From Innovations, a website published by Ziff-Davis Enterprise from mid-2006 to mid-2009. Reprinted by permission.
Keep an eye on these four technologies in the short term, as they’ll have profound implications for the long term.
This week I get to talk about one of my favorite subjects: disruptive technologies. These are the innovations that get into the cracks and crevices of our daily lives and break things apart, often causing massive changes to institutions and procedures years down the road. Those changes are rarely evident at the outset.
Here are four technologies that I think are potentially disruptive:
Digitized voice – We’ve been recording voice digitally for years, of course, but the arrival of voice-over-IP services like Skype are forcing the cost of voice communications toward zero. Also, technologies embodied in services like Podscope are making it possible to index and search audio almost as effectively as we search text today. What will the world look like when our voice interactions can be stored and searched? How will this development change the way we research a topic or access content that helps a customer? What are the privacy and accountability implications?
Virtualization – So many of the headaches in IT today are caused by scarcity of resources. Software slows down, crashes or is rendered unavailable because of hardware problems.
Virtualization is a big step forward. First storage was virtualized. Then servers. Now you can also virtualize applications, running each in its own protected and secured envelope. Combine that with AJAX technology, which permits applications to be downloaded from a server and run as needed on a client, and you have the elements of a radical restructuring of computing fundamentals.
In the future, software will be less and less “machine-aware,” meaning that programs will draw on hardware resources as needed, whether locally or across a network. This could make a rich suite of applications available to users wherever they are in the world without concerns about hardware availability or capacity. The possibilities for innovation are almost endless.
The $100 laptop – A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the One Laptop per Child project, whose goal is to build a $100 networked portable PC. When you think through the implications of this achievement, the potential is stunning. Here we have the possibility of putting computers in the hands of billions of people who can’t now afford them. What will be the implications of this development be on global business? How will it change the way we organize workgroups, outsource applications and manage dispersed organizations? How will communities of people who are unfettered by a legacy of costly, complex computers organize new enterprises around this cheap, simplified technology? How will it change our expectations of computers as appliances? The implications of this project are very long term, but very exciting.
Video iPod – If this choice looks incongruous, hear me out.
The next wave of the Internet will be the multimedia Web , and portable video will be the killer application. Once we can stream and download video to a lightweight, handheld device, it will change nearly every aspect of our lives. I’m not talking about watching reruns of American Idol. I’m talking about being able to communicate with our colleagues, access real-time news, view training materials and documentation, access archival information and check in with our loved ones with all the benefits of full-motion video. The ultimate vision is to carry around a window on the world, but coming up with functional players is the first step. Whether the leader is Apple or someone else, the term “iPod” connotes a user experience that we all relate to.