Network: The future? Just remember, you read it here first

Elections on the Net will lead to the discovery that governments are useless and inefficient

SO, WE'RE about to jump into a new millennium (a year from now), at a time when change is already moving faster than at any time in human history.

Networks are supreme agents of change, in my humble opinion. Case in point: the institution of mail service in the 16th century provided the network that Locke and Galileo used to exchange ideas. Mail service was enough of a network to spark change that would shortly see almost every European institution change radically after 15 centuries of stasis.

Thus, it would seem that big, fast networks can cause gigantic change at a tremendous pace. And, although our global network now reaches 100 million people, this is still less than two per cent of the world's population - which suggests that things have only just started to get moving.

So, on the eve of the millennium's last year, I'm prepared to offer a glimpse of the our world in 20 years (still recognisable), and 50 years hence (maybe not!):

The world in 2020

Band width will be cheap and ubiquitous. The fibre optic infrastructure will expand and upgradable optical switches will appear, removing the roadblock of constantly needing to replace expensive switching hardware to increase capacity.

Wireless connectivity will exist nearly everywhere. Almost everyone's "last mile" connectivity will be via wireless loops. Phones and appliances won't have jacks on them - they'll have embedded antennae or transducers instead. "Leapfrog" societies, like China, will mainly have wireless infrastructure, obviating the slower process of stringing wire from poles. Growth industry in "old" Western nations will be telephone pole removal.

Computers will disappear: even computer scientists won't use computers, at least not the big boxy things we're used to in 1999. Computing and networking resources will be ubiquitous - built into walls, floors and vehicles and clothes.

Very small machines - key ring-sized mobile phone/ personal digital assistant (PDA) hybrids - will enable us to command these resources for image projection, computing and communication. Really small machines, christened "smart dust", will fill connectivity gaps between devices and media.

We'll be able to conduct meetings by asking our PDAs to get our colleagues on the line. Smart software agents will ask other agents to track them down and pull them together in a secure teleconference that will display on the nearest wall.

For $1,000 you will be able to buy computing power equivalent to a human brain, but true human-like machine intelligence still lies in the future. Machines will begin to do a lot of "productivity" work, like drafting routine business e-mail and conducting transactions, and these programs will train themselves by watching our behaviour, or the behaviour of other machines.

Routine customer service calls and e-mail will be more often handled by software than humans, and it will be hard - but not impossible - to tell the difference. Semi-autonomous robots will appear and do useful work like ditch digging (for more fibre optic cables) and maintenance. Growth industry: robotic supervisors - humans who will, for insurance liability reasons, stand around while robots do the work.

Cyberspace will begin to merge with "real" space: spectacles and cameras will use embedded Global Positioning System circuitry and wireless database access to overlay data on to live scenes. For example, your sunglasses will mark out buildings of historic importance, and display directions for walking or driving - and so will cameras, binoculars and tiny video cameras.

The world in 2050

Governments will start to disappear. Elections on the Net will lead to the discovery that governments are increasingly useless and inefficient.

We'll need publicly supported infrastructure, but private companies will deliver it far more efficiently than increasingly self-absorbed and isolated governments. The Internet's potential exploded when it went commercial, and so will functions once reserved for government. Imagine government services that are good, cheap and easy to access.

Bureaucratic institutions will be to the new world what monarchies are to our own - largely useless, if interesting, anachronisms. This is not to say that people will suffer. People will be freer and richer than they are today. The only roles left to governing bodies will be setting standards and arbitration in the case of disputes.

In a highly interdependent world, military force will be all but useless except in the case of primitive rogue states and possibly some equally primitive terrorist groups. Information warfare will be the primary focus of the world's militaries, and they will be highly dependent on private companies.

The trend to decentralisation of power will accelerate. Boundaries will come to mean "distinctions between interest groups" and not "imaginary lines on the earth".

Fully autonomous robots will do a lot of the work that makes the world wealthy and smooth-running. Robots will routinely have the intelligence of cats and dogs, and do jobs such as delivery, construction and maintenance. Maids and butlers will make a comeback in the form of tireless robots.

The first sentient machine will appear: with perhaps a Turing rating of .45. The machine's software will have been developed with techniques borrowed from biology. The machine will learn and be trained rather than programmed in the current sense.

The first autonomous, self-replicating space probes will be on the drawing board: privately financed, 1,000-year missions will begin to probe the galaxy. The SETI program will have long since changed its name to SET- T (the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Technology), and will be on the threshold of being able to detect advanced communications technologies.

Don't believe me? Then follow the links below.

cg@gulker.com

Berkeley Endeavour Expedition

http://endeavour.cs.berkely.edu

Smart Dust

http://robotics.eecs.cs.berkely. edu/pister/SmartDust

JPL Adaptable Hardware for Evolvable Computing

http://cism.jpl.nasa.gov/ehw/ darpa

MIT Laboratory for Computer Science

http://www.lcs.mit.edu

MIT Raw Project

http://www.cag.lcs.mit.edu/raw

The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil

http://www.penguinputnam.com/ kurzweil

The Space Frontiers Foundation

http://www.space-frontiers.org

Robert Anton Wilson

http://www.disinfo.com/rev/ rev_robertanton.html

Hans Moravec: Transcendent robots

http://www.frc.ri.cmu.edu/

Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence

http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/

Arts and Entertainment
Tate Modern chief Chris Dercon, who will be leaving to run a Berlin theatre company
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Tasos: 'I rarely refuse an offer to be photographed'
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Girls on the verge of a nervous breakdown: Florence Pugh and Maisie Williams star in 'The Falling'
Film
Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence