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Monday, August 1, 2011

A Day in the 4G Life: The Digital Swarm

Close your eyes. Imagine yourself sitting in your home or office with streams of information moving between you and the objects around you. Actions take place in your immediate environment as you orchestrate them from your mobile device. Only relevant information s sent to you as your personal “bot” negotiates and filters massive streams of data on your behalf. Your interactions with other people take the form of abstract transmissions of ideas that you exchange in real time as if they were immediate.
Instead of using archaic serial communications, you can interact with several of their virtual profiles in parallel to have several conversations at once. Your device is constantly aware of your condition because your health and emotions are monitored systematically via the personal network that constantly surrounds your body.

The distinction between life and work has become blurred across a continuum of time and space where decisions are made, and actions are taken to optimize both performance and personal satisfaction. You can easily immerse yourself into both real and simulated situations via high-definition digital media for both work and play. You have become a biological networked appliance who can link to the global communications grid anytime and anywhere. Like others who can afford the best technology, you have complete awareness and control whenever you need it. This is your new way of life.

Now open your eyes. This may seem like fantasy, but the notion of individuals sensing and controlling their environment without depending on the infrastructure that surrounds us today is not far off. Advances in wireless technology, distributed computing, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology are laying the foundation for a new world and society without wires. As technology drives deeper into the human experience, a new world is beginning to emerge that we need to acknowledge and reconcile with our current assumptions. The idea of individuals self-organizing to act in a way that results in the most efficient and effective outcomes is certainly appealing. But this also raises some fundamental questions about what society would be like under these “swarmlike” conditions. There are even more practical questions about how business will be conducted and how companies will organize in this very distributed world:

• Where will the intersections of technology and social effects create tipping points for new killer applications?

• What will be the price of the information required to enable optimal decisions?Will it be at the expense of privacy or wealth?

• Who will monitor, organize, and control the individuals making the self-directed decisions? And how will the actions of these individuals be governed?

• Will companies become slaves to the actions of those who work there, or will they be able to harness the power of the “intelligent mob” to unlock significant new levels of innovation and performance?

In the movie Spider-Man, Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben tells him, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Will society and individuals be able to harness the power they are given by the Digital Swarm, or will it overwhelm them?

A key insight here is that the Digital Swarm will be shaped more by how people use next generation wireless technology than the technology itself.

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