Future and IT: Information Technology contiues to drive change


By Walter Hehl, IBM Industry Solutions Lab Zurich

Information Technology continues to drive the ‘technical singularity’ in the evolution of our future – the networking and weaving of IT in our life.

Although slightly stumbling in some areas (e.g. microprocessor frequencies and present power consumption), the basic exponential growth will continue. Based on the increasing use of the mobile phone in the developing world and on the trend of ‘computers everywhere’ in the developed countries, IT will continue to merge and converge, and to build ultralarge systems. Sustainable sensor-rich systems, technology for the control of controllers, global clouds of services, and ‘real virtual’ worlds are key developments. 

IT remains a very special technology, penetrating in the physical part into the scale of nanotechnology, and growing on the information system side to Tera and Peta sizes. The exponential growth of IT performance characteristics will continue. This requires a stream of (in many cases known) physical innovations on the technical side, but also new levels of programming technology exploiting the availability of many parallel computers on one chip.  Exponential growth implies also a high speed of changes caused directly or indirectly by IT – the boom in “innovation” is the managerial expression for the accelerated transformation. The fast development of IT will certainly, by nature of its exponential growth, bring unforeseeable changes in addition to the trends predicted by IBM Research:

· Green innovations in context with IT, from intelligent energy networks to water management, with the IT-owned issue of “Green Data Centres
· High Performance Computing as the third pillar of science, technology, and social sciences
· Continuation of the integration of material objects – from goods to hospital patients – into software systems with ‘streaming processors
· Software systems to distribute policies  and rules, and to control their adherence by companies and agencies
· Software and global service markets with easy access to services and with the ‘Lego’ capability for generating new  applications
· More  and deeper ICT-initiated communities – from  serious to ‘light’ ones, with more and more realistic 3D virtual worlds

In particular this last trend - the social advances by computing - initiates waves of innovation in enterprises and in society. The number of possible digital communities is de facto  infinite.
Social computing will continue to generate new social constructs (see, for example, the invention of Open Source) of immense economical and political relevance. Now IT can give one person the power of a large organization, or an enterprise the capability to understand  the own team better, or an organization to analyze even the global population. More bluntly expressed, this predicts an increased effective personal intelligence (in several aspects) and the emergence of a collective intelligence.

As the historian Daniel Boorstin stated: “We risk being the first people in history to have been able to make their illusions so vivid, so persuasive, so realistic that we can live in them. (1962)”. This risk is about to become reality.

Walter Hehl holds a Diploma in Physics and a PhD in Natural Sciences, both from the University of Stuttgart in Germany.
He is currently the content manager of the IBM Industry Solutions Lab Zurich. This Industry Solutions Lab is the European executive briefing center of the Research Division of IBM, and a global meeting place of executives and politicians with IBM researchers and consultants.
He has hosted more than 500 innovation workshops with executives from economy and politics on the impact of IT.

He gave a keynote at the 2nd European Futurists Conference 2006 – this is an update on IT 2007/2008.


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