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Life Online in 2069


What’s in store for our digital lives in 50 years? A world far different from today, say soothsayers surveyed recently by Pew Research Center.

    

While our industry focuses on solid objects—structures made typically with cold-formed steel, gypsum board and joint compounds—you have to admit that business increasingly functions online. Where is the digital world heading? By 2069, expect to see mostly positive developments compared to today. Some, however, have concern about the future as digital technologies may exert greater control and manipulation over people’s lives. But on the whole, the predictions are optimistic.

    

Of the 530 technology pioneers, innovators, developers, business leaders and researchers and writers polled, I report here are the top 10 responses (in my opinion). Most are good, but some not so much.

    

In the next 50 years of digital life here is what could happen:

    

1. User interfaces will be, finally, human-friendly. “No more will we be forced to interface with tiny, incompatible, awkward keyboards, icons and clumsy hand-held and desktop devices,” says Leonard Kleinrock, Internet Hall of Fame member, co-director of the first host-to-host online connection and professor of computer science at the University of California, Los Angeles. Instead, controls will match each individual’s personal preferences.

    

2. Log-ins will be permanent. “Like we plug things into any electrical socket without much caring how the electrons get there, we’ll assume connectivity,” says Ross Stapleton-Gray, principal at Stapleton-Gray & Associates. “Humans, like cars, or buildings or any other object, will be seamlessly interacting with all of the other things,” he says.

    

3. The internet as we know it will be largely obsolete. “Rather than organizing information in the form of URLs, apps and websites, our digital interactions will be conversational, haptic and embedded in the world we live in (even, to some extent, in ourselves),” says Susan Etlinger, an industry analyst for Altimeter Group and expert in data, analytics and digital strategy. That means …

    

4. Tablets will be embedded in buildings. You’ll find them in the entry walls of homes and offices. They’ll function like switches to set the room temperature, turn on a teapot or whatever. “Your power company will know not only when, but specifically who, is home based on that information,” says Craig Burdett, an unnamed respondent.

    

5. “Smart walls” will be everywhere. “I think we’re only just beginning to understand smart physical things,” says Craig Partridge, chief scientist at Raytheon BBN Technologies, Internet Hall of Famer and chairperson of the department of computer science at Colorado State University. Smart things will include “load-bearing walls with embedded sensors and actuators that keep the building standing during an earthquake,” he says.

    

6. Lives will improve. “Innovations that make use of the internet will improve the lives of many people,” says an unnamed Internet Hall of Fame member and expert in network architecture. “Better health care, real-time language translation and a host of other capabilities.”  

    

7. Robots perform most physical labor. The robot overseers will work remotely online, says Lawrence Roberts, Internet Hall of Fame member and designer and manager of ARPANET, the precursor to the internet. “Most commuting will cease, and roads will be used for driverless transport of goods or pleasure,” he says.

    

8. Jobs will be displaced. “Entire classes of humans (drivers, construction workers, editors, medical technicians, etc.) are likely to be replaced by AI [artificial intelligence] systems within the next 50 years,” says Lane Jennings, former managing editor of World Future Review.

    

9. Disruptions won’t go away. “The commercial sector now outpaces the technology development of nation-states, which means groups can have advanced disruptive technologies that can be used for good or bad [and] that can massively impact global events,” says David Bray, executive director for the People-Centered Internet coalition. This will continue, he says.

    

10. Our personal lives will be mediated. “Networked information and communications technology will be territorialized, broken up and owned, in walled environments,” says Simon Biggs, a professor of interdisciplinary arts at the University of Edinburgh. “Access will be privileged, not for the consumer but for the producer.” Most internet users in 2069 will be “passive consumers who are offered an illusion of agency in the system to deliver them as a resource to those who profit from consumer playbour (play + labour), he says, adding, “We already see this with Facebook.”

    

There you have it—digital life 50 years from now. I’ve given you the topic. Discuss.

 

Mark L. Johnson writes for the wall and ceiling industry. He can be reached via linkedin.com/in/markjohnsoncommunications.

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