10. What next? - become a futurologist and predict what's in store for communications

For centuries, people have predicted what they think will happen in the future. Sometimes their predictions come true and sometimes they don’t – but it’s always interesting to look back and see how accurate (or far out!) they were.

While researching the development of the Internet, I often came across old archived documents – essays, articles and papers – which showed different people’s hopes and dreams about what communications might be able to do in the future and how people might be able to share information with each other across the globe.

One example of an accurate prediction I came across appeared in an article published way back in November of 1950, in a magazine called the Scientific American. The article was about the first personal computer called ‘Simon’. At the end of the article, the author predicted that one day people might have small computers in their homes, which would draw energy from electric power lines in the same way as their fridges and radios…

So, he got that one right! In another article, published in 1968, Joseph Licklider predicted that communicating using computers would become as natural as face-to-face communication; that people would be able to make friends with others with common interests, but who might live far away; and that a whole world of information would become available. In fact, his predictions were so accurate that I began to wonder whether he might have had the gift of time travel all those years ago! In sharp contrast to Joseph Licklider’s accurate predictions, some people got it very wrong indeed; in 1977, Ken Olsen (the Chairman of a company called ‘Digital Equipment Corporation’) said he couldn’t see any reason why someone might need to have a computer in their home!

If you have a few minutes to spare, watch a film on the Connected Earth website called ‘Telecommunications Services for the 1990s’. It shows what some people thought communications would be like in the future (it was made in 1969). Without giving too much away, it’s definitely worth a look – if only to enjoy the interesting fashions on show!

Seriously though, looking back at what people predicted all those years ago, might make it easier for us to imagine what communications could be like 30 years from now… What would your predictions be? Start by asking yourself some questions. For instance: how will people use the Internet 30 years from now – if at all? How will people communicate with others? Will we need mobile phones that can work in space? Will children still need to go to school to learn?

If you’re feeling inspired, you could make your own short movie, showing what you think the future of communications will be in say, 2030 or 2040. When it’s finished, upload your video to the YouTube website for other people to watch and comment on. Once you’ve made and uploaded your movie to YouTube, whatever you do, don’t forget to email the link to Connected Earth at connectedearth@bt.com so we can profile the very best ones on the website. Alternatively, why not draw a picture or write an article and then upload it on www.connected-earth.com/future for other people to look at and add their comments? Who knows, loads of people might see your short film. You might even become famous!