How Broadband Has Changed the World (Part 4): What Lies Ahead

How Broadband Has Changed the World (Part 4): What Lies Ahead
Hyperloop Concept Art, by Camilo Sanchez, CC BY-SA 4.0

Imagine it’s a weekday morning in the year 2025. You hop in your fully licensed driverless car that will take you to work, or to your closest Hyperloop station.

Remember 2016, when commuting to your job was stressful and took forever? Now, it’s a quick, relaxing ride. Plus, your hands are free and you can concentrate on having a conversation with your artificial intelligence (AI) assistant, who sums up the latest news headlines, runs through your most important voice or text messages, tells you what time you’re meeting with your boss today, and reminds you that you have an anniversary dinner with your wife at 7 pm.

You ask it to order her some flowers online and have them delivered by 4 pm, via a drone drop, to your house. Your AI assistant also books a driverless Uber car to pick you and your wife up at 6 pm and take you to the restaurant it reserved for you last week.

Next, you gesture through the projection of your presentation for your meeting. You swap a few slides around and tell your AI assistant to save and send it to your boss. All of your morning rituals are done and you haven’t even stepped into your office yet.

Ten to fifteen years from now, the scenarios described above are all possible. However, to get to that point, high-speed internet will have to be accessible to everyone, everywhere.

Let’s walk through how we’ll get there.

By July of this year, 500 pay phones in New York City will be converted to free wi-fi booths, with download speeds up to 1,000mbps and publically accessible Android tablets. Eventually, 7,500 of them will be all over the city.

“This is creating all kinds of competition,” said Colin O’Donnell, CityBridge’s chief technology officer. “This is going to set a new standard for speed, drive pricing competition, and set new expectations for data caps.”

If all goes well with these tests in New York, more public hot spots could start sprouting up in other cities, and hopefully, they’ll be all over North America in a few years. 

Then, of course, there’s the Google Fiber rollout, spurring new competing services. Between that and initiatives from the likes of Mark Zuckerburg, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Google to spread internet access, it’s no wonder Eric Schmidt hopes the entire world will be online by 2020.

As has happened before, faster, more available broadband access means we’ll use the internet more in our day-to-day lives, to store more information about ourselves (in a more trusting way), to buy and sell services and goods across the world, and to learn from people further and further away.

High-speed internet becoming ubiquitous will level the playing field, giving larger sections of the population the technology they need to create our next generation of innovations.

How Broadband Has Changed The World (Part 4): What Lies Ahead

Image via Microsoft 

Still, it’s important to consider how far we’ve come to predict where we’ll go in the future.

Not that long ago, watching a video online was inconceivable. Four years from now, videos could be 80% of the world’s internet traffic. Just imagine how we’ll communicate using video and VR 10 to 15 years from now.

Thanks to gigabit internet, you’ll start the day with a lag-free, super-HD VR conference call with your team.

You'll collaborate with your product designer in Japan, in a real-time cloud-based 3D modeler. Haptic gloves will give you a sense of weight and texture even in a virtual environment. Once you've settled on a virtual design you like, you'll stream that prototype to your 3D printer to make it real, seamlessly blending the virtual world with the physical.

How Broadband Has Changed The World (Part 4): What Lies Ahead
At the end of the day, when you’re winding down, every member of your family can be watching separate videos in super HD...and still have enough bandwidth left to check their email and browse Facebook, without anyone getting the dreaded “Buffering...” message.

On the commercial side of things, you’ll be able to virtually walk-through your next AirBnB rental - travel agencies are already using VR to boost sales:

"Thomas Cook said that over three months, the revenue for New York excursions was up by 190 percent, and flight and hotel bookings went up by £12,000 ($17,500) from people making a purchase after the using the Samsung Gear."

Along with virtual reality, we can expect augmented reality games and tools to come to the forefront.

Pokémon Go is (finally!) slated to come out sometime this year and apps like WallaMe are just starting to experiment with how we can use technology to interact with real life. Geocaching is probably going to get a lot more interesting in the coming years.

There's an element of social good to all of this too; more realistic video helps to create a feeling of empathy. That can't be done as well with text and avatars. In a world that’s growing ever smaller, one where the law keeps finding its hands tied when trying to protect harassment victims, we could use a little more empathy.

In general, we’ll have more ways to interact with technology. Tools like

Tools like Leap Motion and inFORM are giving us new ways to use computers, which aren’t just button-mashing. In that case, Iron Man’s holotable might not be far off.

Speaking of Iron Man, having your very own Jarvis (a conversational AI) might not be too far off, either.

Whether that’s a good thing or a bad one remains to be seen — if you ask Stephen Hawking, we could wind up with a Skynet situation on our hands if we’re not careful.

In the meantime, the algorithms that do things like cook us up custom playlists or give us recommendations on Amazon will keep getting smarter, more contextual, and in come cases, pre-emptive.

How Broadband Has Changed The World (Part 4): What Lies Ahead

Thanks to the increased adoption of ad blocking software, media brands will need to adapt or die. Analysts believe that AI and bots (via messaging systems) could help ailing media companies remain relevant and find a new business model in the process.

"Messaging is going to be the interface — or the anti-interface — of the next phase of the internet," says Robin Chan, CEO of Operator, an app that uses a mix of artificial intelligence and human workers to let you shop through text-based conversations. "This is such a mega-trend that almost every large application is moving toward this."

This Verge article argues that text-based assistants, used primarily via private messaging systems, are the next phase in the AI bot evolution.

Shane Mac, co-founder of Assist, believes that in five years, every business will be programming its own messaging-based bots to “be the front-end of to all manner of web services” in any way that you prefer to access them. Even Facebook is working on a solution via its new Facebook M service for messenger.

How Broadband Has Changed The World (Part 4): What Lies Ahead

If these predictions come true, history seems to keep repeating itself online. The advent of peer-to-peer (P2P) software like Napster enabled the evolution of social media to become what it is today. Now, those same platforms (like Facebook) are trying to take us back to a time where walled gardens like AOL were trying to keep us engaged in a closed system.

As bots and AI increase in popularity, we could see a return to more intimate P2P sharing and messaging systems in the next 5 to 10 years. Even further down the road, the bot you use to order dinner or reserve a restaurant for your anniversary could adapt its personality to suit yours, becoming a trusted cyber-confidante.

Broadband internet keeps reinventing itself, but each time, we get faster, better, and (hopefully) more secure and trustworthy. Be sure to visit our blog next month as we’ll dive deeper into how many of the themes described in this story will play out in the future.

How Broadband Has Changed The World (Part 4): What Lies AheadAbout The Author

Tommy Walker is the Editor-in-Chief of the Shopify Plus blog. It is his goal to provide high-volume ecommerce stores with deeply researched, honest advice for growing their customer base, revenues and profits. Get more from Tommy on Twitter.