The New Digital Age
In The New Digital Age, Executive Chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, and Director of Google Ideas, Jared Cohen, look to the future and try to predict what implications technology will have on a world that is becoming increasingly connected. The New Digital Age was one of the books I was most looking forward to reading this year and I enjoyed it immensely. If you are interested in technology in any way, this book is a must read. Here are just a few predictions from The New Digital Age:
The Next 5 Billion
In the next decade, 5 billion new people will join the Internet. Many of the people will be from the developing world and will be accessing the Internet for the first time from cheap smartphones. The impact of this shift will be huge, with the majority of the world’s population having gone from having no access to unfiltered information to accessing all of the world’s information in the palm of their hands. All in one generation.
But this shift will not take place in a vacuum. While the majority of the developing world will come online for the first time, the developed world will benefit from a number of new innovations; including self-driving cars, photo-realistic 3D holograms and robots. Let’s not forget the robots.
In the words of the authors: “Everyone will benefit from connectivity, but not equally”
For nations, governments, people and governments, it is becoming increasingly clear that we live in two worlds. One physical and one virtual. But while people are embracing the digital world, governments are still trying to find (in their opinion) the best way to regulate it.
Regulation may change from country to country which may lead to a “balkanization” of the Internet, allowing each country to filter and control what information is accessible online. This would most certainly suck and not be a good thing.
News and Journalism
Due to an increase in connectivity, the ability to “break news” will be left to luck and chance. To demonstrate this point, the authors refer to one unwitting civilian in Abbottabad Pakistan who unknowingly live-tweeted the covert raid that killed Osama bin Laden. But while some new digital platforms like Twitter will break news, people will still refer to traditional media organisations for commentary and analysis.
It should be noted that many of the next five billion people who will join the Internet live in impoverished, censored and unsafe conditions. But despite this, safer reporting backed by encryption and wider reach due to advances in connectivity will help expose corruption and wrong doing.
The Future of Conflict
While technology will help improve the world, it will also make it more dangerous. Cyber attacks and incidents of hacking are on the rise and we may soon see conflicts from the digital world spill over into the physical world.
Connectivity will make it easier for terrorist groups to recruit and train members, but by being online, their activities will also be easier to track. Once again, one of the things that tipped off the U.S. Government to Osama Bin Laden’s location was that his compound was completely disconnected from the outside world.
Another interesting potential trend is that rebels may begin virtual kidnappings, as stealing people’s online identities may be more lucrative and less risky than actual kidnappings. Additionally, advances in technology may also lead to the world’s first “smart” rebel movements who will aim to topple regimes through virtual means.
According to the authors, warfare will also become automated. Robots and drones will increasingly be used in combat operations in order to help minimise combat deaths, civilian casualties and collateral damage. While the use of drones in warfare is currently being debated, a report published by Wired in 2012 stated that drones now account for 31%percent of all military aircraft—up from 5% in 2005.
Overall, the authors believe that more connectivity will ultimately be a good thing. Here is one final quote from the book to give you something to think about while we approach the new digital age:
“Every two days we create as much digital content as we did from the dawn of civilization until 2003—that’s about five exabytes of information, with only two billion people out of a possible seven billion online. How many new ideas, new perspectives and new creations will truly global technological inclusion produce, and how much more quickly will their impact be felt? The arrival of more people in the virtual world is good for them, and it’s good for us. The collective benefit of sharing human knowledge and creativity grows at an exponential rate.”