In 2014 and Beyond the Best is Yet to Come

It was Danish physicist Niels Bohr who coined the phrase, “Prediction is very difficult, particularly about the future.” In technology circles, especially, predictions often sit at the bottom of the heap, a few tiers down from lies, damn lies, statistics and ICT vendor positioning statements.

Fortunately we have a few, quite solid premises upon which to construct any views of the future. Not least, that Moore’s Law continues to play out. The principle, concerning the rate of increase of transistors on a single silicon chip, has a lot to answer for. While some of the spin-off factors have started to slow (for example clock speeds are reaching their maximum), senior wonks still give us another 10 years of shrinkage . Given that we’re still acting as if computer power is an infinite resource, we’ll probably benefit from another decade or so of efficiency improvements following that point.

The main consequence is that the technology ‘market’ will continue to commoditise. Tech companies have a window of opportunity to make hay from new capabilities before they are rolled into the substrate, a reality that has seen the demise of many a mega-corporation.

From commoditising corporate and desktop computing and servers, margins have all but vanished. The phenomenon known as cloud computing could also be known as, “What happens when processing becomes no more than a commodity?” Existing providers will turn towards higher-value cloud services such as analytical farms as their business models become increasingly tight.

The same wave has led to the rise of the mobile device and the inaccurately-stated “death of the PC”. While we’re not seeing desktop and computers heading for the landfills, they have become good enough for most people’s needs. Cue the (equally inaccurate) death of the tablet when people find little to be gained from upgrading in a year or so.

Even as existing technologies are subsumed, there remains plenty to be gained from extending technology’s reach further into our business and personal lives. We shall see a groundswell of smart monitors and control devices integrate with a cloud-based back-end to deliver the Internet of Things. While I didn’t coin the term ‘Bring Your Own Thing’, I wish I had.

Does this mean we will all be living in smart cities in the immediate future? Realistically, no. While we might see one-off examples, the costs would be too high, the benefits marginal and the downsides too great. We can look instead towards more specific examples. My money’s on municipal waste disposal, home automation and industry-specific use cases.

While commoditisation gives us the raw materials with which to architect our technological future, we also require the ability to control resources and service flows as a whole. It’s not hard to see how the wave of interest in software-defined ‘everything’ presents the latest iteration in our efforts to do so.

We are, however, many years from what we might term ‘the orchestration singularity’: the moment at which computers, storage, networking and other resources can manage themselves with minimal human intervention. In the meantime, our ability to make the best use of technology will continue to be constrained.

Speaking of constraints, none greater exists than the network which, despite having the inordinate ability to shift data around its core, lags behind our abilities to create or process it. Significant advances will come from mobile; not least we can expect 4G LTE to make a real difference by operating at double WiFi speeds, reducing latency with minimal ‘hops’.

It would be a mistake, however, to believe that the main benefit should be faster movement of large data volumes. As we recognise ongoing limitations on data movement, we will innovate around open data and open interfaces to develop smarter ways to store and access information without requiring raw data to be transmitted.

What does all this mean to business, culture and society? Technology will create new opportunities and challenges for all businesses, but for some more than others. Those with strong ties to the physical world - utilities, retail/supply, healthcare and manufacturing - need to prepare for considerably higher volumes of data due to the groundswell of smart, while content and media industries face re-intermediation as a result of next-generation delivery platforms.

IT departments will have their work cut out, as ever, keeping the lights on for existing strata of technology while being expected to conjure innovation and deliver it to decidedly un-agile lines of business. Meanwhile, lines of business will move from digitisation to re-delegation as sales, marketing and other technologies become too much of an overhead to manage.

Outside of the business world, today’s technology advances inevitably result in whole new methods of surveillance — computing is a two-edged sword, which means we need to think hard about the kind of world we want to live in. As many have highlighted, last year’s Edward Snowden revelations indicate not a general failure of government, but a failure of governance.

Ultimately, what happens over the next five years will show that we have no more than scratched the surface of technology’s potential. As time passes, we shall come to terms with the fact that the data-rich world we are creating is akin to stumbling upon a new dimension — driving the requirement for, and acceptance of, virtual identities and online representations.

Niels Bohr died in 1962 but not before he was instrumental in the creation of CERN, that august institution which curated the ‘invention’ of the World Wide Web. While it is worth remaining sanguine about technology’s potential, keep in mind that the simplest ideas, which go on to take the world by storm, are often the hardest to predict. The best, with all its ramifications, is yet to come.


Jon Collins is principal advisor at Inter Orbis, the company he launched to watch technological developments. With over 20 years’ background in the technology industry, Jon has a deep understanding and practical experience of the applications of ICT. 



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Jon Collins

Jon Collins is an analyst and principal advisor at Inter Orbis. He has over 25 years in experience of the tech sector, having worked as an IT manager, software consultant, project manager and training manager among other roles. Jon’s published work covers security, governance, project management but also includes books on music, including works on Rush, Mike Oldfield and Marillion. See More

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