Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Nostradamus Post

This is a post about a few things which have been going around in my head lately. However, my brain feels like it's about to hibernate so I'm not going to beat about the bush (so to speak). Here are a few predictions for technology/media in the coming year(s):

The internet will take off as a platform in its own right. Sure, the internet's great at the moment, but with the proliferation of affordable devices with fast internet connections, the time is approaching where everything you do on a PC will be online. Internet speeds in far east countries such as South Korea are at speeds which could make this viable, and with mobile broadband speeds set to pick up in the next few years from 4G we're edging nearer too.

Take OnLive (my favourite new technology company) for instance. They stream HD quality games to PCs, Macs, their Microconsoles and mobile devices, and just last week they announced OnLive Desktop - an app which allows iPads to effectively run a Windows 7 PC with MS Office preinstalled. And you don't even need that fast an internet connection to be able to do it today. Imagine what things will be like when fibre optic speeds are common. Google were definitely on to something when they announced Chrome OS, it's just the world isn't quite ready yet.

Your phone will be your only computer. Phones and tablets are rapidly getting more powerful, with more and more features. There will be a tipping point eventually where companies will start selling devices based on the fact that the features on offer by phones, tablets, laptops and PCs are converging.

Some are starting to think ahead - Asus recently announced PadFone, a mobile phone which docks into a screen to transform it into a tablet. There are rumours that this will be compatible with the keyboard dock from their Transformer Prime too. All of a sudden you have one device acting as a phone, tablet and a laptop, with the capability to connect it to your TV if you want. I don't know about you, but I find that a very interesting proposition.

Alternatively, let's take my first point a bit further (no, not the bush bit, the internet as a platform malarkey). What if you had an entirely web-based operating system? This way you wouldn't need a very powerful device to get at all your files, essentially meaning that any internet enabled gadget could do all the things you want it to. It could also have a curious side effect where your choice of device is based purely on the hardware. When everything you want is online, there's little advantage to be had in different software on a device.

The entertainment industries will die. Or they won't, and they'll ruin everything else for us too. One way or another, they're going to have to change. Industry executives are getting more and more influential in government matters, and governments are slowly beginning to realise this. SOPA (the American Stop Online Piracy Act) was and is a dangerous step towards hamstringing the internet at the wishes of powerful entertainment industry figures. Alarmingly, "hamstringing the internet" isn't even a notable exaggeration. If initial proposals went through, one very real scenario would end up with US internet users being segregated from the rest of the global internet, based on allegations of aiding piracy.Thankfully, it seems that Obama has come out in opposition to the act in the nick of time, but with similar acts in place already in other countries, things will come to a head sooner or later.

Film and music execs have shown repeatedly that they're not going to change easily. However, as a race we're extremely adaptable. The obvious alternative here is to leave behind any firm which isn't showing any willingness to adapt in a rapidly changing world. The gap created would soon be filled up by other, more flexible companies, and we could all move alone and progress together. But there's likely too much money and power involved for that to happen, unfortunately.

Deus Ex will start to look like a prophecy rather than something sci-fi. Hopefully not the dystopian aspect though, more the human-machine interfacing. In the last few years, we've managed to create new forms of life, restore sight to blind people, invent self-healing materials and electronics, and develop exoskeletons for the weak and the military (not two groups of people who often get treated similarly). Put it all together and you're starting to look at an actual android. Or at least a very interesting project.

I'll forget to post something on here for at least another three quarters of a year. Enough said on that one really...

EDIT: One more thing! Text messages and phone calls will be replaced by data-only tariffs. Although this won't happen for a while, and we're still waiting on a decent open service which could replace both, there's really no need to still be using text messages and traditional phone calls in a world where most mobile phones sold are capable of 3G connections. Replace them with open VOIP and IM protocols and you radically simplify and enhance phones and their associated bills for everyone involved.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Welcome...to the world of tomorrow!

Every once in a while a product or idea crops up which is so mind-shatteringly brilliant that I can't help but get excited about it. When I first discovered the Linux and open source world I experienced this, since the potential lying behind such projects is huge. Allowing other people to pick up your code, share it freely and modify it as they see fit allows a form of evolution for products which is scarcely seen in other man-made systems. Additionally, because of the open nature of these projects, it is relatively simple to get involved and help out, allowing a strong sense of community to develop.

At the most fundamental level of our human existence lie the desire to be part of something larger than ourselves, and an urge to better ourselves and our environments, both of which are accommodated by this movement. This morning I had a phone call from a friend about a project which has the potential to far surpass anything that open source software alone could achieve.

RepRap is a project to build 3D printers which can be used to create parts of a multitude of different shapes and sizes (and eventually from many materials - including metals) from models downloaded onto a PC. It is in its early stages (and consequently the existing models are far from perfect), but there are a couple of features which set this apart from other existing 3D printers.

Firstly, the software side of things is open source. This means that if you see a model on the internet which isn't quite what you need, you're free to change it as you see fit. Additionally, if the printer itself isn't working how you'd want it to, you're able to alter its software and share what you've done with other users.

Secondly (and most excitingly), the project aims to create a 3D printer which is capable of self-replicating. This means that all the parts required for making the printer can be created for free from the printer itself. This is a fundamentally phenomenal concept. If the project is a success, you won't have to pay for anything to get your own printer apart from the raw materials (and maybe a donation to the kind friend you have who has offered to print the parts for you).

The potential for a project like this is massive. Admittedly, it's only taking a few wobbly steps at the moment, but once it gets up to speed the possibilities are literally endless. I remember watching a documentary a few months ago which claimed that by the middle of the century we'll no longer be ordering consumer goods, instead printing them at home. In theory the value of goods will be largely based on whatever licensing costs are associated with their files - much akin to the music and film downloads we're used to today. You don't pay for physical copies of music or films any more, you pay for the instructions which the computer uses to recreate them. For this concept to extend to tangible products is potentially huge, and in order for this to become a reality, projects such as RepRap need to be supported in their early days. I'll leave you with a video:

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Happy Belated New Year!

Hello everyone! I'm currently sat on a train travelling back towards England from Bridgend. It's 2011 and a lot has happened this year already.
The last few days have probably been the most interesting though - not least because Laura found out on Friday that she's been accepted for a PGCE at Gloucester Uni and will finally be living with me later on in the year! It's been one of the things we've talked about for a long time now, and for it to suddenly be a practical possibility is amazingly exciting! I don't think it has properly sunk in for either of us yet, but there's plenty of time yet.
Just a couple of hours after I found this out, England had won their first 6 Nations game against Wales. Being in Cardiff with uni mates to watch the game was brilliant - I can only remember a handful of people having a go at me for wearing an England shirt out, which is hugely unusual. Having said that, there seemed to be quite a few more English supporters in Walkabout than I remember from previous years.
Work wise, things seem to be going well. I've been assigned to a project team now, and am getting a fairly constant stream of work for the next release in about 8 weeks time. I'm also due to move desks soon, but the organisation of it all is such that I'm not really sure where or when that'll be. Hopefully I have a desk still!
In other news, Egypt is pretty screwed up, the iPad is soon to meet it's match in the army of Android Honeycomb tablets due to launch soon, and the next version of Ubuntu (due out in April) looks to be the most innovative yet. More of the latter points at a later date though...