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What is a Disruptive Futurist?

Ross O. Storey | Jan. 16, 2009
MIS Asia editor Ross O. Storey asked Ian Neild to explain his job.

What other futuristic devices/directions do you expect IT to take in the next half century?

Fifty years is a very long time; if you consider what we classed as high technology in 1958 to what we do today, there is a huge difference.  If you had talked about laptop computers in 1958 at a time when computers were more like buildings, then few would have taken it seriously.  The famous predictions from the CIO equivalents of the time were about computers weighing less than 1 tonne and the world market for computers being only five machines. To be fair, these predictions were partly correct in that many computers do weigh less than 1 tonne and the worldwide market for data/ processing centres may indeed be 5 or maybe a few more. These may well be owned and run by Google, Amazon, BT etc.

Considering that advances in many sciences are rapidly increasing and how much processing, storage and communications we are likely to have in the future, I would predict that augmented reality (mixing computer generated graphics with real life) and location will play a larger part in our lives. A growing concern for much of the world is that the populations are ageing and we are going to have to use new medical technologies to change the way healthcare is delivered.

How do you think IT pundits from 50 years hence will look back at 2008/09 and what historical milestones will they be talking about from this time? What 2008/09 devices will be in the museums of 2050?

The great futurist and science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke predicted the communication satellite.  He knew how many devices (valves) would be needed and how unreliable these were and so each satellite would need to be large enough to hold all these devices plus a technician to live on the satellite to repair them. Of course, the transistor and integrated circuit (IC) replaced the valve, which reduced the prices and size dramatically.  We didnt need a live-in-space technician to fix the satellites.  Suddenly, processing power and memory became cheap and could be used in ways unimaginable a few years before. In the 1970s, one Mbyte of RAM for a supercomputer could have cost about 1 Million dollars; if you had told people that in 30 years time, children would be using hundreds or thousands of Mbytes (or 100s M$ worth of memory) to store music, you would not have been believed. So, in thinking about the future, you cant just be blinkered by what is happening today; you have to start thinking about technology trends, what other research is making possible and what people want, which drives development.


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