A Look Into The Crystal Ball

“The Cloud” is a buzzword meaning third-party hosted internet applications.

To the individual this means being able to manage your content from any location that provides some form of internet access. Things like gmail, Google Docs, Flickr, WordPress.com and YouTube are examples.

To the corporation it’s a form of outsourcing. Gone are the days of large data centers to manage corporate information. Now the information is stored in the cloud. Now it’s someone else’s nightmare to manage.

It’s also a security nightmare for those who dare to take a moment to consider the security costs rather than the monetary costs associated with “the cloud”. You lose control of your information. You’re putting it into the hands of a third-party. You may have a contract with them that makes them responsible for any security breaches. In fact some managers prefer the cloud specifically because there’s a security contract that, in legal form at least, takes responsibility off their heads. But that doesn’t mean a security breach won’t happen. And when it does, when the genie is out of the bottle, what becomes more significant, that the information is out there or that you’re not going to get fired?

Sadly, I think most IT managers would answer the latter.

Privacy is one aspect of security, but it’s a concept that’s slowly starting to catch on. The public is slowly and painfully becoming aware that putting all their information out on third-party sites, that probably doesn’t have the individual’s best interests in mind, is a bad idea. The recent stir surrounding Facebook’s privacy issues is one example of this.

And as much as I would love to see this catch hold and become a driving force that tears apart “The Cloud” and everything “2.0”, it won’t. People will be quick to forgive or forget or to tolerate those privacy issues in return for easy access to information and entertainment.

“The Cloud” is probably not going to go away. In fact, it’s probably going to be the future. And it will be incredibly attractive.

I’m going to focus mainly on “the Cloud” from the individual perspective.

Imagine an iTunes subscription. You could stream any music you want to any device you have, be it your phone while on the way to work or a tablet while you’re at home reading a book on it or a set-top box at your friend’s house who needs some background music for his or her party. Or from your hotel room while on a trip. You don’t have to carry any actual electronic device with you. Your music is in “The Cloud” and you can stream it from any electronic device.

Now apply the same idea to NetFlix or Hulu. Actually, NetFlix and Hulu (in many ways) already do exactly this.

E-mail? Photos? Documents? Gmail. Flickr. Google Docs.

All your information is in “The Cloud”. Ready for you to pull it up on any internet-enabled device, from your iPhone to a computer in an internet cafe halfway around the world.

This type of access already exists, but the interface is too clunky. I imagine a near future with some sort of set top device that you plug into a television that would provide all of this for you. It would become a common feature at most hotels and certainly everyone from grandma on down would have one in their house. No real computer needed anymore, just a thin client with a web browser and maybe a hardware video decoder.

And for the high-end user there would be the portable device. Something like an iPhone4 but with extra features like a micro projector to watch movies on the wall (who needs a TV?) and a small suction-cup device that turns any flat surface (window, table, etc) into a large speaker to provide clear sound.

There would be movie parties. Where everyone would sign into a private room on NetFlix and could watch the same movie and talk to each other, while each person sits in their own room separated by hundreds of miles.

Friendships would no longer need face-to-face meetings. Everyone becomes an avatar. A projected personality that may or may not relate to the individual’s physical presence.

Soon meetings would be conducted in a similar fashion. No longer do we need a boardroom, simply start up your telepresence app and everyone sees and hears each other without ever having to leave their cubicle.

Of course in such a world a room full of cubicles with dozens of separate conversations going on would create quite a bit of background noise and interference. Which is why cubicles would become something more like miniature offices with sound proofs walls and no windows.

You don’t really need to see outside. Just start up the local weather app to project an image of what it looks like outside; tailor-made to your preferred surroundings of a wooded area or urban setting.

Eventually such archaic devices like projectors, speakers, and microphones will be made obsolete with brain implants. Telepresence becomes more real. You don’t just see, you feel and smell and taste and touch. Physical contact with others can be achieved even though your thousands of miles apart.

The porn industry reaches its full potential. It’s not prostitution anymore, it’s all virtual. Every depraved and deviant fetish is now catered to, and it’s all virtual, it’s all fake. But it will feel very real. And what is real, but signals processed by your brain. It is real.

And one day some alien race might finally find our planet. Perhaps touch down and have a look around. They’ll walk the halls of large buildings filled with small, personal-refrigerator sized cubicles. Automated machines keep everything running smoothly. Perhaps interest gets the better of them. They peek inside one of the refrigerators and find a curious gray mass in a container of goo with some probes.

Say hello, then, to your grandchildren a million years from now.

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