Computerworld 25 years: Day in the life... 25 years from now

Microsoft NZ corporate affairs manager Waldo Kuipers imagines what life will be like in 2036

Microsoft NZ corporate affairs manager Waldo Kuipers says in the future technology will be a more active assistant.

"It will extend our productive capabilities; by helping people manage time better, helping us make smarter decisions with data presented well, and by keeping us connected. People will be able to use the right interface for the job at hand, without needing to spend time on transferring data and capabilities between devices," he says.

In the piece below Kuipers imagines what a typical work day might look like in 25 years time.

When I start my workday in 2036 I am sitting in a comfy couch at home after completing tàijíquán practice and a leisurely breakfast.

There’s no expectation that I will be at the office. If I wanted to go, it would be for face time with customers and partners, or because I need a quiet space to think when the grandkids are immersed in the latest lively interactive miracle out of Miramar.

Computer technology in 2036 is almost everywhere and almost invisible.

I pick up a blank slate that’s lying nearby, and an instant later my work is there just as I left it, with a quiet notification from the Pingar service about relevant news and developments that have been collated for me overnight. It doesn’t matter that I was on the mountain, off the grid, when I was working yesterday on a touch card. When I was being driven home last night and got back to network coverage my work was automatically synchronised by my personal computer.

I can get that work from anywhere, whether I’m on the grid, or off it.

In case you think I’ve picked up my trusty ‘Windows 8’ slate for the lolz, I should reiterate we’re twenty years on. This is a blank slate not a smart one. Like a keyboard or mouse, a blank is just a tool that’s suited to the interactions I want right now. I need to flick through a few docs and see the latest comments left by the analytics team. For creative work, watching a report, or making calls, there are better tools so I put the slate aside.

When I want to connect with a colleague, I just talk. There’s no obvious equipment involved. If I want to make fine adjustments to an engineering model or a report for a client, I’ll walk to a blank wall and do it in front of a floor-to-ceiling 3D screen using gestures and my voice. For a few hours of serious creative work I use a desktop screen with a stylus or pointer. I never did take to dictating long documents even when it was the norm in law firms with typing pools, so although I haven’t persuaded the grandkids to learn how to use it yet, I still find a keyboard is my tool of choice for detailed writing.

My personal computer manages the house sensors and projectors or other interfaces I want to use, and its Green Button connector automatically sends heavy work to the cloud computing fabric.

When I’m on the road, away from hi-def projectors and sensors, I can still work on any surface that’s available anywhere on or off the grid. My personal computer has its own micro projectors and sensors when I need them.

I hear you ask, “Isn’t this the post-PC era? What’s all this about personal computers?”

Well, in a way you’re right, it isn’t the type of personal computer you’d recognise. I chose to have mine built into a pair of glasses, call me old-fashioned for that small vanity. But it’s got the brain of a computer, and it’s personal to me.

But did you really think it would be so easy to get perfect broadband everywhere all the time without a big antenna next to my brain?

No, I still value the ability to have my files synchronised and my computer with me. After all it doesn’t cost much, it’s pretty much invisible, and it just works. And I need some way to carry my ID connector since I haven’t gone as far as an implant.

With just about every task and digital entertainment choice enhanced by cloud services, demand for internet bandwidth is insatiable. People get a choice, either you get tracked and served advertising, or you pay for the privilege of a clean feed. The upside is, there is a lot of “free” material, if you don’t mind paying with sips of your time, attention and personal data.

There are a couple of other things you might be a bit uncomfortable about if you were dropped into them at the deep end, but actually they happened gradually and sort of snuck up on us. There are sensors everywhere, people have had to learn new skills, and almost everyone has a government-issued electronic ID.

On balance I’m glad we got here. The government was smart to introduce the IDs early, but make them optional. With subtle incentives to encourage adoption, the IDs have simply become too useful to not have one.

A new dimension was added to the privacy discussion – in the case of mandatory government access, we wanted to know who had accessed which of our data, when and why. And once we knew that, it actually felt a lot better. Now it seems scarier that in 2011 we were leaking our information all over the place, and we really had no firm idea who was looking at it or how they were using it.

The ID infrastructure provided by the Government, together with open data, ultra-fast networks, and an environment that accepts diverse business models, led to many brand new commercial services being built on these foundations.

Now New Zealand is doing a roaring trade in helping other countries learn from what we’ve done. We’re truly a smart, connected and competitive nation where the Internet has driven a revolution for our economy that surpasses what refrigeration did for us from 1882. Technology is part of our national identity. Being ahead of the curve of most nations, particularly the larger ones, has given us the opportunity to do new things and develop niche digital products and services to sell to the world, based on our unique intellectual property and skills.

There’s a mind-boggling flood of anonymised data coming in from sensors and connected services, and the ability to instruct computers how to analyse and make sense of it and turn it into a format that helps humans make better decisions has become a skill that’s in high demand. Statisticians and computer engineers are the highest paid professionals of our time, closely followed by scientists.

Many of them refuse to take a job in the way I’d always understood it. Instead, they’re connected to global distributed networks that allocate work by auction. It’s low-level and poorly-paid at first. But gradually they earn a reputation through their results. Rather than working for any one company, they are more like legal or financial professionals, who build up a client base – and then they themselves begin to subcontract and manage projects they win.

Kiwis are popular on the global services scene for the shift they can do to get things done between working hours in the Americas and Asia, and our willingness to work in English, Spanish or Mandarin.

It should be no surprise that our Prime Minister started her career in computer science.

* This is the fourth article in a series this week marking Computerworld's 25 year birthday. Tomorrow Open Source Society president Dave Lane looks ahead, along with IDC analysts Rosalie Nelson and Rosemary Spragg.

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