Communications will change everything

Q: What will change everything?
A: Communications

This year's World Question from Edge.org was "What will change everything?"  

While all of the 150+ responses are worth reading,  Yochai Benkler's response resonated with me.  On a side note, if you haven't read his "Wealth of Networks", add it to your reading list.  

In his answer to "what will change everything?", Yochai outlined 4 themes that represent "recombinations of the near possible".  Communications was one of them.   

"YOCHAI BENKLER
Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies, Harvard; Author, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom


RECOMBINATIONS OF THE NEAR POSSIBLE
What will change everything within forty to fifty years (optimistic assumptions about my longevity, I know)? One way to start to think about this is to look at the last “change everything” innovation, and work back fifty years from it. I would focus on the Internet's generalization into everyday life as the relevant baseline innovation that changed everything. We can locate its emergence to widespread use to the mid-1990s. So what did we have that existed in the mid-1940s that was a precursor? We had mature telephone networks, networked radio stations, and point-to-point radio communications. We had the earliest massive computers. 


So to me the challenge is to look at what we have now, some of which may be quite mature; other pieces of which may be only emerging; and to think of how they could combine in ways that will affect social and cultural processes in ways that will “change everything,” which I take to mean: will make a big difference to the day to day life of many people. 


Let me suggest four domains in which combinations and improvements of existing elements, some mature, some futuristic, will make a substantial difference, not all of it good.

Communications


We already have handsfree devices. We already have overhead transparent display in fighter pilot helmets. We already have presence-based and immediate communications. We already upload images and movies, on the fly, from our mobile devices, and share them with friends. We already have early holographic imaging for conference presentations, and high-quality 3D imaging for movies. We already have voice-activated computer control systems, and very very early brainwave activated human-computer interfaces. We already have the capacity to form groups online, segment and reform them according to need, be they in World of Warcraft or Facebook groups. What is left is to combine all these pieces into an integrated, easily wearable system that will, for all practical purposes, allow us to interact as science fiction once imagined telepathy working. We will be able to call upon another person by thinking of them; or, at least, whispering their name to ourselves. We will be able to communicate and see them; we will be able to see through their eyes if we wish to, in real time in high resolution to the point that it will seem as though we were in fact standing there, next to them or inside their shoes. However much we think now that collaboration at a distance is easy; what we do today will seem primitive. We won't have “beam me up, Scotty” physically; but we will have a close facsimile of the experience. Coupled with concerns over global warming, these capabilities will make business travel seem like wearing fur. 


However much we talk now about telecommuting today; these new capabilities, together with new concerns over environmental impact, will make virtual workplaces in the information segments of the economy as different from today's telecommuting as today's ubiquitous computing and mobile platforms are from
the mini-computer “revolution” of the 1970s.

Comments

  1. There’s a nice book about the art of communication – http://www.file.sh/The+Art+And+Skill+Of+Conversation+torrent.html , in which the author explains all the importance of this unusual art.

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