- 13 Oct 2014
Considering it was 2004 (Twitter didn’t exist, Google was still just a search engine, Facebook had only just been founded and was still called thefacebook.com), it’s not a bad forecast. Though some things have moved a little bit more quickly than anyone could have expected.
21st Century Ulster: Why digital citizens will love Big Brother
By Andrea Clements firstname.lastname@example.org – 12 August 2004
BY 2050 you won’t be carrying around car keys, credit cards or passports – a unique communications system will be able to sense who you are.
And you won’t be spending time scrubbing your cookers or fridges. They’re likely to be self-cleaning. Household appliances will be ‘intelligent’ and able to self-diagnose problems and conduct maintenance operations with control centres.
Your home heating oil or new car parts could be ordered and paid for from your bank account without you having to do a thing, and in the office you will be able to forget about keyboards – computers are likely to be voice-activated.
How we live, travel, learn and work in 2050 will be radically different to now, according to experts at the University of Ulster, who believe we will be digital citizens living in an on-demand world (albeit one where Big Brother will find it easier to keep track of us).
Our entire digital existence will travel with us, possibly through the use of slim-line devices, says Professor Gerard Parr, chair in telecommunications engineering.
“Networking technologies are already providing us with many of these systems and services but they are not available to everyone, everywhere around the clock and at a cost they can afford.
“Future environments will sense who and where you are and provide you access to a host of leisure, entertainment, educational, business, government and cultural services.
“This will be possible regardless of whether you are sitting on the stones of the Giant’s Causeway sending live video and voice to a loved one who is taking a trip in an orbital shuttle en-route to the moon or touring the Alps in an expedition.
“We will have true mobility through a single point of local access anywhere in the world.”
The new global infrastructure could also mean huge changes in the way that we work.
“The fully digital slim-line devices could mean you don’t have to be in the office but could be out and about and in contact with your colleagues via high speed wireless connections to conferences and sending messages that include digital encoding of smells, feelings and thoughts,” said Prof Parr.
And technology will play a huge part in changing our lifestyles at home.
The professor says: “Everything in the home will work across a network of wireless communications, with a high speed connection to every room in the house.
“The communications infrastructure will be part of the house and a core requirement even before planning permission is given.”
And forget about that box in the corner of the room being just a television. Not only are we likely to use digital TVs for teleshopping, e-mail, on-line banking, work and leisure interests but also for receiving live and recorded broadcasts.
They could automatically capture your viewing preferences, saving you time poring over the TV listings.
“We now have information overload with hundreds of channels to choose from,” says Prof Parr. “But we’ll soon have intelligent agents which will search for programmes you’ll be interested in.
“We won’t be using remote controls either – voice commands will be used to switch channels. You could say a keyword like ‘golf’ and be turned on to a list of live sporting broadcasts from around the world.”
There is no doubt that more intelligent technology will make certain business and domestic tasks much easier.
But all these innovations will come at a social cost which will require improved legislation and changes in work-practices.
Industry and central government will need to provide safeguards to support sharing of information it already has on each of us.
Gareth McAleese, web and new media manager at UU, says that long before 2050 we are likely to own portable media devices which will merge TV, video and the internet. These could be powered by new, stronger and smaller batteries or possibly even solar power.
“You could soon be sitting on the train downloading a whole series of Friends to watch,” he said.
“These devices are already coming onto the market but in the next few years they’ll become more popular and more affordable.”
And computer technology is set to become even smarter and more useful.
“Search engines will have a new layer of intelligence which will be able to work out more specifically what you want.
“And because the younger generation already know how to use the internet, in a few decades everybody will be brought up in that environment and people will know nothing different.”
So will this change how we learn about what is happening in the outside world?
“I think there’ll still be the market for newspapers but when people go-on line they’ll be able to see video coverage of events,” he says.
New technology will also radically change the way we study, according to Dr Alan Masson, senior lecturer in learning technologies at UU’s Institute for Lifelong Learning.
In fact, students in Northern Ireland may be able to be tutored by the top professors in their field, even if they do happen to be based at a university on the other side of the world.
“Students will be able to pick the best of what is available from different modules at universities all over the world and technology will help move learning from one institution to another.
“They could adapt the course to suit their needs and study at their own pace. Bulletin boards on websites could mean that people in different time zones could contribute to tutorials.
“But I do think that there will be face to face learning as it is inherently a social activity.”
So how will we get from A to B in 2050? Small energy-efficient vehicles are likely to be the norm unless we are certain about having enough fuel supplies.
Hybrid engines – a combination between electric and diesel – are currently being investigated in a bid to save fossil fuels, says Julian Hine, Professor of Transport, but the Government needs to take action to cut congestion on the roads.
“A comprehensive road pricing system may be introduced. New technology will be able to chart your mileage but whether it works will depend on how much the Government charges and of course there are issues of confidentiality,” he said.
And what about air travel in the future? It all depends on fuel, according to Terry Bunce, course director in transport at UU.
He says we’re living in “an idiot’s paradise” where crude oil is concerned, because there will simply not be enough to supply our demands at the same rate in the future.
“Although research is going on around the world there’s been no great incentive to develop other fuels for air travel.
“Starting within the next 10 years energy costs and air travel are going to rocket and we could see a situation like in the 1960s where only the relatively affluent could afford to fly.”
So what will we do if we can’t afford to jet off to the sun for a fortnight each year?
Our holidays could realistically be on nuclear powered marine ships, Mr Bunce adds, but only if countries agree to them docking at their ports.
The cost of manufacturing and powering new technology will affect how much it changes our lives between now and 2050.
And the capabilities of communications networks now being developed will depend on how governments want information on individuals to be used globally.
View the article on the Belfast Telegraph website at: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/imported/21st-century-ulster-why-digital-citizens-will-love-big-brother-28049978.html