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IBM foretells Australia’s High Speed Digital Future - sees a role for itself in it

IBM has just released a commissioned report “A Snapshot of Australia’s Digital Future to 2050”. The premise of the report is that high-speed broadband will be ubiquitous and will enable the so-called “Infotronics Age”. It then details which industries will succeed which will fail. 15 industries that “risk demise” include the movie, entertainment industries and mainstream media unless they reinvent themselves.

Obviously that reinvention would require the assistance of IBM to adapt to this new age.

Leaving aside the details of the report – it features data on increased productivity driving a growth in GDP and various benefits such as decreased emissions (more people working from home) – it is incredibly difficult to foretell the future in terms of predictions about technology. This is especially the case when you try and comment about what will be happening in 40 years. These predictions also become particularly tunnel-visioned when they are funded by companies painting a particular view of the future that features the importance of their role in it.

It is a form of marketing in which the status of the company is elevated by over-emphasizing its position in an imagined future.

IBM is not the only company that has used the technique of future predictions as a marketing tool.

In 1939, General Motors (GM) made a film depicting their vision of the 1960’s. In an analysis of the film, Dr Leonard Evans deconstructs the predictions based on “stridently naïve optimism” about life continuously improving for all. This of course has parallels with the IBM report.

The GM film focuses on cars (of course) being able to travel on uncongested freeways with wireless sensors maintaining an awareness of other vehicles around them. GM were only out by 50 years of so – this technology has become available to a certain extent in recent years. We certainly don’t have fully autonomous cars though, and there is no hint in the film of the horrors of the Second World War and other wars to come between the making of the film and the 1960’s.

Technology companies have a vested interest when portraying the future. It is presented in a way that highlights the use of their technologies (real or imagined) and is always going to be fettered by that perspective.

If one wants to see what technology will be dominant in 40 years time and what impact that technology will have on society, we are probably better off reading science fiction than marketing documents portraying “science fact”.