A recent study imagines the ways hyperfast online connections will begin to transform everyday life, enabling new technologies while rendering contemporary ways of life obsolete.
As Internet speeds accelerate, the barriers between machines and people will erode. Physical distance may lose meaning. And entire lives will be cataloged online, from birth to death, instantly accessible from all those who choose to share – and maybe those who would rather not.
A Pew Research Center study out Thursday imagines the ways hyperfast online connections will begin to transform everyday life, enabling new technologies while rendering contemporary ways of life obsolete.
The concepts the study envisions – "lifestreaming," three-dimensional holograms, immersive collaboration – remain speculative. But the Internet speeds that might enable them are here today.
CenturyLink announced last summer that it's broadening its fiber-optic rollout to households in select (unspecified) neighborhoods around Portland, enabling "gigabit" Internet connections – 1,000 megabits per second, about 100 times faster than a typical Internet connection today.
Google Fiber is contemplating a broad rollout across much of the metro area and could announce before year's end whether it will proceed, duplicating fiber networks it already operates in Kansas City and in Provo, Utah, and one it's building in Austin, Texas.
Few uses exist for gigabit speeds today. Underlying communications networks lack the capacity to deliver the last-mile service, and Pew's study concludes that the gigabit transformation is likely to be gradual.
Legacy communications networks simply can't handle gigabit speeds, and stringing high-capacity fiber directly to homes is a slow, expensive process. Pew concludes that, until gigabit service reaches some critical mass, applications for gigabit services won't be widespread.
But once it takes off, Pew concludes it could have a truly transformative effect. The organization canvassed 1,464 online experts to identify "killer apps in the gigabit age."
Pew's report doesn't draw specific conclusions about when these new concepts might take hold, or how they might be applied. Instead, it collects a sampling of voices with a variety of perspectives on what the future might look like.
Themes that emerge include:
New digital divides, since new technologies may be expensive – or geographically unavailable.
At this point, again, it's all imagination. Even in 2025, Pew's experts said, the biggest changes will be in their infancy.
One point of consensus: In the same way it was difficult to predict how completely social networks like Facebook and Twitter would change the way we interact online, it's impossible to envision how completely new technologies will alter the way we live.
"Such changes will produce completely new and exciting applications," wrote Joel Halpern, an Ericsson engineer. "To pretend we know what those applications will be is a mistake. Each time such things have emerged, they have largely been in spaces that were not anticipated. It is also worth remembering that many of the most pervasive effects will likely be in ways that are not directly visible, but make a dramatic difference indirectly."
©2014 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)
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