Devices Will Spin Denser Webs of Data in 2010s

Associated Press + More

JESSICA MINTZ,


AP Technology Writer SEATTLE—Ten years ago, we would have been blown away by a cell phone with far more computing power and memory than the average PC had in 1999, along with a built-in camera and programs to manage every aspect of our lives. Ten years from now, the iPhone and its ilk will be antiques.

Over the next decade, the evolution of computing and the Internet will produce faster, increasingly intelligent devices. More of our possessions will contain sensors and computers that log our activities, building digital dossiers that augment our memories, help us make decisions and tame information overload.

Such ideas may sound futuristic and excessive today. And technological predictions are notoriously off-base. Short-term forecasts tend to assume too much change and long-term forecasts underestimate the possibility of sudden, major shifts.

Even so, this vision of interconnected devices that produce and filter massive amounts of data in the 2010s is a logical progression of the Web, computers and gadgetry that emerged in the 2000s. Moore's Law, the principle that computing power doubles every two years without increasing in cost, still rules.

Recall the personal computer, circa 2000. It likely had a "clock speed" — a measure of how fast it could do things — just one-sixth of many computers today.

Apple's 1999 iMac came with 64 megabytes of RAM, memory that helps computers switch among programs. Today's iMac today has 60 times as much. The vintage iMac had a 10-gigabyte hard drive for storing digital photos and other files. Now iPods have more space than that, and iMac drives start at 500 gigabytes.

Remember dial-up? In 2000, fewer than 10 percent of U.S. households had broadband Internet, according to Forrester Research. In 2008, 61 percent of homes had it.

As computers and Internet connections got faster, we enjoyed them more. In October 2002, the average American spent about 52 hours a month on a home computer, according to the Nielsen Co. This October, the figure was nearly 68 hours a month.

We filled ever-more-spacious hard drives with music and photographs, as households with digital cameras jumped from 10 percent in 2000 to 68 percent last year, and those with an MP3 player climbed from less than 2 percent in 2000 to 41 percent in 2008, according to Forrester.

We increased the ways we could stay connected: More of us got cell phones, camera phones, smart phones and the iPhone. We bought more laptops and came to expect Internet connections almost everywhere.

Personal home pages were replaced by blogs that could be set up in seconds, which gave anyone with a computer and Web access the potential to reach a bigger audience than many newspapers. First-generation social networks, little more than online address books, gave way to sites such as Facebook and Twitter, where we add our words, photos, links and video posts to a collective stream of consciousness.

Online, we also tripped over the line between private and public. We shared intimate details with our network of online "friends," and sometimes it was simply too much information, especially when our boss was reading.

All these changes unfolded because of an explosion in computing power and connectivity that only figures to accelerate in the next decade.

As we move through our lives, we'll leave more and more digital detritus. Some of it will resemble what we share online today. Some will be emitted quietly by devices, just as mobile phones can signal their location.

We'll also have access to more data about the world around us, dwarfing the real-time stock quotes, government statistics, scientific databases and other information stores available today.

In the next decade as conjured by Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey, all that information will be available instantaneously, anywhere. He imagines spotting an acquaintance at a conference and having at his fingertips links to the person's most recent research, plus a reminder of her husband's name.

Software will remember everything McQuivey buys, reads online and watches on TV. A "smart filter" will use his past choices to suggest the next book or show, or even what he should eat for dinner. It's a more powerful version of the way Amazon.com and Netflix make book or movie recommendations.