Mind to Market

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Predicting the Future

If we could accurately predict what the price of a publicly traded stock would be tomorrow we would stand to make millions. We all know that we can't do that or even simpler predictions. But there are more general predictions that we can make that are just obvious; drugs will continue to improve to provide better healthcare benefits, computers will become better integrated to provide a more seamless interface with our lives.

I've been reading Neil Stephenson's book Snow Crash; an action, adventure, video game like view of the future. Probably not one of Stephenson’s best, yet the thing that struck me was that it was first published in 1992, really before the modern Internet, before the advent of serious computer virus' and certainly before Second Life, yet it's all here as if he had some portal into the future. Granted many of his predictions have yet to fully come to pass, he was probably shooting for 2020, but some of them are well on their way.

One prediction that Stephenson and other futurists make without fail is the ability to access multiple data sources seamlessly, i.e. by using a single interface users can quickly and easily access a multitude of data sources and mix and match the gathered data. It seems so effortless and so obvious. Yet in the real world the notion of this level of integration would be met with questions regarding the substance in your cigarette. We have created so many isolated and discordant systems that the effort of tying them together seems hopeless.

This is why we can marvel at systems such as Google which appear to make sense of it all. These search engines can seemly extract the needle from the haystack, which is in fact amazing, but falls far short of the real value of the Web. Far too much manual munging is required to get the information into something even remotely integrated. Start your own database and integrate to it? A workable solution, but just a drop in the information ocean.

If the rest of the Web insists on remaining silos, at least some visionaries are creating integrated environments, i.e. facebook. facebook is creating an integrated Web within the Web and members seem quite content to stay within its bounds. Relatively small now, it will continue to grow rapidly as third party applications add more value to the integrated environment. An entertaining toy? Maybe, but it may provide a glimpse of how other domains may provide integration.

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