As the executive chairman of one of the biggest tech companies on the planet, Eric Schmidt seems well-placed to do some crystal ball gazing. So what does he think will be major trends in the future? Self-driving cars, Google Glass and mobile operating systems named after desserts? Not quite.
In the run up to the launch of his new book ‘The New Digital Age’, co-authored by Google Ideas director Jared Cohen, the two Googlers gave CNN a few predictions about what would be big news in the world of tech for years to come. They stressed that the technology means nothing unless it is adopted by people, and how they use it will make all the difference.
1. Online privacy will become more important
Hardly a shocking prediction, but Schmidt and Cohen say that people will become increasingly concerned with how much of their personal information is shared online, and children will be taught how to stay secure online before they’ve sat through the birds-and-the-bees talk. It’s an important consideration, especially with the rising number of cyber attacks and the increasing level of comfort users have with sharing almost every detail of their lives on social media. It’s also an interesting statement coming from two employees of a company that is undergoing yearly privacy audits until 2023 after the mess of Google Buzz and angering users and courts with its snooping Street View cars.
Nevertheless, the men also say that parents will start preparing their children for a world of online interactions way before they’re able to use a computer. According to Schmidt and Cohen, parents will start optimising their children for search by giving them distinctive names or unusually spelled ‘ordinary’ names, so they’re easier to find online and promote without competition from all the other John and Jill Smiths out there.
2. Mobile will bring the world online before the end of the decade
It’s a bold claim, but is it achievable? The authors think so. With the rise of mobile devices, emerging markets are forgoing fixed line connectivity and the desktop web for cheap phones and tablets. And with the sub-US$50 smartphone market set to flourish this year, it seems reasonable that millions more will be online by 2020 as the barriers to adoption continue to decrease with the cost of the devices in the future.
“What might seem like a small jump forward for some — like a smartphone priced under US$20 — may be as profound for one group as commuting to work in a driverless car is for another,” the Googlers write. “Mobile phones are transforming how people in the developing world access and use information, and adoption rates are soaring.”
3. Mainstream media will struggle to keep up in real time
It’s happening already: Reddit’s role in the reporting of the hunt for the Boston bombers already had Twitter users crying about how slow the TV channels were while a Redditor live-blogged the police scanner feed in almost real time. But these platforms also have the potential for misinformation and great harm when used to share unverified information — as Reddit itself pointed out in a blog post condemning the “witch hunt” for suspects taking place on its site.
Despite the shortcomings, users are becoming increasingly used to the instantaneous quality of sources like Twitter and crave constant updates — as the live-tweeting of Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius’ bail hearing showed recently. It’s a trend journalists need to take advantage of, and quickly. “News organizations will remain an important and integral part of society in a number of ways, but many outlets will not survive in their current form — and those that do survive will have adjusted their goals, methods and organizational structure to meet the changing demands of the new global public,” say the authors.
4. The data in the cloud will become a privacy concern
Your data — from the posts you like on Facebook to the articles you search for in Google and files you saved in DropBox — is all stored somewhere, and despite your best intentions, it may not say restricted forever. Either by mistake or through a bout of malicious hacking, your personal data could be published publicly.
Because information always has the potential to be outed, it’s going to become more important that you “don’t write anything down you don’t want read back to you in court or printed on the front page of a newspaper,” say the authors. “In the future, this adage will broaden to include not just what you say and write, but the websites you visit, who you include in your online network, what you ‘like,’ and what others who are connected to you say and share.”
5. Casual revolutions will become a thing
From the revolution in Tunisia to the protests in Egypt, the ousting of Gaddaffi and the Occupy movement — the power of social media and technology for assisting in political reform has been in the news over and over again. The Googlers suggest that in the coming years, citizen revolts against oppressive governments will occur “more casually and more often than at any other time in history,” driven largely by the youth.
6. It will be more difficult to hide
With millions of citizens carrying around mini-recording equipment in their pocket, every Vine, tweet, Instagram post, status update or YouTube clip could contain evidence of suspicious activity. This has led to the rise of the citizen journalist, but also makes it more difficult for illegal actions to go un-noticed. “As the terrorists of the future are forced to live in both the physical and the virtual world, their model of secrecy and discretion will suffer,” say Schmidt and Cohen. “There will be more digital eyes watching, more recorded interactions, and, as careful as even the most sophisticated terrorists are, even they cannot completely hide online.”