What will they think of next?


You’ll be back in control


Steve Ballmer is the chief executive of Microsoft Corp.

RIGHT NOW, I AM as excited by the prospects for technology-driven change as I’ve ever been. The impact of the Internet, e-mail and mobile phones has been so dramatic that people tend to think the digital revolution has already happened. I think it’s just getting started.

Many technologies have the potential to catch fire, including Internet television, mobile video devices and even robots. New business-intelligence technologies will make sophisticated data analysis tools easy enough for anyone to use. New “digital rights” technology, which gives copyright holders more control over the distribution and reproduction of their work, will continue to transform the entertainment industry.


But when we look back in 10 years, it probably won’t be a specific device or company that stands out. Instead, 2007 will be the year that unified communications technology helped us regain control of our information and our lives. Ironically, the proliferation of new technologies up until now has made communications harder, not easier.

In 2007, I believe that phone numbers and e-mail addresses will begin to give way to a single identity, and the desktop phone will merge with the PC and mobile phone. Messages will be routed to you on a device that will be smart enough to know whether you can be interrupted based on what you are doing and who the message is from. Instead of being ruled by e-mail and cellphones, we’ll have control over when and how we can be reached, and by whom.


Where virtual meets real life


Ned Sherman is chief executive and publisher of Digital Media Wire (

THE TREND TO watch in 2007: Virtual worlds, one of the most populous of which is Second Life, a 3-D environment built and owned by its residents (currently about 2 million).

These digital playgrounds combine elements of social networking with aspects of a multiplayer online game. At Second Life’s virtual marketplace, residents buy, sell and trade millions of dollars in digital goods. Even more fascinating from a business standpoint is that millions of dollars in real-world currency are being generated from the exchange of virtual dollars into hard cash.

A cottage industry is beginning to develop around virtual communities, with real-world businesses profiting from the sale of related goods and services. For instance, there’s an e-commerce site that allows you to customize your “avatar” -- the persona you create for yourself on line -- and another company that puts together custom games for organizations that want to use Second Life for training and education.

Second Life may not grow to the scale of a MySpace or a YouTube, but it may be laying the groundwork for something that will.


Breakout acts


Rafat Ali is the editor of

IT MAY NOT BE a service that catches our attention this year, but people -- specifically, the talent that will break out in the social media sites. Jessica “lonelygirl15” Rose, who got famous playing a fictional teenager on YouTube, was just the first. We will see online and mobile shows possibly breaking into the mainstream, and talent from these digital realms will have a big effect on how mainstream shows get developed.


Video Napster


Kevin Werbach ( is an assistant professor of legal studies and business ethics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the organizer of the Supernova technology conference (

I EXPECT THAT in the next year, at least one file-sharing -- or “peer-to-peer” -- television service will hit the exponential growth curve of Napster, Skype and MySpace. YouTube woke up users to the Internet as a video platform, but because even a small video file can take up several megabytes, a centralized website such as YouTube needs to limit clips to a few minutes.

P2P applications make every recipient of a file also a potential server, distributing the load throughout the network. This is the technique Napster and Kazaa used to upend the music business. By leveraging the distributed power of the network, P2P video allows you to download and watch much larger programs more quickly than you could at a centralized website.

There are several candidates lined up to be the YouTube of P2P video. BitTorrent has content partnerships with major media companies. The Venice Project is being developed by the team that created Kazaa and Skype. Or the winner might be one of the fast-growing P2P video companies already operating in China, such as Xunlei and PPLive.

Not enough attention is being paid to these services because of the perception that YouTube has already “won” the Internet video war. But central video hosting was just one battle. P2P video will become too big to ignore.


Gaming as communication


Chris Anderson is the editor in chief of Wired magazine

I’M WILLING TO bet that 2007 is the year that somebody figures out how to make video advertising work in a YouTube world. And if I’m right, the TV industry is going to get very rocky, very fast.

I doubt that the same disruptive force will hit movies, however. The big-screen home-theater boom created a market for high-def films, and that factor-of-10 increase in downloading time bought Hollywood another five years or so to figure things out.

I also think that this will be a big year for video gamers, and not just because of the delightful game-play innovations of the Wii and the power of the Xbox 360. (I can’t wait for Halo 3.) Equally important is the fact that all of the current generation consoles now have built-in Internet connections. Their role as a bridge from the Net to the TV isn’t just a big deal for gaming, it’s also potentially a breakthrough moment for online video of all sorts.

We knew gaming competed with television for time, but now we’re learning that mainstream acceptance of networked gaming may also create the greatest competitor for the broadcast distribution model itself.


Memory to go


Hank Barry, a lawyer, was chief executive of Napster

KISS YOUR laptop goodbye. Virtualization technologies are making it possible for all of us to move beyond personal computers.

Google and Microsoft are fighting over where you keep your “state” -- your operating system, your applications and all your files. Google wants you to keep it on the Internet; Microsoft wants you to keep it on your laptop.

Virtualization technologies have been used for years to improve the usefulness of big servers. They allow a computer to move quickly and seamlessly among different operating systems with different “stacks” of applications.

Applied to personal computers, though, virtualization could radically expand the portability of all your computer work. A company called Moka5 has a program that keeps a snapshot copy of your state at all times. There is no reason why you could not carry that copy with you on different media -- on a USB memory stick, on a cellphone or even an iPod -- wherever there is some memory. Wherever you take it, your software, your files and your operating system will be available to use on any computer.

This splits the difference in the fight over where you store your work. You are no longer bound to a particular piece of hardware -- and you also don’t have to risk storing your stuff with a server-side provider such as Google.

More and more, you are in charge.


All computing, all the time


John Brockman is publisher and editor of Edge (

WE WILL SEE migration of social applications as user-generated content moves to the WiFi environment. YouTube, MySpace and multi-user games will be available on hand-held devices, wherever you go. People will carry their digital assets much like their bacteria. Israeli tech guru Yossi Vardi calls it “continuous computing.”

The nanotechnology world foreseen by K. Eric Drexler arrives in the form of MEMS, or microelectronic mechanical systems. Very inexpensive moving parts will be mass-produced like a semiconductor. But unlike semiconductors, they move. Useful for anything that employs moving parts.

Synthetic Biology pioneer George Church of Harvard University expects $3,000 personal genomics kits in stores.

“Pop Atheism” might include popular atheist TV and movie characters, professional athletes, political figures, etc. Look for the first billion-dollar IPO for the Web service that gets atheists together for “rituals,” dating and political and business networking.

Rod Brooks, director of MIT’s computer lab, is looking at new Web services aimed at the baby boomer age group, who realize that, in terms of IT use, they’ve been passed by, missing out on IM, text-messaging, MySpace, etc.

But don’t put much stock in predictions. Consider that YouTube/MySpace/Napster didn’t change the real world for most people very much. MySpace became TheirSpace and YouTube became TheirTube faster than you can say “2006.”