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Futurephile: PCs will become sensitive

Joia Shillingford
Financial Times
26 January 2009

Rob Gear, manager of PA Consulting’s IT Innovation Unit, gazes into the future

How will IT change?

IT will become more pervasive but computers will blend into the background: into your car, desk or table. We’ll even have smart curtains that change colour. Using them will be simpler, too. A wave of your hand or an oral command should do it.

What will business IT look like in 2012?

We’ll start to see a semantic web, where computers will process a sequence of numbers and understand something about their context and meaning. They’ll know if a number is a date of birth or a flight code. So businesses will be more productive when using or selling over the net.

What will be new in public sector IT in 2012?

There will be intelligent highway schemes, with sensors and GPS (global positioning system) devices in cars to reduce bottlenecks.

How will individuals use IT in 2012?

Individuals will carry fewer mobile gadgets but use them more. They will transfer many of the self-service tasks they currently do on the web to their mobile phones. There’s a big driver for IT to do more listening and collaboration – to help businesses forge better relationships.

What will business look like in 2020?

Businesses will become more real-time, pulling in information 24 hours a day from a variety of sensors, monitors and communications networks. Better information might also change the structure of businesses, making them more willing to outsource key functions, such as finance, leaving them with a federal structure.

By 2020, businesses will also be using the cloud – a network of internet computers – to get processing power on tap.

What about the public sector in 2020?

Developments in sensor technology will enable far more extensive monitoring of the environment to help combat pollution. In health, haptic technology – which gives the sensation of touch or texture – could make the surgeon’s knife even more precise.

How will IT be used by individuals in 2020?

Computers will become more sensitive to people’s emotions. They will know when they are in a bad mood and try to cheer them up. Findings from what is known as affective computing could be useful in e-learning, too. If the user – seen on a web cam – looks baffled, the learning software could ask: “Would you like me to explain that in a different way?”

Where will people work?

There’ll be a lot of working from 'home', partly due to environment and transport pressures. But much of it will take place in local business hubs. These are cheaper per person to heat than individual homes and innovation thrives on interaction. Many joint winners of Nobel prizes have had offices close to each other

How secure will IT be?

There is already a group of Quackers – or quantum hackers – who reckon they will be able to crack quantum [computing] encryption. They have apparently constructed some theoretical proofs they can do this.

What will IT costs do?

The trend towards falling costs for storage and processing power will continue. But systems that are innovative or boost productivity will still attract a premium.

How much information will we store?

The quantity of data keeps doubling, but technology seems able to keep up. Nanoionic memory – which uses charged atoms (or ions) to store information in nano systems – threatens to bring a terabyte of storage to mobile phones.

What’s going to happen in networking?

There will be more wireless network coverage through technologies such as WiMax. But before that, we’ll see a lot of web-based applications being developed for offline use, too, because users want to carry on working when a network connection isn’t available.

What will happen in 2050 and beyond?

We will start to see a huge impact from artificial intelligence. I don’t think we will see anything like HAL, the computer in the movie '2001'. What we will see is something more human-like and geared towards solving certain kinds of problem, such as reducing credit card fraud. 


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