Seven Disruptive Trends Driving the Digital Revolution

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-10-23

Seven Disruptive Trends Driving the Digital Revolution

Consultancy CSC has created a list of top trends to watch. Many of these you may have already seen in practice, while some work their magic behind the scenes, quietly biding their time for when the market is ready for them.

Of course, with the current recession, no timeline for the emergence of new technology trends is safe. Nonetheless, Computer Sciences Corporation researchers Alex Fuss and Paul Gustafson, who spent a year working on their report, discuss what is driving this Internet economy forward. What do these trends mean for the world?

"They will stimulate the formation of new industries, extend the tremendous gains in productivity brought about by the Internet, and challenge existing social, economic, political and cultural norms," Fuss and Gustafson wrote.

No pressure, then. You can read the 96-page CSC report here, (PDF) or check out the synopsis below.

New Media: The Internet has become the ultimate breeding ground for content consumption and creation, often by the same people. What some call Web 2.0 is all around us in RSS feeds, blog posts and wikis from MindTouch and Socialtext, among others.

YouTube has become the second-hottest search site after its parent Google, while corporations such as Cisco Systems use video to train or inform their employees. Businesses also license Brightcove's video software.

All of these tools are inspiring new methods of corporate collaboration.

Social Software: New media social networks such as Facebook and have racked up over 200 million users and show no signs of stopping. Viral microblog sites such as Twitter play host to consumers who appreciate "snackable" content.

Enterprises are getting in on the action, if not via Facebook or Twitter, then via secure social software suites such as IBM Lotus Connections and business-centered microblogs such as Yammer and SocialCast.

From Augmented Reality to Information Transparency

Augmented Reality: This has been slower in coming around. Sure, "Second Life" has some avid, faithful users. But virtual reality, in which avatars roam digital worlds to feed humans' sense of alternative selves, is slow in coming despite IBM's efforts to insert three-dimensional collaboration into Lotus.

CSC eventually sees a blend of virtual and physical reality giving rise to augmented reality. For example, TC2 makes the Intellifit body scanner, a walk-in booth that does a 360-degree body scan to help fit clothes to people.

The scanner uses cylindrical holographic imaging technology to take a full body scan and create 3-D avatar images with a person's measurements. Shoppers can use the avatars to try on clothing when shopping online.

Information Transparency: In short, there will be sensors everywhere. Google Android creator Andy Rubin would appreciate this.

People will be able to "see" all their assets through tailored services such as personalized medicine. Google Health, Microsoft's HealthVault and Revolution Health all aim to give users greater control over their health records online. However, the door swings both ways to reveal a Catch-22.

In this increasingly transparent world, Webcams let you see what your team members are working on, while employers use this transparency to inspect software code. On the job, privacy may erode if the proper steps aren't taking. Telecommuting everywhere, anyone?

New Wave of Waves: Wireless technology, baby. Apple's iPhone, Google's Android platform. Open access to run any application on any device anywhere in the world.

Fuss and Gustafson nailed it when they wrote, "The race to stake out the wireless frontier is precipitating a spectrum battle between the established telcos; radio, cable and satellite broadcasters; Internet service providers; and startups."

In this battle, wireless will win, with location-aware Web services and commerce leading the way. Which players will remain standing is unclear. Google already disrupted the 700MHz wireless auction, forcing Verizon to scramble to get the C spectrum it coveted.

Will Google wrest control of the mobile Web from its rivals the way it has the desktop, or will Microsoft, Nokia or some other player take charge? Ultimately, the CSC researchers predict a dynamic digital spectrum replete with open access.

Its the Cloud, Man

Platform Makeover: Virtualization, with software scaling exponentially on one machine to let operating systems multiply, has been steadily evolving.

Cloud computing, in which users pay for computing infrastructure and applications from vendors hosting customer data on their servers and storage arrays, is also changing computing models.

The cloud is popping now, with Amazon Web Services,, IBM and, of course, Google powering the charge. Don't count out Microsoft's Live Mesh for consumers either.

Further into the future, Fuss and Gustafson see nanotechnology, molecular computing, quantum computing and optical computing vaulting past silicon as Moore's Law is rendered obsolete. Instead of chips, the researchers anticipate there will be far smaller, lighter materials at work: atoms, DNA, electron spins and light.

Smart(er) World: Semantic technologies will enable computing devices to interpret patterns as humans do, via text, speech or situational means.

Computers will learn and make reasoned recommendations and predictions, such as telling the user to wear a raincoat after a forecast of inclement weather.

The researchers noted the existence of semantic Web search from Hakia and Microsoft's Powerset, as well as enterprise applications that identify relationships across data and IT systems. Predictive behavioral software will help boost employee performance.

In Web 3.0, systems will be able to learn at run-time from user input and system-learning about the environment, laying the foundation for Web 4.0, which will connect intelligence in an environment where people and machines reason and communicate together.

"The combination of semantic technology with networked people seems to be where we are going for the next few years. The semantic technology finds the relevant data that I'm interested in and then I connect it to someone who may be specifically working on a project," Fuss told me.

This will ultimately lead to potentially freaky artificial intelligence stuff, such as mind-reading software.

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