What is 2015?

Displays 2015 written in binary (11111011111).

We know what 2014 was: many things. In the news we had plague, war, elections (a mix of plague and war, it sometimes seems), advancement in science. In our individual lives we had our own events, of course. But at this early date, what is 2015?

Undoubtedly more of the same. But how to look at it from a broader perspective?

We could say that the 2016 presidential election will begin to heat up in the late fall. We could talk about the media events to come (sports championships, artistic awards, etc.).

This might be the year you win the lottery (or lose the lottery, if you’re a statistical improbability). It might be the year you finally break down and buy a new something-or-other that you’ve had for years and grown sentimental about despite it being a commodity. Exciting to think about, isn’t it?

But for humanity at-large, not just Americans or people with antique spatulas, what is 2015?

What can we expect from a year? We’ve had years that marked major changes before. And then lots of little, incremental years between. We’ve also had years with false-starts in the way of social movements that didn’t quite make it to the top of the hill.

Is 2015 even real? It’s real in the sense that it denotes a real (enough) span of human time, but false in the sense that it’s an arbitrary length. “What is next Wednesday?” might be as useful of a question. But we still look at years with more significance than a Wednesday.

We look at time as cyclical. Last week sucked, but this one might be good. It’s a new week, like a new spatula. Gone, we hope, are the bad things of the old spatula, like the time we dropped the pancake on the floor. And it’s shiny, too. Has that new-spatula smell to it.

We plan for years. Intel plans to release another CPU. Ford another car. At the US State Department they’re working on this or that. But we don’t plan as a nation. There is no 2015: the year America ends poverty plan. We think that will take some time, and many of us believe it won’t ever happen (thanks, Jesus (Mt. 26:11, “The poor you will always have with you […]”)).

And we don’t do it as a planet, either. Can we, as a planet, go a whole year without someone re-watching Frozen (first-time views are okay, as are re-watches with a first-time viewer present, provided they do want to watch it again (no kidnapping/bribing/tricking your neighbor just so you can see it again))? Not this year. [Just for the records, I’ve not seen the film.]

But 2015 could have been the year we did something as a global community. And we don’t have that sort of thing set up. That’s not a thing, as the kids say. As far as I know we’ve never all done something consciously as a planet.

Now we all do some things every one of us. We all breathe, for example. But we don’t do it as part of a global movement. Maybe in 2015 we will. That would be something.

A Day in 2020

What will the world look like in the year 2020? Will we have flying car? Rolling planes? Swimming buses?

Are we optimistic or pessimistic? Realistic?

Let’s go back to 2005. The dark ages, before the iPhone and iPad and Android. Before GNOME 3. Gmail was a year old. Facebook still largely unknown (they dropped ‘the’ from their domain, and opened to high school students that year). Myspace was kicking it old school. Not a peep from Twitter yet. Bing not found. Sun Microsystems still existed. The cloud was only starting to gather.

Now today. With Android riding large, Google still strong, Microsoft still Microsoft, Apple still Apple (but with the iPhone and iPad now), what’s changed? Facebook is seen already to be weakening. The question on the whiskeyed lips of the investment community this New Years is whether they were lucky or smart. Will they survive? The same goes for just about everyone but Google at this point.

Microsoft is in a slow, long decline. Will they recover, reinvent? Become another IBM (still there, still strong, but not flashy, not consumer-oriented)? Will everyone be using Windows Phones in 2020? Will we still call them phones, smartphones?

Apple has maybe-maybe-not lost its mojo in the form of one Jobs-comma-Steve. What new market will they invent next? Will they replace the diamonds on the fingers with smart rings?

Google has thus-far shown a propensity for prediction. They’ve understood the mobile market and gotten Android out there in a way that Apple never would or could. They’ve blundered on social networks, but mainly because of the fickleness of that audience; if they were smart they would back a federated alternative, which preserves their fundamental business model, yet they’ve shown their hubris and tried to foist Google Plus upon the world.

Facebook, for its part, is still a strong platform. But they have yet to show anything to prevent them from becoming another Myspace. Going public doesn’t prevent that, but it may be enough to postpone it.

Twitter just keeps on going, but with no apparent direction. Will they become another Yahoo!? A strong company, but with no deep current, they are relegated to float atop the tides of change, with not even their leadership knowing where they will go next.

Now 2020. You wake up to birdsong, greeted by a friendly botservant to fix you breakfast. It has a death star, or a small letter G or lowercase f, or a tilted symbol looking a lot like a Nordic flag, or a purple Y!, shining on its forehead and breast. It has a spiral of crayon running up its ankle to its knee, your daughter is going to be an artist, it will tell you later that night when you get around to washing it off.

Now 2020. You wake up to an annoying electronic beep, greeted by a plastic block with blinkenlights saying you have 15 new mails, five missed calls/voice messages. You walk down the stairs (your daughter’s crayon art spirals the handrail this time) to make breakfast. You drop your phone into a cradle, and it reads out your mail while your coffee percolates.

Now 2020. Now 2020…

I don’t know. The fact is that the future is a complex equation. Market forces, human ignorance and biases, politicians that won’t serve the people. Lawyers. Managers and niche markets. Lofty ambitions, fortunes to be made.

It seems likely that we will not have botservants. It seems likely that phones will have become pure mobile devices, meant to be used not merely as glorified mobile phones, but as computing devices in their own right.

Will television become Internet vision? Likely. Will you read eBooks? Likely.

The pace of progress is being slowed, but there will come a time that it bursts through like water overpowering a dam. That may not be by 2020. But there is too much data, too much computing power, for it to be held forever.

Predicting the Future

If asked this time last year, “What will happen in the world in 2011?,” what would your response have been? It would probably have started with something akin to, “That’s a hard question with too many variables and unknowns,” while you might have followed with some tacit predictions in modest arenas like sports or astrology.

It seems there are two basic types of human prediction. One is the attempt to predict nature, which is solely driven by science, even where humans do exercise influence. Things like weather prediction, earthquakes, and even particle physics like that at the CERN LHC. The other is the attempt to predict human activity. Although some of these latter predictions employ scientific tools, the majority are based on expectations.

Predictions of human activity range from businesses that want to know how much product their customers will want to use, to predicting outcomes of elections and political climates, to predicting the flu season.

But, back to the future. Some predictions seem easy to make. The Summer Olympics will be held in London. But preparations have been underway for a long time, and the likelihood of postponement is very small. Predicting who will win medals is harder, even though broad predictions aren’t. That is, there are known major players in the medal scene, and although their exact winnings aren’t known, it wouldn’t be hard to put them all within a fairly small range with high confidence.

Although expectations do play into the outcome of the Olympics, they are mostly down to the amount of time and money the individual nations provided their athletes for training, plus the number of people in those nations (as some of the sports rely on physical characteristics which will be more likely to occur in larger populations).

The Arab Spring on the other hand seemed to be born out of expectations. The initial uprising in Tunisia was born of a single act, but it still took time for that act’s fire to spread across a region, the flames of which still burn. The expectation prior to that beginning was that the path was fixed. Suddenly, the path was not fixed, the expectations shifted.

One prediction that’s slowly coming to fruition and seems driven by expectations is the rise of the web as the primary interface of computing. From Chromebooks that run a browser to the Boot to Gecko project that aims to replace smartphone interfaces with a userland built atop the Mozilla stack (which is primarily a browser environment), the web’s prominence only continues to rise.

The Internet Protocol is capable of all sorts of delivery mechanisms and services, and yet this single protocol and form is taking precedence. So much that it’s common for many (most?) people to consider the Internet to be the Web. Sure, other protocols still have their place. E-mail in particular. But even there, more and more people use web-based clients for accessing their e-mail.

While the web is very useful, its rise seems more based on expectations of both businesses and individuals than anything else. There’s no active competitor to the web.

This has some benefits. Mainly, over time the access of average people goes up, as they don’t need to learn multiple competing interfaces. It also lets business focus on single interfaces for customers.

But it has downsides, too. Services that don’t really fit end up shoehorned into the single interface. We have to put up with the cruft of the aging system.

It’s clear enough that at some point in the future there will be competition for the web, but it doesn’t seem that will happen in the next year. Other fights, however, may finally break out. Facebook may finally get competition, while they may also move to compete in new spaces. The current sign-up and password systems may finally start to wane in favor of alternatives like BrowserID. Flash Video may drop precipitously.

Those three are things that seem inevitable, but their timeframes are not fixed.

That’s an important difference in predicting the future. Some things are highly probable, but over some unknown period. They can happen overnight, given sufficient need, but usually they happen slowly.

The future seems uncertain most of the time, but the uncertainty is due to the unknown factors and wildcards. The things we do know about the future give us good reason to welcome it.

Recession to Boom in Four Easy Steps

The current state of the economy is a scary thing. Banks are eating themselves alive and being taken over by Uncle Sam. Revenues are down. Unemployment is up. Inflation is up. People running out of gas. Where the hell do we go from here?

The Myth of Sisyphus tells of a man doomed to push a rock up a mountain only to have it roll back down. That’s us, folks. We’re currently in the roll-back-down phase of the economy.

In about four months, though, we’ll be back at base camp. It probably won’t look like it yet, but there’s a bit of lag between the markets’ outlook and the reality (some might call it the shadow). We’ll get up, brush ourselves off, and find ourselves not quite as bad as we expected. And then we’ll start climbing and pushing again.

The main thing we need is something to push. It’s been said we’re in search of the next bubble. That is true to an extent. Mainly what we need is not a bubble, but industry. We need green, and probably more than green, to move forward.

Green means solar and wind farms. It means new transportation initiatives and it means factories building electric vehicles. But it also means changing the algorithms of business to allow more teleworking (telecommuting) and more fluidity of labor.

These are all great things and they will happen, but there is still something missing. There is a need for a new economy that’s not just service-based. It has to go farther than that.

To find the new ground, the new world, one must look deeper at what the future might entail for us. How we will live differently, work differently, and what we will be doing.

At the end of the day I’m a futurist. I look at the world for all its wastes and futilities and see a completely different world that can exist and call that the future. That future will never exist. But parts of it, or mutations of it, will.

For example, the future of what I tend to call casual computing [link pending] but might be called mobile computing or wearable computing isn’t anything like what it’s being marketed as today. Today you buy an integrated device. That’s the polar opposite of the cloud and true integration.

But that’s just a taste. I’ll post a piece about the future soon.

-Adam