Monday, March 8, 2010

The Desire for a better Internet Solution for Politics

Tea-Partys and MoveOn street protests a whole lot of well funded hype.

Begging for Solutions

Joe Trippi: Tech Predictions — What to Believe?

Tech Predictions — What to Believe?
Everyday we hear predictions on the future of technology. Will Twitter survive? Is the iPad really a game changer?
In 1995, Clifford Stoll wrote a piece for Newsweek arguing that the internet was just a fad and that it would never replace the daily newspaper or impact the workings of our government. Obviously, Clifford Stoll has been proven wrong.
So how to do we weed out the bad tech predictions from the good?
On Tuesday, Slate featured an article on this very topic, providing some insight on “which predictions to trust and which to dismiss.”
    Good predictions are based on current trends. In his Newsweek piece, Stoll argued that e-books would never take off because reading on a screen was a chore, and—unlike a hardcover—you couldn’t take your computer to the beach. He was right, based on the computers of 1995, which were bulky and fragile. Stoll’s mistake was to believe that computers would stay the same, despite the fact that the PCs of 1995 were far more powerful than machines circa 1990.
    In the same way, visions of flying cars and jetpacks were attractive but completely divorced from reality. During the 1950s and ’60s, automotive development was clearly not heading toward flight. Sure, people had built some prototypes—but mass-produced flying cars would have had to be easy to fly, extremely safe, affordable, and somehow integrated into an urban infrastructure built for ground-based vehicles. Expecting engineers to solve all these problems in a few decades’ time was a dream, not a prediction.
    Don’t underestimate people’s capacity for change. Stoll’s belief that we needed salespeople to help us shop was firmly rooted in his time. But wasn’t it possible that we’d learn new ways to shop? After all, we’d done that before—general stores had given way to supermarkets and malls, which had themselves been usurped by strip malls and big-box stores. Nothing in commerce had ever remained fixed, so why couldn’t we abandon salespeople, too?
    People are very amenable to changing their habits, sometimes astonishingly quickly. One day not long ago, nobody you knew had a cell phone; a couple years later, everyone did. At the beginning of this millennium, few of us would have considered posting our family pictures online. Now we do it routinely. Sure, there are limits to the pace of technical change, but they usually involve price and infrastructure, not obstinate people.
    New stuff sometimes comes out of the blue. You can’t fault Stoll for thinking that the Internet would always remain a chore to navigate. How would we ever find the good nuggets amidst all the useless documents flooding the Web? Lots of search companies were investing lots of money in addressing that problem, but it wasn’t clear they could come up with anything that worked. It also wasn’t obvious that we’d find a way to create good content online. How would ever we know if some document we found provided an accurate account of the Battle of Trafalgar?
    And then a few magical things came and changed everything. The date of the Battle of Trafalgar? It took me a second and a half to find out that it took place on Oct. 21, 1805. Thank you, Google and Wikipedia.
    What Stoll missed here was the potential for collective intelligence to arise out of the online cacophony. Google’s founders saw that they could suss out good content from bad by looking at linking patterns; Wikipedia’s founders saw that by letting people edit each other’s content, they could create a reference that was both comprehensive and uncannily accurate.
    But Google and Wikipedia weren’t predictable. Before they were invented, no one would’ve believed such technologies could work so fantastically well. And that’s the thing about the prediction business. Some of the most important developments of our lifetimes couldn’t have been anticipated. Rather, they came about because a few innovators had brilliant ideas that no one else had foreseen.
    These days it’s best to err on the side of optimism. The bad predictions we remember most often are those that were too optimistic—the space-bound future of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 or George Jetson’s mile-high suburb. Stoll’s forecast is unusual for being too conservative; he thought the future would most likely resemble his present. Perhaps there’s a lesson in that. In the digital age, the future is approaching faster than we think. As a result, the tech that comes tomorrow will probably be far more awesome than you can imagine today.
    Recent history supports this theory. Many of the technologies that we now take for granted—online social networks, Web video, and photo libraries—weren’t invented a decade ago and were only in their infancy five years ago. (YouTube celebrated its fifth birthday this month.) In a decade from now, I predict, we’ll be using gadgets and tech tools that nobody has conjured as of 2010.
Provide your comments below and let me know you think. And to read the article in full, check out Slate.

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