'Story of my life' and how to tell the future
By Kjell Øystein Arisland
I hate bragging, and I know why. As a child I was taught bragging was a major sin. The admonishing lectures were accompanied by the not uncommon practice of leading by example. This is often implemented by the teacher doing the opposite of what he or she is teaching. In my case, the opposite example was excellent for my motivation, and provided knowledge of how to do it, but less about how not to. To brag well, I think you have to be able to rationalize it as something else, like marketing of your own abilities. Anyway, I hate bragging, and I am therefore worried that I may not be able do it convincingly, but here I go.
I am a person who lives more of my life in the future than what is good for me. I love fantasizing about the future, and time travel is my favorite sci-fi subject. So this is about the future. The "story of my life" is that I have been ahead of my time more than once, and I have proved to myself and others that it definitely doesn't pay. Timing is everything in business, and you do have to know things not everybody else knows to be ahead of the pack, but I have found it very difficult to make it pay. Some businesses stay away from the bleeding edge of technology, and that makes a lot of sense for the bottom line.
This explains 'the rest of the story', meaning what I know and how I use it to predict new uses of technology. Why I am writing this? Your guess is as good as mine, but I guess I am looking for recognition, the usual stuff. But there is another reason also. I actually believe the crazy things I will say here will be reasonably accurate predictions, and I will try to explain why. My own reason for spending a lot of time developing my predictions is that I like being an entrepreneur, and I am always looking for interesting business opportunities. Since I am not much of a businessman, I need to be good at understanding. The combination of business history, human psychology and information technology is my playground for endless analysis, and this page of explanation of how I think is as much for my family and for myself as for anyone else.
This is where I brag about some of my many too-early business ventures and some stuff I "knew". I can at least try to get some cred from them, right?
This little essay wouldn't be complete without some of my future predictions.
NOTE: There is no very strict order to the content described above. It is jumbled together here and there, but I thought I'd let you know what this strange concoction of words and ideas is meant to be about.
People often ask me how I knew in 1991 that the Internet was going to become a big thing. I started the company Oslonett AS, Norway's first ISP, which had an explosive growth, became Norway's biggest in Web, Online access, and in most things relating to the Internet in -95 (5.000 customers, 45 employees etc). I didn't do it alone, but it was my idea, and I did the job of selling the idea to a number of very competent friends and colleagues, and built a team and got it going. I was the first company president and stayed as chairman for 3 1/2 years.
Oslonett grew so fast that we had to sell out in -95. Any company growing really fast needs capital, and nobody with the financial strength we needed believed us when we said the Net would continue to grow, exponentially. Innovation Norway, supposed to help commercial entrepreneuring, literally laughed at us when we asked for their help.
But I digress, back to the main story: Oslonett made a noticeable splash in Norway at the time, and I have had this question a number of times, how did I know the Internet was going to be huge?
When I answer, people usually nod and change the subject. They don't believe me, most of the time. Even some of my tech partners who started the company with me, don't seem to believe that I knew, and puts it down to luck, mainly. Of course there was random luck involved, but "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity" - Seneca. So let me try to explain what I knew that most other people didn't seem to understand. It is interesting to me because it is an example of how statistical trends can be used to predict the future.
It started in 1969, the Internet that is. It was then a relatively small project of research in computer networking, connecting the University of Utah, UCLA, UCSB and SRI (Stanford Research Inst.). Since then it has kept growing, more or less exponentially, without a hitch. Even the burst of Internet stock bubble in 2000 didn't change the growth rate. I knew about this growth in 1991, and had the numbers available to show it. Here they are, up to -97 from Hobbes' Internet Timeline:
Early Internet growth:
Date Hosts | Date Hosts Networks Domains ----- --------- + ----- --------- -------- --------- 12/69 4 | 07/89 130,000 650 3,900 06/70 9 | 10/89 159,000 837 10/70 11 | 10/90 313,000 2,063 9,300 12/70 13 | 01/91 376,000 2,338 04/71 23 | 07/91 535,000 3,086 16,000 10/72 31 | 10/91 617,000 3,556 18,000 01/73 35 | 01/92 727,000 4,526 06/74 62 | 04/92 890,000 5,291 20,000 03/77 111 | 07/92 992,000 6,569 16,300 12/79 188 | 10/92 1,136,000 7,505 18,100 08/81 213 | 01/93 1,313,000 8,258 21,000 05/82 235 | 04/93 1,486,000 9,722 22,000 08/83 562 | 07/93 1,776,000 13,767 26,000 10/84 1,024 | 10/93 2,056,000 16,533 28,000 10/85 1,961 | 01/94 2,217,000 20,539 30,000 02/86 2,308 | 07/94 3,212,000 25,210 46,000 11/86 5,089 | 10/94 3,864,000 37,022 56,000 12/87 28,174 | 01/95 4,852,000 39,410 71,000 07/88 33,000 | 07/95 6,642,000 61,538 120,000 10/88 56,000 | 01/96 9,472,000 93,671 240,000 01/89 80,000 | 07/96 12,881,000 134,365 488,000 | 01/97 16,146,000 828,000 | 07/97 19,540,000 1,301,000 Hosts = a computer system with registered ip address (an A record) Networks = registered class A/B/C addresses Domains = registered domain name (with name server record)
The red numbers show the size of the Internet when Oslonett was started, more than 600.000 connected host and 18.000 registered domain names (like "oslo.net"). These numbers were available to anyone, like they are today. To us Internet fanatics, they were part of our religion.
When one sees growth numbers like these, the big question is whether they will continue to grow. A lot of secondary questions arise, such as: Why? Is further growth still reasonable? Is it sustainable? What are the foreseeable limitations? I will answer some of these, because they are still interesting questions, but first some more background.
Personally, my first experiences with the Internet started in 1982, after the Department of Informatics at the University of Oslo got hooked up to the Net. It was a fascinating new world of long distance data communication, and I remember well using UNIX 'talk' to chat with other students logged in to the VAX from my 300 baud modem at home. I think it was in 1986 that I was visiting California, and was able to chat with my colleagues in Norway on the Net. In 1986 not many people had ever done that, and it was useful, as well as intriguing.
I accidentally 'hacked' the connection to another computer in another city during one of those early years, and found the experience exhilarating. On the other computer, another person had the same username as I had, and since the two computers were configured to have no security between them, I was remotely logged in directly, instead of going to the guest account I was expecting. The experience of suddenly being allowed full user access on another computer in a different location, together with the fear of having done something I shouldn't have, was a powerful and uplifting feeling, and I was hooked on the Internet, not just literally.
Over the years from 1982 and up to 1991, I found myself using the Net for a steadily growing number of purposes, and the most important one was clearly e-mail. I graduated in December of -84, and started working as an assistant professor at the Department of informatics in January of -85, so I never really left the University during this period, with one notable exception. In 1985 I started a company I called Oslo VLSI AS, for developing ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuits) chips for Norwegian industry. I took a year off from the University, and working with full custom integrated circuit design is what took me to California in -86. That company folded in -88 for various reasons, but during this period I understood some of the commercial potential of the Internet.
Quite a few commercial companies started getting hooked up in this period but up until 1991, when the "Commercial Internet eXchange (CIX) Association, Inc. was formed by General Atomics (CERFnet), Performance Systems International, Inc. (PSInet), and UUNET Technologies, Inc. (AlterNet), as NSF lifts restrictions on the commercial use of the Net (March)" (quote Hobbes Internet Timeline), it was only for research purposes, more or less.
The timing of Oslonett was therefore close to perfection, and the rest is Norwegian Internet history. There are other factors than statistics that are clues to future market growth, and the most important one is sustainability. For the type of technology-based products I am interested in, there are three types of sustainability that are all necessary.
Integrated circuits are what drives the computer and telecommunications-based information revolution. Without integrated circuits, currently with billions of transistors on small chips, neither the computers nor the telecommunications hardware (phones, gadgets, networks etc) we all depend on would have been possible. It started less than 50 years ago, first with a handful of transistors on a chip performing simple logic functions, and then the number of transistors on single chips have kept growing exponentially, year by year. Intel's co-founder Gordon Moore predicted in 1965 that the maximum performance of single chips would double every 18 months for at least ten years. In fact, since 1971, this has translated into a doubling of the number of transistors every second year, and it is still happening, despite predictions that it would slow down for the last thirty years.
Moore's law, as it is called, is the most important identifiable single factor in the technology basis necessary for the continuing exponential growth of the Internet. It describes a continuing supply of increasing computing power at steadily decreasing cost, size and power consumption. It was well known when we started Oslonett, and not likely to change then, and went on at the same rate until 2012. According to Wikipedia, Moore said in 2015, to IEEE Spectrum: "I see Moore’s law dying here in the next decade or so."
However, the world's thirst for faster, smaller and cheaper chips seems unquenchable. The Internet is a big part of that thirst, since it can be used for so many purposes, creating a self-supporting spiral of demand-development-supply. The slow death of Moore's law will very probably be replaced by better utilization of the available physical technology, and there is a huge potential for that (IMNSHO).
I don't remember which year it happened, but I'm pretty sure it was before 1990 that most of the internal communication at the Dept of Informatics, where I worked, was done using e-mail, and at one point, it became the official channel. Much of the world of research was hooked up to e-mail years before the general public was allowed access, and many more or less interconnected systems for e-mail existed long before the Internet became a public phenomenon. How did people communicate before e-mail? Much slower. How did people spend their time before Facebook? Quite possibly more productively. Is the Web useful? Is Wikipedia useful? What large company would survive a month if it was deprived of Internet access? The question of sustainability of increasing usefulness appears to me to be redundant in the case of the Internet right now, but it is a good example of strong usefulness sustainability. I will give some examples of future use below.
Useability is a critical factor that is frequently overlooked when evaluating sustainability of trends. If something at some point stops being the easiest and most convenient choice for the user, it will be abandoned as quickly as you can say "telegram", "typewriter" or "fax machine". Most kids born after 1995 don't even know what these words mean.
So how's the sustainability of the Internet in a useability perspective?
The answer is that I don't really know. The Internet belongs to an exotic group dubbed "disruptive technologies", and nobody can say for sure that a competing one won't suddenly arrive. On the other hand, I am reasonably familiar with both the power and limitations of integrated circuits, and my "instincts" tell me that it is highly unlikely. Usability is much about human psychology, and the Internet is well entrenched now. In the early days of the Web, it was said that "your competitor is only a mouse-click away", but that was never true. Users are not like computers, making logical decisions instantly based on new information. They are consumers, guided more or less by the same psychological principles on the Internet as in the supermarket or in choosing an automobile.
Another factor that favors the Internet if another choice should somehow come along is that it was here first. The Internet was the first of its kind, it can't be uninvented, and any marketing expert can tell you that being first is a powerful weapon in the market jungle. Unless some competitor is significantly better, it doesn't stand a chance, and from a usability perspective, how could it possibly be? As I said, I don't know the answer to this one, and have to answer it with this question, but my instincts tell me I'm probably right.
I write "humble" in quotes because I should probably show more humility than I do, but I really believe what I am writing. Also, I don't like to be humble any more than the next guy, but I do like to be considered honest, just like that next guy.
The Internet will continue to grow, for a long time. There are no sustainability problems on the horizon.
The Internet will be used for new things we don't know much about yet. Since the early days (in a public perspective) when Oslonett was started, network pioneers were putting things like refrigerators on the net just for fun. That hasn't fully caught on yet, but it will, big time. It's immensely practical for many reasons, we just haven't had the cheap gadgets and software for it yet.
The Internet will be used for many things people are afraid of, and don't think will happen. Examples are:
Tracking people - everybody, constantly. See "Future predictions" below
Tracking cars, boats, pets, farm animals and anything of value.
Remotely controlled 'avatars', allowing you to go 'anywhere'.
Public webcams 'everywhere' (but not in your home, unless you want it)
Most people will agree with point 1, there will be different views on point 2, and many will laugh at some or all of point 3. When these predictions will come true, I don't know. A lot of factors will decide the timing, and some of these factors are more or less randomly decided, making it impossible to predict the timing.
A typical random factor is the market and standards. Big companies can have a strong influence on standards in the marketplace, and standards are important for timing.
The title of this section is a little overwhelming, and definitely not humble, but I like it so much, I'll stick with it, and try to give you value for your reading.
If you try, you will not only fail, it will roll right over you like a freight train. The analogy is pretty good, because your best bet with a freight train is to derail it, and technology that people don't like can be derailed or sidetracked, but it is only temporary, and it's a good idea to stay clear of the track. The line will be repaired, and other trains will soon come along. It is not possible to uninvent or undiscover.
But the point is not that technology can't be uninvented, but that it can't be ignored or forbidden. If any technology can be made to serve a useful purpose in a way that is significantly better in some sense, it will sooner or later be used by someone.
"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident". Arthur Schopenhauer
This quote also applies to technological discoveries. They are discoveries of truths that we didn't know. They are not new, have always been true, but we couldn't tell. This also partly explains why technology can't be ignored, hidden or forbidden permanently.
There are many examples of technologies that went through Schopenhauer's stages, such as the railroad, cars, and to some extent information technology. More interesting, however, are the technologies going through these stages right now. Recognizing important technologies in the first stage is difficult. In the second phase, they are fairly easy to see, but most people are too busy opposing that they won't or simply can't see the futility of what they are doing. This is sad, because when technology has to push through against resistance, it tends to cause more collateral damage than necessary. It would have been a lot better if people sensibly accepted new technology and decided to stay in as much control as possible, rather than trying to clamp a lid on a boiling kettle. But then humanity is drawn to dramatic explosions.
Contrary to popular belief, the rear-view mirror is your best friend in foreseeing the future. The front windshield can only show you objects in line-of sight, and not very far ahead.
History, is the opposite of the directly foreseeable future in more than one sense. It is available for study in huge volumes of recorded information. It has been said that history repeats itself, and this is because human nature does not change much.
"Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it." Edmund Burke.
So we have a stable system with a fairly consistent behavior, and loads of recorded behavior for analysis and reference. When adding new technology to this stable system it is not strange that the results are to some extent predictable. The consistent behavior is not necessarily logical. though, so it won't do to assume logical reactions to the new opportunities of developing technology.
Psychologists like Daniel Kahnemann have studied human nature statistically, and determined reaction patterns that are not rational, but deeply rooted in the way the human mind works. This has to be taken into account.
When steering through the rear-view mirror, statistics are the most reliable source of information. This is because trends are statistically at any point in time more likely to continue in the same direction than to change. Trends do change, of course, but there are always reasons.
Many are suspicious of statistics, and for good reasons.
"There are three types of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics" Mark Twain/Benjamin Disraeli.
What Twain refers to, is that statistics can be presented in ways that will support any conclusion, and frequently is. That is useful to know, but irrelevant to the fact that statistics are mathematics, and mathematics don't lie. If the mathematics of statistics are understood, conclusions from significant statistics are always correct, but we are talking about probabilities, and that is the root of the conception problem. As Kahnemann describes in the very readable book "Thinking, fast and slow", most people don't understand probabilities, in fact, most people consistently misunderstand probabilities, dependent on context and presentation.
In the "Internet"-section above I described the three types of sustainability I consider the most important:
To predict the future of technology, all three types of sustainability must be evaluated, and it must be done over and over if you want to rely on your predictions over time. Any one of the three types of sustainability being weak or missing can potentially stop any trend.
Usefulness and useability should not be confused, they are separate and both important.
As described above, there were very good reasons for starting Oslonett. The difficulty, as always, was the timing. In the spring of 1990 I decided I wanted to do it, but considered it too early. I developed the business plan while waiting for the right opportunity. In the fall of 1991, I started selling the plan to a number of co-founders, and the company was founded in a pizza-meeting on December 12, 1991. It was the first and only founding-related meeting we had, and everyone in the meeting were in, so I am proud of my preparations. We continued with regular partner-meetings, as we called them during the first years, and for 15 people initially, we were a fairly well functioning team.
Being first is very valuable for a company in the long run, if you can survive the initial cost of selling something most people don't understand. We nearly made it, but were too early. The prediction that the Internet was a viable business scenario was sound, but as late as 2000, when the dot.com stock market bubble burst, a lot of people still didn't get it. I was interviewed then in a book that made fun of the silly Internet "business", and lots of people were still quite sceptical.
I knew in 2000, as in -91, that the Internet would probably continue to grow exponentially. Therefore the business potential was not diminished, but for a while, the stock market had done a lot of damage. The Internet business is still riddled with get-rich-quick golddiggers, and the reason is obvious: A lot of these get-rich-quick golddiggers actually did get rich quickly. Some of them got seriously rich, and of course they want more. These people make it difficult for the competent and serious companies to compete in the marketplace, and reduce the business value of the Internet (a really major sin). Since the basic concept of computing is fairly young and still evolving at a fast rate, the general public can't possibly be expected to recognize and avoid the troublemakers. So it's a problem the business world will have to live with for years to come.
In 1988, I founded the company Computers and Learning AS together with my good friend Arne Kinnebergbråten. We developed "computer aided learning"-software, as it was called then, and I predicted, and still believe, that the computer will revolutionize learning. This hasn't happened yet, but it has started, slowly.
We tried to build knowledge into software in ways that would make the software more interesting and rewarding to use than regular text-book based classroom teaching. The text-book/teacher/classroom/student paradigm is on the average very inefficient, and in my view an archaic form of education production. I have been a teacher myself over a number of years, so I have inside information.
The "school" of the future, I believe will be a combination of social activities, learning by "game" playing, student testing on the net and in "schools", and apprentice-like real job learning. What we are waiting for are the "games". The word "game" is not very descriptive, but the closest existing concept. The learning "games" are really simulators based on models of whatever is being taught, with the context and action transferred to some other domain suitably motivating for the target learner age group. These "games" are hard to make because they require a combination of skills that are not common, and they are a lot of work to produce. Add to that a difficult market to work with, and a lot of easier and more lucrative markets to choose from, and the result for the learning revolution is spelled w-a-i-t i-n l-i-n-e.
The many examples of learning "games" made so far are generally disappointing. The more primitive ones are textbooks moved to a PC, with testing and scoring added. For kids, a lot of stuff with fancy graphics and encouraging sounds have been made, and some of these are gradually evolving towards real educational merit. Tablets with touch screens have accellerated this evolution, and when the history of educational computing one day can be written, I would not be surprised if the most important contributions come from studying how small children use and learn from tablets.
The work in Computers and Learning has mostly been based on projects paid by customers, so the company has usually been able to pay me some salary, and occasionally a dividend. Computers and Learning sponsored Oslonett with office space for a few months and acted as commercial "midwife" in some respects. I am still working for Computers and Learning AS. I would love some day to contribute to the learning revolution, but at least I "know" it is coming.
In 1992, I bought an NEC tablet computer with touchscreen and virtual keyboard, configured pretty much like the tablets we see today. It had a 386 processor, a monochrome screen, a plastic pen and handwriting recognition software that was basically useless. The screen's weak luminosity, low contrast and narrow viewing angles also made it impossible to get any practical use out of the tablet, even though the architectural combination of hardware was perfect. The net didn't have any interesting web pages, and there were no browsers with graphics yet, so the timing was more than ten years too early. It was a downer, but not a complete loss. It gave me a glimpse of something the future would bring, and proved to me that my expectations were well founded and that I would only have to wait for this combination of features to become useful products.
While working with Oslonett, we soon realized that sending voice and other sound media over the Internet in real time was not only possible, but anyone could do it. Since the Internet has no general accounting functions for point-to-point data transport, like the telephone network has, it was obvious that here was a business opportunity waiting to be exploited. I waited for years with an itch in my entrepreneurial fingers before a free service called Skype finally appeared, long overdue, in 2003. Of course when a useful service is long overdue, it virtually explodes in the market, if done right.
In 1996, I had an idea that I wanted to pursue, so I made a prototype. I found that the technology on the net was not ready yet, so I waited a year. In -97 I started development of a production version which we launched on the net in March of -98 in cooperation with Norway's third largest newspaper, Dagbladet. I won't describe it here, because it can still be found at www.clickwalk.com. I did the usual running around to large companies that could use my product, without getting any serious takers. As a salesman, I am not great, but the main reason was timing, again. It was too early.
Lack of funding plagued Clickwalk from the start, and when the dot.com bubble burst in 2000, the market was pretty dry as well. Clickwalk was on ice until 2006, when I started working on it again. In May of 2007 Google released their StreetView, which was then 95% equivalent to Clickwalk. I continued work on Clickwalk for a year before I had to give up on it. Many others have followed Google with similar services, including some of the companies I tried to sell Clickwalk to in -98.
The interesting thing about Clickwalk, to me at least, is that from -98 to -05 or so there were no other services like it to be found on the net anywhere. The French yellow pages had the closest and earliest project with somewhat similar principles, and Amazon had a project they called A9 for a couple of years, but both were usability wise inferior solutions, and Amazon abandoned theirs some time before Google announced StreetView. StreetView was the first service to match and barely surpass Clickwalk, nine years later. I think I can say that I was earlier than anyone else in this field with what I started, and that the concept is a viable Internet based service that will grow and develop in the future.
Clickwalk was another costly experience, but one has to keep trying.
If you have read this far, you know that I "know" a lot of things about future technology, at least I think I do. Here are some of the things I believe, and some I hope for.
Professor Steve Mann at the University of Toronto has been working with "wearable computing" for over 30 years, and must be credited with long foresight in this area. Personally, I have been looking forward to having a wearable computer for only half of this time. Technically, the first smart mobile phone that you could put in your pocket was a wearable computer, so we already have them. What I have been looking forward to, and still do, is something very similar to Google Glass. For ten years or so, the company Vuzix has had a military grade product they called Tac-Eye, that was a VGA-compatible screen in front of one eye, and could be connected to a computer. I have been waiting for the price of this product or something similar to come down before getting one, and it looks like Google Glass will be it.
Sustainability 1 and 2 are both given for this product, it will be extremely practical to be able to access the net at any time on a big screen without tying up your hands. I say "big screen", because that is what it is, despite appearances. Personally, I think the small smartphone screens are impractical for most purposes beyond telephone operation, and would love a big screen.
The only problem I see is in sustainability 3 - usability, and the problem is input. Google's marketing videos show people using voice commands, a technology that has never taken off, mainly because it is error-prone and/or slow. They say they haven't solved the input-problem yet, and that is an honest answer.
If the input-problem can be well solved, I think wearable computing will take off like a rocket. The input-problem is difficult, though. The combination PC mouse or trackpad and a keyboard is pretty slow and cumbersome, yet that is the best I've got. Doing without both won't be easy.
I really believe in eyeglass screens and wearable computing, and predict they will become huge, and the pocket phones will disappear in time, but I don't think we have the answer to the input-problem yet. Unless that is well solved, the annoying small phone screens will continue to be a pain in the pocket.
BTW, I don't think the video capability of Glass is a very good idea, at least not initially. Most people are not ready yet for seeing video cameras pointed at them everywhere, and I believe the camera will cause problems with acceptance of the product in general use. It will be forbidden in many places, and that is an effect that is avoidable, if Google sees the point.
The above was written in 2013. Added comment (2016): Google Glass as a product has been hampered by the social effects of integrating a video camera in the product. I believe this combination is a serious marketing mistake by Google, one which both saddens and annoys me. Saddens, because it means that the extremely useful no-hands, high-resolution and big screen (in terms of field of vison) that I have been looking forward to has now been set back several years. This also annoys me, because it is another example of Google being a baby elephant in a nice and expensive living-room, only the elephant isn't 'small' and cute anymore.
I am absolutely convinced that it is only a question of time before we are all being continuously tracked and monitored. By monitored, I mean information about physical conditions like detailed geographical position, rate of movement, ambient data, pulse, temperature and more being continuously recorded and evaluated for anomalies and dangers, partly for health and personal security reasons. Already, we are leaving electronic traces that can be used to tell where our mobile phones are at any time, and we will continue to leave more and more such traces until it becomes downright silly not to use them also for our own safety. At some time between now and when silliness is upon us, most people will probably have reached the conclusion that the benefits of continuous tracking far outweighs the potential dangers.
Some people will dislike this a lot, and among those are the people that society will benefit the most from having tracked. Once everyone is always trackable, crime rates will drop dramatically, children and elderly will be much safer, and lots of new products and services will be possible. Many of these services will have virtually zero operating costs, because they are able to piggy-back on your personal, continuous Internet IP-connection, and sooner or later your "biological host"-MAC address will become your new social security number, personal ID, passport and credit card. (and finally go in the RFID data on your tombstone :-).
This prediction is not a joke, but it is currently in Schopenhauer's stage 1, and most people will find it ridiculous, frightening or both. If you check out my technology law #1, and the three sustainability factors, it should be clear that this prediction is unavoidable, it will happen. Timing is a difficult question, though. Orwell, Stalin, Hitler and Mao and many others have scared a lot of old people (my age and more), and paranoia and conspiracies are popular hobbies. If people were to decide this as a political question, it would never get off the ground. Happily, technology can't be uninvented, so the Internet freight train will deliver this to the world before most people understand what's going on, and the world will be a better place and people happy with it once it's a fait accompli.
This prediction is much less controversial than "Tracking you"-prediction, but it supports it.
Cars, boats, pets, farm animals and anything of value will sooner or later be "on the internet" in some manner. This means everything will be trackable and the Internet will be the main medium for moving tracking information. When you buy something of value, it will soon come with a unique id and devices for transmitting that id to sensors and readers. It will function much like product bar codes used in supermarkets and most stores nowadays, except that the code will be even more useful after the product leaves the store. Instead of the product codes used now, which are the same for e.g. each loaf of a certain type of bread from a certain bakery, or for each can of Coke of equal size across Europe, this new generation of codes will be unique for each loaf of bread or can of Coke, and the store will transfer ownership of this particular loaf of bread or can of Coke to you, on the net. You can use that to keep track of everything you buy and if something valuable is stolen from you, it can be tracked and when found somewhere, you may have a chance of getting it back. If your house burns to the ground, imagine how nice it would be to have a complete list of everything lost with exact cost and age to give to the insurance company. Nobody has time to keep such records, but the net can handle it.
There is already lots of technology that can do stuff like this, and it is being used for more and more purposes. Examples range from the small RFID chips implanted in the neck of dogs and cats, to GPS-based tracking of boats, cars and endangered species eagles, car toll road RFIDs, door security system cards and many more. There will be an enormous number of such identification tags, and standards, hopefully sooner rather than later, for hooking these up to computers and the Internet.
The useful applications for this type of tracking are seemingly endless, the technology is already available and getting better every year, and the cost is dropping fast. Many new mobile phones today can scan square codes directing the built in web-browser to a website, which means usable camera-based scanning software is also available to the public.
We have the technology to keep track of almost anything now, and the only question left to answer is how do we prefer to do it, and how long until it's everywhere?
Magic is basically a belief that something unexplainable has happened. It is based on the contradiction of our believing something to be true while we don't think it is possible. This contradiction amuses us, scares us, or both, because it opens for the possibility that anything we can imagine will be true even though we know it can't be.
Arthur C. Clarke said that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". This is because any sufficiently large gap between what we know is possible and some existing advanced technology appears to us like the same contradiction we enjoy and/or fear in magic.
Our imagination will always surpass our technology, since it is not restricted by reality. We will continue to enjoy both magic and new technology, but will that always be true? If some day we have discovered everything there is to learn in science, our technological advances may quite possibly stop. Will this ever happen? Theoretically, whether the universe is finite or infinite or any combination thereof doesn't really matter to whether there is a finite or infinite number of discoverable truths. So I choose to believe that our descendants many years from now may some day know everything, and magic won't have any more competition from technology.
Will I be proven right on this one day? It is more of an idea than a prediction, and will probably be considered utterly ridiculous. It is clearly a candidate for Schopenhauer's stage one, and a suitably lofty final prediction for this page.
'Story of my life' and how to tell the future, by Kjell Øystein Arisland
Copyright 2013 and 2016, Computers and Learning AS, Oslo, Norway
Previous version: May 20, 2013, last update: September 3, 2016. Some factual errors about past history have been corrected, some new facts and clarification added, and some editing has been done on language and explanations, and a little irrelevant information deleted. Otherwise the predictions have been left intact, as honest and bragging as I can make them.