will come out of the blue. I am not usually stunned by survey findings, but I was amazed that the experts by an 80%-17% margin opted for the answer that the most compelling advances will come out of the blue.
Still, their answers made sense. Some noted that if they had been asked a similar question in the year 2000, they could not have anticipated the iPhone and the whole mobile information ecology that would surround it and other smartphones. They also talked about their uncertainty regarding how the public and technology innovators will respond to a genuinely new information environment in 2020. The expectation today is that 10 years from now computing capacity will have grown another fivefold, along with reductions in price; that bandwidth in the wired realm will have grown as well, and in the wireless realm it might be tripled; that storage capacity will have made similar advances; and that progress will have continued at a rapid pace in the miniaturization of gadgetry and the expansion of bigger displays packed with ever-denser pixel populations. Many also referred to the growth of the “Internet of things” and the proliferation of sensors that will allow the environment, objects, and artifacts to tell us “stories” with continual data uploads.
Anthony Townsend, the research director at the Institute for the Future, captured the spirit of this group by putting it this way: “Most of the components are certainly around us, but what really distinguishes the way technology innovation is happening today is iterative and endless recombinations. The potential variety is so great, and the role of end users in shaping the outcome so strong, that there are a potentially limitless number of combinations. Technology innovation will probably be a lot more bottom-up and organic as a result––forecasting it is less about understanding linear processes and more about understanding non-linear processes and emergent behavior. It’s going to be hard.”
What isn’t hard is coming up with scenarios that we ask these experts to assess. This is the fourth survey we at Pew Internet and Elon University have conducted since 2004 and in each survey our only struggle was how to limit the questions that were on our minds. The strategy we pursued in this survey was different from the past in that for each issue we wanted to tackle we sketched two opposite outcomes for the coming