Interview with Ray Hammond

1. Social Media has become ingrained in everyday life. How have mediums like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc., become so utterly important as new spaces for businesses to interact with their clients? How will this evolve?

Social media has been so successful because these sites have offered humans a virtual ‘place’ to meet, chat, swap stories, pictures, videos, etc. without the limitations of the physical world. Most (but not all) humans love socialising with their friends and with people who are friends of friends and Facebook, Twitter, etc. provides the virtual environment of a water cooler, a wine bar, a pub or a gathering around the kitchen table – but without the limitations of physical interactions. These sites also offer a new form of broadcasting access for people who have never had such access. A Tweet, a YouTube video or a Facebook posting can spread to many people very quickly and viral successes gathers global audiences. Such access has never been available to ordinary (non-celebrity) people before.

Although it is impossible to say which social networking sites will be successful over the long term (because use of such sites is a matter of fashion, and fashions change) it is possible to say that ever enhanced social networking sites will continue to play a major role far into the future.

We should expect to see social environments which are ever more rich in features which entice users to base their life’s functions in a virtual living space. I think it likely that users will not only communicate via networking sites but they will come to control their finances from inside such sites as well as their education and healthcare transactions.

The biggest single problem from operators of such sites is getting the privacy issues right. I recently found that Facebook had placed an advert for a hotel I have looked at via my web browser (not via Facebook) on my wall without my permission and every visitor to my wall imagined that I was somehow endorsing that hotel. And of course Facebook was charging that hotel every time someone clicked through to have a look at it. I have closed my Facebook account.

These sort of issues are the challenges the social networking sites must get right. Of course they are monetarising the activities of their members but if they do it in ham-fisted ways it will backfire and other sites will take over. There are many web darlings of yesteryear who messed things up and became also rans; think AOL, Yahoo, AltaVista and MySpace.

2. Of your seven drivers for the future, World Population Growth, Climate Change, The Looming Energy Crisis, the World’s Poorest Billion, Globalization, Accelerating Exponential Technology Development and the Prevent-Extend model of new medicine, which do you see as being the most impactful?

Different trends will have different degrees of impact over varying time frames. In the short term (10 – 20 years) accelerating, exponential technology development will produce the most startling changes. Computer automation and mass business IT has been with us now for about 30 years and it has already produced some significant shifts in society.

Some manufacturing has moved to developing countries (facilitated by IT) and jobs for unskilled workers in developed countries have been fewer with every year that passes. In the next few years this trend will accelerate sharply as virtual technologies disintermediate new industries (general retail is next in line after book publishing and TV) and in most developed societies there will be an underclass of unskilled would-be-workers for whom there will by no reliable long-term work. At the same time citizens in such countries will be amazed and entertained by the arrival of ‘human-like’ software assistants that carry out personal admin (meetings dates and times, restaurant bookings, airline reservations, etc.), cars which drive themselves on major highways and 3D holographic home entertainment systems.

In the slightly longer term (15-30 years) changes in health care in the developed world will have a huge impact as stem cell medicine offers repair and regeneration for damaged organs and even rejuvenation treatments. DNA medical profiling will dramatically improve the efficacy of therapeutics and nano-scale medicine will produce startling new treatments. Most of the world’s most deadly diseases (malaria, etc.) will have been defeated within 25 years.

Whilst all this is occurring globalisation will have continued relentlessly and another three billion people will have joined the ‘middle classes’ by the year 2040. But in the longer term I am afraid that climate disease (a phrase I prefer to “climate change”) may trump all other trends to deliver us into a nasty world of unpredictable storms, floods and droughts. It doesn’t have to be so, of course, we still have time to reduce our output of greenhouse gas emissions and to produce new technologies not only for producing cleaner energy, but also for cleaning up our polluted atmosphere.

3. Along with social media, the ‘Mobile Data Revolution’ as you state is well underway. With all the advances that have been made from the old brick mobiles to the mini computers we have now, what’s next?

The ‘computer’ (or processing device) will sit on or in our bodies. Some people may wear the smartphone’s successor devices as jewellery, others as a button, badge or watch. We will interact with the new ‘devices’ by natural speech and also by touch and gesture. Eventually some people will choose to have such devices implanted under their skin.

4. In 1983, when the internet had yet to touch the general public’s lives, yet you predicted its potential. Will the world ever be completely wired?

The world will definitely be entirely interconnected, but it will be by a combination of wires, wireless, lasers, satellite beams and quantum optics; in the broader sends of the question the whole world, animate and inanimate, will be wired this century.