The future of the internet: an exclusive with Dr Frank Shaw
To celebrate our 15th birthday, we have worked with the Centre for Future Studies to compile a report about the massive role that the internet will play in our everyday lives 15 years from now. We've also taken the opportunity to interview Dr Frank Shaw - Director of Foresight at the Centre for Future Studies, one of Time Magazine's '10 most influential thinkers in the world' and lead author of our report - about the research and how he thinks the internet will change how we live, work and game. Read on for our exclusive interview, and to find out what the future holds for home broadband, business broadband and fibre optic broadband.
Our questions about broadband, the internet and the future - and Dr. Shaw's answers:
- How have you reached your predictions about the role that the internet will play in our everyday lives in 2027?
It’s a complex process. Essentially, you look at what was and understand the nature of how it transpired, and then look at today and endeavour to identify the driving forces that will change the status quo - then make judgements about how these forces will change things in the future, and then make judgements as to what that future will look like.
The further you look into the future and move down the horizon, the more you move from probability to possibility and begin to consider possible scenarios, from which you then pick the most likely future scenario.
- How important is the internet to your work? Could you research the future effectively without it?
The internet is absolutely essential. If we didn't have the technology we do now, our work would be more arduous and time consuming, and probably much less informed than it is now.
The internet gives us access to worldwide thinkers, to a network of experts - and in real time - something that, just fifteen years ago, would not have been possible. Without being enhanced by these 'best brains', I can't imagine that we would be able to do half of what we currently can do.
- As we come to use the internet more in the future, do you think fibre optic and super-fast broadband will become more important? How so?
Fibre optic broadband and super-fast broadband will become absolutely essential - in fact, speed will be a key issue. The whole area of broadband speed and fibre optic broadband will be one of the big challenges of the future, as we will need faster broadband to handle the huge amounts of data used. That's why organisations like Plusnet are so essential to the future - in fact, we have been using Plusnet, co-incidentally, for quite some time.
- You've made predictions about the home internet of the future. Would you like to live in such a home? What would you like/dislike most?
Goodness me, yes. I would like to live with the capabilities of the smart homes of the future - and they will be so extraordinary that I will be able to create my own nostalgia room. The capabilities truly are mind blowing and it would be ridiculous to say I wouldn't want to be a part of that.
There will be challenges and it won't happen overnight - but there will be incremental progress towards a lifestyle that is very exciting.
- If the home internet of the future that you've predicted becomes reality, do you think more people will work from home? How do you think this would affect the way businesses and our society works?
Absolutely. There are already going to be more people working from home in the immediate future, with existing technology. We already have technology to make us incredibly mobile. Undoubtedly, knowledge workers will come to work out-with stereotypical offices. Isn't it nonsense, really, to commute when you'll be able to do the same job without travelling for hours to that thing called a desk?
Remote working, however, will change management styles. Without a doubt, there will be radical changes. And virtual organisations will grow more dramatically - by that, I mean organisations with two, three or four people at the core collaborating online or virtually with colleagues around the globe.
The internet will open up a whole new world of work. And some of it will be done at home, and some of it will be done at, say, Starbucks.
- What will home gaming be like with internet of the future? Will online gaming be more popular? Do you think there'll still be problems like lagging or buffering when playing online?
Problems like lagging and buffering will get resolved. It's inevitable that the gaming industry will become even more expert and creative than today, and demand will increase. I'm sure the technology will be able to facilitate it.
The only problem will be time-zones, as gamers may still need to stay up into the night to play online with fellow gamers around the world. But the lines between work and leisure are likely to continue eroding, so we'll likely be able to get around that - and work for a while, then play for a while, then work again.
- Holographic technology seems to play a key part in your future predictions - is such technology already in development?
Yes. God, yes. MIT have already been experimenting with that technology for some while. And it won't be long before we see such technology ready for market.
A colleague of mine said earlier that such technology will evolve until it becomes difficult to identify the real from the virtual. Once we're able to send emotions and feelings over the internet - and we will - imagine the possibilities! We'll be close to telepathy, the closest we'll probably get.
- Do you think the home phone will be replaced by video calling in the future?
The home phone - as we know and love it - will likely disappear and become irrelevant, apart from Skype, which really is a wonderful application - that industry will grow exponentially. The simple answer is videophones will be in the home. Although I'm not sure we'll call them phones.
In fact, I think that we'll look back at Skype in a few years' time and think that it was very crude. When we can mind-control computers - and we will - we'll be able to make instant connections. We won't have to dial up; we'll just have to think it.
It sounds like science fiction, unless you think back in time. President Kennedy said he would put a man on the moon within ten years, and nine years later a great leap for mankind took place. Technology is magic, not because of what it can do, but because of how it can transform how we are.
- Critics may say your future predictions will mean that people will come to be more isolated - do you think this will be the case or will we be better connected?
I guess it depends on how you define isolated. If you mean literally - physically isolated - we will be to some extent. We humans are basically social animals and, with technology, we are increasing our ability to make social contact.
In 'The Machine Stops', E.M Forster envisaged us living underground in cubicles, with technology delivering everything to us. The ethos of that society was that first-hand experience was to be avoided. At the end of the story, the machine broke down and people didn't know what to do or how to fend for themselves. I don’t think for one nanosecond that that's how things will pan out.
I think technology is providing us with an array of opportunities to socialise globally - and I think that's brilliant.
- A lot of the future-predicted applications look as though they'd need a lot of data/power/and bandwidth - is this the case? If so, how do you think home internet packages will change to accommodate this?
Undoubtedly, bandwidth is going to be the challenge. I think the industry has the capacity to deliver packages to suit a wide variety of needs. Of course, there will be those who don't want a full suite and there will be others who will want to be fully immersive.
The challenge to the industry will be, as Steve Jobs said, to look to the consumer as a dreamer and to make their dreams a reality. ISPs will have to do just that. I believe the industry will respond in meeting the increasingly diverse needs of internet users.
- How disadvantaged do you think people without internet access will be in the future?
Hugely. Unbelievably so. As more and more essential services go online, those who cannot go online will become very disadvantaged. In the commercial world, it's getting to a point where you can't take advantage of discounts and offers or manage your bank account without the internet.
It will get to the point where you absolutely have to have the internet or you will become seriously disadvantaged, and that explains the government's concerns about digital exclusion.
- What do you think should be done to help make the internet more widely available, now and in the future?
I think it is important, crucially important, that the industry works together and that government doesn't impede the progress that is required. So often, government intervention is counterproductive.
I think there is an issue of proficiency. I guess what I'm thinking here is there are people who don't have the necessary skills and knowledge - segments within our society who will need training and education, certainly in the short term.
Classes are incredibly important and maybe the government should be funding these in some way.
About Dr. Shaw
Dr. Frank Shaw is a business strategist, process consultant and futurist who founded the Centre for Future Studies in 1996. The centre has been recognised for its innovative contributions towards forward thinking and Dr. Shaw - now the centre's Foresight Director - has been lauded by Time Magazine as one of the world's 10 most influential thinkers. Before founding the Centre for Future Studies, Dr. Shaw worked for many Fortune 500 companies and as a strategic advisor to Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau. What do you think is in the future for home, business and superfast broadband? Do you agree with Dr Shaw? What questions would you have asked him? Please leave a comment and let us know …