Opinion: If you think you can predict 15 years ahead, you don't understand the modern video business

Written by David Shapton

RedSharkBe careful with your predictions

A recent newspaper article made surprisingly precise predictions about the video industry fifteen years from today. We show why that would be difficult to do three years ahead, never mind fifteen!

Tread warily if you're going to make predictions fifteen years in advance. In today's world, as I've often said in RedShark, you're actually going to struggle if you look more than three years ahead.

None of which acted as a deterrent to the "experts" that provided the Daily Telegraph (a UK Broadsheet newspaper that's somewhat right of centre in its political stance) with a set of predictions about video use over 4G and 5K networks.

Here's the thing. We don't even know if the world will exist in fifteen years time. If it does, we could be living in a zombie-infested post-apocalyptic wilderness, or in unimaginable luxury, or inside "Google Brain" having given up our "meatspace" reality completely. (I, for one, welcome the prospect of my Overlord Google's Ads appended to my every thought).

A little bit optimistic

Given the somewhat wide spread between these possibilities, it seems a little bit, shall we say, optimistic, that the Telegraph's experts predict the following:

There will be a 22 times increase in the amount of traffic on the network between 2015 and the end of 2030.

That seems like a very specific prediction ("22 times"). It may well be based on the extrapolation of current video trends, but it does assume that there will even be cellular networks in 2030 and not some completely different system. My bet (if we're not all living in a smouldering wasteland) is that we will have some kind of IP-based, distributed system that piggybacks on the "Internet of Things", whatever those things might be. I mean, if every brick and grain of sand is going to contain a wireless-connected processor, the bandwidth of such an ad-hoc network would be nearly infinite. We'd no more have to pay a network operator for bandwidth than we'd have to rent the air we breath (although, on reflection, it's only a matter of time before that happens...).

By 2018, 4G device average usage per user will be six times higher than non 4G device average usage.

Well, I can't argue with that except to say that who really knows? And are they talking about the 4G network, or devices with 4G capability but which fall back to 2G whenever you go outside a densely populated area. And does this take into account the decline of 3G?

By 2030, video will represent 79 percent of the data passing over the network.

Nothing says "we've just made a linear extrapolation of current trends" like a spuriously precise number like 79%. I'm sure there are justifications for this figure; it's just that they almost certainly won't take into account the myriad of reasons why it actually won't be that amount.

And, wait a minute! This is not just three years ahead, but fifteen! Who in their right mind is going to come to a figure like 79% when, again, we have no idea whether civilisation is even going to exist in fifteen year's time.

In case you're thinking I'm being a little unreasonably nihilistic here, then, yes, I probably am. But I'm certainly not being unrealistic about the amount of change that's likely to happen in the next 15 years.

Just look at what's happened to the smartphone. The iPhone kicked off the smartphone revolution and that was seven years ago. In that time, this iconic phone has become not twice as powerful; not five times, and not even ten times as fast. No, it's fifty six times faster. That's in seven years. It's every bit as powerful as a low-end laptop and that's not going to stop.

In fifteen years time, it's not just possible that iPhones will be a thousand times faster than the first one - it's extremely likely!

What would that mean - to have a smartphone in excess of a thousand times faster than today's?

Well, let's imagine that Siri is a thousand times better. It still probably won't be able to get my surname right, but the chances are it will be able to respond to almost every whim. You probably won't even have to ask it: it will just know, based on your past preferences, and also on the fact that it can read your thoughts directly.

So, with the greatest respect, the prediction that video will represent precisely 79% of the data passing over the mobile network in fifteen years time, seems a little quaint, to say the least.

Standard definition video will disappear, and high definition will become the norm, as 4K and 8K video becomes more widespread.

Well, maybe, if you accept the pace at which previous standards were adopted.

But the point is that we're actually beyond standards now.

In fifteen years time, video will be more related to thought and perception than pixels. Any talk of resolution will be meaningless and will be greeted by puzzled glances, as video users wonder how you could possibly compare 3D immersive video based on direct interaction with our perceptual systems with the system that the ancients used to dabble in, called Digital Video.  In fifteen years time, there's at least the possibility that a pixel-based sensor will be viewed in the same light as we see an abacus.

Upload speed will become increasingly important, due to the popularity of apps like Instagram and the iCloud.

I've never come across an app called "The iCloud" but, yes, the cloud will consume everything. Will instagram still exist in fifteen years time? Will Facebook, who actually owns instagram?

Yes, upload speed will become increasingly important.

68% of non-video demand will be made up by either augmented reality of mobile gaming.

Well, yes, if indeed you can make a distinction between gaming in fifteen years time, augmented reality and, well, reality. 68% seems awfully specific, though!

In 2020, the average number of devices per person in the UK will be 27, and most of those you probably won't realise are there.

This is the suggestion that actually seems pretty reasonable. I emptied out my computer bag the other day, and arranged all my "devices" on my bed. Here's what I found: An iPad, a Nexus 7, a Kindle, a Galaxy Note 2 smartphone, and a Macbook Air.

Rather than having one device that does everything, I seem to carry around six internet-connected devices. I'm sure I'm not alone in this.

But this isn't what this prediction meant. It's probably hinting and wearable devices and "things" taking part in the "internet of things". No, we probably won't be aware of all of them, where they are, what they do, and who's listening to them.

I don't mean this article to be snarky. It's difficult to predict things. But anyone that tries needs to be aware that the combined effects of being digital, being connected, and of the ever-accelerating rate of change are going to cause increasing levels of unpredictability. Who would have thought last year that this year, Facebook would buy a virtual reality company? Why did they do that? It might have been Mark Zukerberg merely collecting toys. But it's much more likely Facebook taking a punt on the future of browsing: that it will take place in a virtual or augmented world, where the seams between meatspace and cyberspace are increasingly hard to find.

This won't happen automatically. There are real-world reasons why it might not. There's political and economic instability. There's also the damping effect of unwillingness to change. I recently had to ask my local hospital why they couldn't send an X-Ray to a relative's family doctor by email. They said that the doctor didn't have the right software to receive attachments. This is at a time when around a billion people can upload photographs in an instant to Facebook for viewing anywhere in the world.

It's all too common for large organisations to embark on ten or even fifteen year projects to update their systems. This almost never works. Because, if you're looking on that timescale, then whatever you're planning will be out of date within a couple of years. These projects are doomed from the start.

Perhaps we should just spend the money on education people to understand what happens when the rate of change is increasing.

If we get that right; if we all learn how to understand exponential progress, then I'm extremely optimistic about the future.

 

Tags: Technology

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