscape in broad themes.

What will technology look like in the next year? That may be easy to figure out; next year's technology may only be an iterative improvement from today's technology. But what about five years from now? Ten years? How will technology inherit the future? What technology will we use at that time? What is the shape of that technology landscape?

Technology will become increasingly mobile
Certainly next year's technology will continue to leverage wireless and mobile devices. Mobile bandwidth will become increasingly important.

The convergence of mobile, portable, and desktop devices seems increasingly likely. Some vendors have already experimented in this space with mixed success. Apple's iPad Pro and Microsoft's Surface are gaining traction in office spaces; these are platforms to watch.

It is a matter of time before mobile merges with the desktop and this new hybrid device becomes the next "must have" technology. In five years, our phone may become our new laptop, available for traditional "desktop" computing when connected to a display and keyboard, and as a mobile device when on the go.
Computing will meet you where you are
The promise of the Cloud is that your work will always be available to you, no matter where you are. All you need is a web browser. Today, Millennials look to the Web as their primary computing platform. They look for technology to come to them, not for them to go to technology.

Web-based systems such as Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365 provide greater work flexibility. If you have a web browser, you can access your work wherever you go. The future of technology will not be on the desktop, but on the Web.

That doesn't mean the traditional desktop is going away. Far from it. If the future includes a hybrid of mobile and desktop, we will retain some desktop applications for some time. That means computing needs to meet you where you are, on your platform of choice. Microsoft seems to have figured this out with Office 365. They provide a Web version for those who prefer the Cloud model, apps for those who prefer mobile computing, and desktop applications for those who still use the desktop.

The key to the future will be the seamless integration of storage on the back-end to unify the platforms. It shouldn't matter what platform you use; if you need to edit a file, it should be immediately available.
Technology will become more personal
Social networking such as Instagram and Twitter provide outlets where users can engage with others, without the perceived "filter" of overhead. For example, Millennials often use Twitter to reach out to vendors and service provides. A friend of mine uses Twitter to ask her vet questions about her dog, and she expects the vet's office to reply.

If your organization has a social media presence, you need to be active with it. Engage your audience. Respond to questions. Find ways to remove barriers to communication.

In addition to social, computers will increasingly respond to you and your preferences. We can see this already with voice search. Today, I rarely type a query into my phone; I just tap the microphone icon and speak aloud. "What's the weather today?" and my phone tells me the weather forecast.

In the future, we will expect our devices to become more interactive. It's more than just voice search, but any query we make should respect our previous activity. The query I made a minute ago probably relates closely to the query I'm making now. My search history can indicate a preference for certain topics. Our tools will respond to us and become a true digital assistant.
image: openDemocracy/"cyberspace" cc by-sa

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