Predictions for 2001

by Andy Oram

Daylight hours are getting short, and it's time for technology predictions for the year 2001. Most analysts will bore you with pedantic articles about new businesses, consumer spending, investment, groundbreaking products, and connectivity speeds. Not this writer! I write about things we all really care about.

So here are nine predications about what will happen in 2001. (I didn't bother to find a tenth because the digital age will make the decimal system obsolete.)

  1. A sporting event will be held with absolutely no live spectators. As many cities find the cost of upgrading stadiums prohibitive, they will cope by making events broadcast-only. Spectators will view the event the way they like to see everything: on the boob tube. The loss of paying attendees will be made up by delivering junk food to viewers who place interactive orders.
  2. Data storage requirements will diminish. Currently, the size of corporate data is outgrowing the availability of Greek prefixes. As we go past terabytes and petabytes, companies will get fed up with transferring, storing, and backing up data. After they find that their fancy-schmancy data-mining applications turn up statistics of dubious validity, they'll cry uncle and figure out the sensible way to go: extract a few interesting results each day, store the data they really need, and toss the rest.
  3. Airports will provide wireless broadband Internet connectivity and video teleconference rooms. Once companies realize that their management and key staff are spending 25 percent or more of their time waiting in airport terminals, a market for full connectivity in airports will arise. But then they'll panic because their staff is sharing wireless LANs with competitors who are heading to the same conference by plane. Result: all restrictions on the export of encryption will finally be removed.
  4. A breach of privacy will be Webcast. Someone will hack into a corporate surveillance system and make stockroom or water-cooler behavior visible on the Web for at least 12 hours before the compromised company notices the breach, alerts the police, and locates the offending server.
  5. Businesses will begin forcing their staff to go offline. Companies will get tired of finding that instant messaging, Web surfing, and cell phones are sucking up time that could be spent more productively. Rules will spring up requiring workers to spend a minimum number of hours completely free from communications technology. Some sites may build new communal spaces to encourage face-to-face interaction. (Current U.S. work environments stay productive only because smokers exchange information once in a while when they step outside to enjoy a cigarette.) The greatest boost to morale will be in companies that not only encourage employees to interact, but improve the quality of the cafeteria food to realize that goal.
  6. The first serious cyber-attack will occur, and the target will be the U.S. Air Traffic Control System. The perpetrators will be air traffic controllers themselves, who are suffering the greatest degree of job-related pressure in the history of travel. The cyber-attack will revive a labor movement decimated by former president Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.
  7. The field of Library Sciences will become the next hot career path. The current buzz about XML and related specifications is like getting excited about a new device for cutting glass. It won't be long before companies go to the next stage and realize they need to hire people who can create stained glass windows. (If medieval builders were as focused on technology as we are, tourists would be looking at a bunch of transparent dodecahedrons instead of the Sainte-Chapelle.) So, corporations using new schemas to index and organize information will suddenly discover the importance of expertise in that field. Even as public libraries continue to shrink, new schools of Library Science will pop up and salaries for librarians (perhaps with new monikers like "information architect") will skyrocket.
  8. India will become a world center for high-tech development. Robust software-engineering techniques will draw major contracts. Development centers will leapfrog their telecom problems with the help of wireless Internet connections. The government will kick off a flourishing biotech industry by limiting intellectual property rights. Eventually, the Indian computer industry will get so hot they'll have to import programmers from Germany.
  9. Pundits will come and go in Internet time. Under the current regime of radical disruption, paradigms will continue to shift so fast that no individual will keep up with them. Companies will rise and fall within two years; CEOs will come and go even more frequently. (I wrote this prediction as a joke before finding that Business Week seriously believes many future businesses will be ephemeral.) And commentators claiming to provide a live wire straight to future shock won't be able to offer coherent commentaries for longer than a few months. So don't expect a set of predictions from me next December.