Media Perspective: We know what the future holds - just not how to plan for it

I should be used to the luck of the columnist by now. Whatever you prognosticate in print, reality will somehow contrive to undermine you.

Just last week, I was holding augmented reality up as an example of far-distant media technology about which no-one could make confident predictions and, for the past seven days, my RSS has been full of augmented reality product launches. Some awards shows even seem to have an augmented reality category - what could be a more certain sign of a mature technology? So I worried for a while that I might have set the futurist bar too low, but then when you examine the actual reality of the augmented reality, you realise that most of these applications are more gimmick than game-changer.

The augmented reality future we need to plan for, and worry about, bears as much relation to these experiments as today's web does to the experience of connecting to Compuserve via a dial-up modem. Nevertheless, it prompted me to look a bit further out and try to think about a technology that hasn't yet been offered up for a Cyber Lion.

And in these circumstances, one should always turn to Tim O'Reilly - the computer publishing magnate and coiner of the phrase "web 2.0". He describes his company strategy as "watching the behaviour of alpha geeks" and then sharing it with the rest of the world, and his ETech conferences are normally the places where technological ideas first nuzzle into the mainstream. The thing that had the geeks buzzing this year was DIY biology; in particular, a session called Real Hackers Program DNA, where participants were taught to programme some bacteria to turn red, glow in the dark or emit the smell of bananas.

The media implications were immediately obvious. Well, no, they weren't. I don't think anyone was thinking about how bacteria could be monetised with AdSense; they were just excited about manipulating the world in a new way, but media implications will soon emerge. No less a visionary than Freeman Dyson has predicted that "the domestication of biotechnology will dominate our lives during the next 50 years at least as much as the domestication of computers has dominated our lives during the previous 50 years".

I have absolutely no idea what this might mean for ITV, News Corp or JCDecaux, but I've no doubt it will mean something. None of these companies imagined that hypertext transfer protocol would be that important to them either. What's even more exciting is that I can't point you at a blog that will track the media implications of the coming DIY bio revolution - no-one's writing one yet. Which means there's room for some young media thinker with a biology GCSE to really make a name for herself.


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