Oct 222006

Still catching up with drafts and this one is more about my editing than my own crystal ball gazing. I love predictions about the way we will be interacting in the future especially when we are getting a little sniff of them in the present day, eg: web 3.0. So I selected, last month, some quotes/segments from the fantastic Pew Future of the Internet report from Sept 26 this year. The report made some assumptions and commentators responded, more in a moment.

Alternate Reality Personalizaton

As we hurtle towards the end of 2006 I think back to my measly predictions at the start of the year as to what would happen this year. I know it is only October but I am surprised how many are pretty close – especially developments in video on the web and viewer created content but as usual, premature on personalization, still! This was echoed in many of the notable folk below. Seems until we are completely swamped by content as to be comatosed will the demand for agents, targeting and personalization really kick in. Perhaps with 60% of all video (for example) on the web controlled by Google now, their personalization engine will start to trickle in under the radar of most people. Just before we go to Pew aggregated quotations, here is a quote (that falls in my space cadet camp) I did this time two years ago about our relentless stampede toward too much content.

“Just as humans eventually were unable to tame the complexity and scale of the physical universe so it will be with our media universe. The only course of action will be to send personalised intelligent agents, reconnaissance drones, deep into the content cosmos to capture relevance. The personalized future will be a world where rich audio visual and immersive game media orbits around the digital you – occasionally being sucked into your ‘realmÂ’ like stars pulled by forces unknown into black holes” – Gary Hayes, 2004

But enough about my near term predictions back to the future of 2020 with the Pew Futures doc (which is here in PDF by the way). I scanned the survey they did and found it a bit weak, most results were half/half and inconclusive but I found the plethora of future quotes far more interesting here is a selection of my favourites mostly in the AI/personalization and Virtual World/Alternate Reality future domains.

“This is the AI bogeyman. It’s always around 20 years away, whatever the year.” – Seth Finkelstein, Programmer and anti-censorship activist

“Simulations will develop to where some players’ experiences so closely mimic reality that the players will be stimulated with the same neurotransmitters that drive feelings of love and pleasure in the real world. There will be simulations as addictive as nicotine and cocaine, but without same degree of societal antipathy.” – Sean Mead, a technology consultant

“There is a strong likelihood that virtual reality will become less virtual and more reality for many. However, I see this as an addiction phenomenon that will likely inspire us to understand unexplored dimensions of being human.” – Barry Chudakov, principal, The Chudakov Company

“Autonomous systems will not become a serious problem until they are sophisticated enough to be conscious Â… As it stands now, they are simply tools – advanced tools, but tools nonetheless. True AI is still 50-100 years away,” – Simon Woodside, CEO, Semacode Corp, Ontario, Canada.

“A human’s desire is to reinvent himself, live out his fantasies, overindulge; addiction will definitely increase. Whole communities/subcultures, which even today are a growing faction, will materialise. We may see a vast blurring of virtual/real reality with many participants living an in-effect secluded lifestyle. Only in the online world will they participate in any form of human interaction.” – Robert Eller, technology consultant

“Now, fear of enslavement by our creations is an old fear, and a literary tritism. But I fear something worse and much more likely – that sometime after 2020 our machines will become intelligent, evolve rapidly, and end up treating us as pets. We can at least take comfort that there is one worse fate – becoming food – that mercifully is highly unlikely.” – Paul Saffo, director of the Institute for the Future.

“While this scenario is clearly a danger, we don’t yet understand how powerful fully-connected human beings can be.” – Mary Ann Allison, a futurist and chairman and chief cybernetics officer for The Allison Group

“There will be an increasing problem with people ‘disconnecting’ during their so-called leisure time and immersing themselves in purely virtual realities for entertainment purposes. We’ve already seen how these can be addictive, and, by 2020, the technological capability for them might be near ubiquitous – leading to perhaps an entire generation ‘opting-out’ of the real world and a paradoxical decrease in productivity as the people who provide the motive economic power no longer are in touch with the realities of the real world.” – Glenn Ricart, a member of the board of trustees of the Internet Society

“First, there is nothing virtual about digitalised space. It has real-life effects, rewards, and problems. Second, what do we lose people to today? Is it better to go jump off a mountainside for your kicks or do drugs than to spend it in some digital version of reality that feels better and more rewarding? The main problem isn’t that ‘virtual worlds’ are addictive; it is that the physical world is not sufficiently challenging and rewarding. Blaming the media should not be a way out of fixing the very real social problems the world faces.” – Torill Mortensen of Volda University College in Norway

“It will be possible for computer users to build ‘alternate realities’ around themselves, and some will find this environment to be so much more appealing and comfortable than the ‘real world’ that they will prefer it. I see a future epidemic, especially among children and teens.” – Michael Cann Jr., CEO of Affinio Corporation

“‘Virtual reality’ is a pointless and dated term that has no meaning other than the technical (computer science) definition. We live in a pervasive communication environment and this will only increase. The demarcation of virtual and real and mediated and non-mediated will have no meaning for most people and is an artifact of older generations. Reality will be one seamless world that spans face-to-face and digital areas of action. If anything, the ability to physically take a class or travel to meet with someone will be considered an elite privilege.” – Ted Coopman of the University of Washington

“What people refer to as ‘virtual reality’ is still an aspect of all of our reality – it’s not a separate reality any more than books, movies, video games, or our imagination is a separate reality. Saying someone is addicted to virtual reality will one day sound as ridiculous as saying some people today are addicted to books.” – Patrick O’Sullivan of Illinois State University

“Synthetic worlds are simply intermediate environments: the first settlements in the vast, uncharted territory that lies between humans and their machines Â… Ensuring that the technology serves such a marvelous end, rather than a lesshappy one, is the real challenge for the next few decades. We will be less likely to meet that challenge the longer we treat video games as mere child’s play…There is a huge throng of people just waiting at their terminals for a fantasy world to come along, one that is just immersive enough, under the technology they can afford, to induce them to take the plunge and head off into the frontier forever.” – Edward Castronova, from his book Synthetic Worlds

There are many more insights in the Pew Futures PDF on privacy, globalisation, transparency and priorities.