Predicting the Connected Future by Inventing It | Reflections Blog

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

The Internet, in true Internet fashion, gives several people credit for this quote: The management consultant Peter Drucker, the computer scientist Alan Kay, the Abraham Lincoln.

Whoever said it, I’m using it to put you, dear reader, on notice: All of these ideas about the future of the Internet are mine, mine, mine. Don’t let me catch you “inventing” any of it, or you’ll be hearing from my lawyer.

I guess I should hire a lawyer.

The truth is, predicting the future, especially the future of something as fast-paced as the Internet, is a fool’s errand. Unless your professor makes it an assignment. Then it’s a brilliant idea.


With apologies to Lincoln, I suppose the best way to predict this future is to think about the biggest shortcomings of using the Internet today and then imagining fixes.

Here’s a stab:

  • One network provider, at home and away. Enough fumbling with WiFi settings and passwords. Future broadband will be fast, mobile, always-on and cellular, for all devices.
  • More voice interfaces. “Star Trek” had it right. More and more, we’ll talk to our devices, and they’ll talk back. The interaction will seem natural, like talking with a friend — unlike the Siri experience, which is like talking to someone who doesn’t speak our language.
  • Always-there assistant. Our phones already bombard us with reminders about upcoming meetings and unfinished to-do items. But they arrive in many forms and they’re easy to miss. Voice interfaces will simplify all this, giving us gentle reminders that are contextual: “Hey, your dry cleaning is ready and on the way home. Want to pick it up?”
  • Wearables and wireless charging. “Oh no, I left my iPhone at home.” “Have you seen my phone?” “I ran out of juice.” It’ll seem ridiculous that we used to carry around this handheld device and crane our necks over it all day to connect to the network. Future devices will be affixed to our bodies, much like the Apple Watch or Google Glass. They’ll power up automatically and wirelessly.
  • Virtual-reality immersion. The growing sophistication of 360-degree video and VR gives a hint of what’s possible: “Visiting” with your grandfather at the nursing home 200 miles away; previewing vacation spots before booking; “experiencing” a film by positioning yourself inside of it. When I see early experiments of this sort of thing, like The New York Times’s VR report about the plight of refugees, it gives me hope that technology can foster more empathy than division, by making us feel what it’s like to be in others’ shoes.
  • More hacks. There’s no end in sight for the cat-and-mouse game between those who store our data and those who want to steal it. As we become even more dependent on the network, the sophistication and severity of those hacks will almost certainly grow. Innovation here will come not from better defensive tools but from smarter data-organization practices that keep our most sensitive vital records separate to minimize the impact of any one hack.
OK, so a lot of this stuff has already been thought up. If I really did have a patentable idea, do you think I’d tell you about it?

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