Elon University

One of 24 Metaverse Summit question-answer sets: Jamais Cascio shares his thoughts on the networked future

This page contains one of a set of 24 transcripts including remarks made by interview participants at the Metaverse Roadmap Summit at Stanford Research Institute in May 2006. Each person was asked a series of five questions regarding the future; only the most “telling” responses were transferred from the recordings into these transcripts, thus, some of these interviews will include five question-answer sets, some will have four or fewer.

To jump to another interviewee’s set of answers, click on the person’s name below.

Bridget Agabra Randy Farmer Jerry Paffendorf
Betsy Book Guy Garnett Marty Poulin
Corey Bridges Will Harvey Robert Scoble
Iveta Brigis Daniel James John Smart
Jamais Cascio Raph Koster David Smith
Helen Cheng Mike Liebhold Sibley Verbeck
Esther Dyson Julian Lombardi Malcolm Williamson
Doug Engelbart Bob Moore Ethan Zuckerman

 >> Return to Metaverse interviews lead page for links to recordings of these comments

Cascio Headshot Jamais Cascio, the founder of Open the Future, writes about the intersection of emerging technologies and cultural transformation. In 2003, he co-founded WorldChanging.com. Cascio has spoken about future possibilities at venues including FuturShow3000 in Bologna, Italy, and the TED 2006 conference. After several years at scenario planning pioneer Global Business Network, he went on to craft scenarios on topics including energy, nuclear proliferation, and sustainable development.

What is your greatest fear for the future of networked technologies? I fear that we’ll end up in this kind of tiered environment where organizations that have a primary and, frankly, legal requirement to maximize their shareholder income take steps that serve the short-term maximization of income while reducing the ability for people to experiment with the web, for people to innovate online, and to provide access to communities and to people who have not had access before.

What is your most fervent hope for the future of networked technologies? Accessibility. Both the ability of people with various disabilities to have better access to the content online and communications with each other as well as access for people in communities that have been historically or culturally cut off or have limited contact. The internet has become such an important part of how the global culture has evolved that it’s important that we all can become participants in it. Any kinds of technologies and approaches that reduce the ability of all of the planet’s citizens to be participants in the evolution of the planet are inherently unethical. We need to increase accessibility. Period.

What technology will have the greatest impact on our everyday lives the next 10 years? The continued development of personal sensory technologies such as camera phones and the like. There are some remarkable products in the lab that enable a greater sensory footprint for handheld mobile devices – cellular or wi-fi based or whatever – that allow you to both watch yourself and record what’s going on around you. I refer to it as the participatory panopticon, and that is the world what we wear and what we carry keeps track of what’s going on and provides to us something like a Tivo for our life … Microsoft, HP, Nokia are working on that. I think within the next 10 years or so we will see at least the availability of these kinds of technologies. More broadly, we’re moving toward greater use of biotechnologies. Within the next 10 years we’ll see some of the first approaches to molecular nanotechnology. Another piece that I find really important is the emergence of fabrication-based technologies like 3D printers. We already have 3D printers right now used by organizations like aerospace companies to actually print out wings for aircraft and the like. But what we’ll see over the next 10 years is this – not just a convergence of technological approaches, but a re-divergence, basically they come together and split off again – of the multitude of methods of production, multitude of methods of communication, multitude of methods of accessing and understanding the world around us. This is going to be a really interesting decade, both for the challenges that we have in store, environment, cultural, developmental, and the tools that we’ll have to take advantage of the opportunities for success … We aren’t doomed. The future is in our own hands, and we can make the best of it.

Looking out more than 10 years, what development will have the greatest impact on society? High-bandwidth, wireless connections. This is actually, again we go back to network neutrality and the role of telecommunication companies. There’s a real struggle going on right now between cellular-based models of wireless communication and wi-fi-based models, internet-based models of wireless communication. You see, for example, a lot of communities around the country that have tried to develop free municipal wireless systems that, in turn, have had telecommunication companies filing suit and their lobbyists are pushing through new state laws to have free municipal wireless shut down. In the ideal world – the ideal, plausible world – you could have a country where you could go pretty much anywhere that’s even moderately urbanized and have a decent internet-based wireless connection and be able to use Skype or some other wireless-based IP to connect to other people over voice, browse the web, do whatever and not have to rely on being tied into Verizon or T-Mobile or whatever.

What do you think policymakers should do to ensure a positive future for networked technologies? By far what I would tell them is to support network neutrality. The strength of the internet has been its end-to-end nature – the fact that anyone could come in and plug in a piece of software as long as it obeyed the protocols and be able to get it to work with a similar piece of software at the other end. That’s very distinct from what happens with – for example – cell phone networks, where it all gets mediated through the owning companies, it’s a centralized control system. Unfortunately, what’s happening is that a lot of the telecom companies – frustrated that they haven’t been able to get the same kind of money from the internet that they have from their other, more controlled networks – are pushing to exert that kind of centralized ownership over the net. So there have been a number of proposals to strengthen or to reaffirm network neutrality and I would encourage policymakers to see those through.

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