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64 Things You Need To Know Now For Then

Ben Hammersley

Shanzai. Improved knockoffs. Not just copies, but with enhancements, such as a mobile phone with 2 sim card slots so you can receive calls on 2 numbers. And they come in non-Apple colors so you can update yr handset every month or two. And they all come at speed. A press-launch pic of a new phone becomes a Shanzai within days, and improvements appear within weeks while the original maker is still launching.

100 item challenge. Most people's 100 items includes a laptop that replaces hundreds of CD's, books and magazines. And they usually count all their cutlery as one item, and all their underwear ....

Publishers rely on various Digital Rights Management techniques to protect their files. The various methods are irrelevant. It doesn't actually matter how secure the file is because at some point the computer has to decrypt it to play it for you. Even the most sophisticated bit of music DRM can be defeated by a 50 cent piece of cable linking linking the earphone socket of a player with the microphone socket of a recorder. And once a single unencrypted copy exists, all the DRM is voided. Publishers need to find a way to operate in an environment where their material is available free.

Another restriction technique is geo-blocking, where different regions have differing access to programs. But with a Virtual Private Network, an encrypted connection that hides your actual location, you can trick the service into thinking you are in the country of your choice.

Have you heard of a spime? A meme, perhaps? Could you tell an echo chamber from a human flesh search engine? When someone talks about the cloud, do you just smile and picture something white and fluffy?

For those of us who do not spend our time sipping espressos at central London's Silicon Roundabout it is almost impossible to keep up with the pace of technology, let alone its nomenclature.

Hammersley's is a cool-headed analysis. The future he paints is not rife with sci-fi stereotypes of flying cars and holograms; what lies ahead is already recognisable, but nonetheless remarkable.

"New technologies are bringing about fundamental changes in society," Hammersley says. "They are happening in the manner of all revolutions: very, very gradually and then very suddenly."

The catalyst for all this is the internet. Not only has it radically changed the way we work, live and love but, Hammersley notes, it has also turned the rules of business on their heads. In this new world, David regularly beats Goliath, and because of this, industries have had to develop new business models quickly. We are now defined as either technologically literate or illiterate: those who get it and those who do not. The problem, Hammersley suggests, is that most of the power holders and decision makers do not.

He says the "internet destroys every business that enters its sights and remakes it in its own image". Just ask record companies, travel agents and publishers what this feels like. Next in line for an overhaul is government.

"Government will have to adapt to a public who are increasingly used to having an opinion and used to having that opinion taken seriously," Hammersley says. This is already evident in the surge of new petition websites, such as, which was launched recently in Britain, and in the dissent movements springing up around the world, from the Occupy protesters to the Arab spring.

Government, he says, will be forced to start thinking more like a brand, competing for the attention of the public.

Technology is also going to change the way that businesses function. The mysterious-sounding spime does not yet exist, but Hammersley believes it soon will and when it does it will radically alter the way we shop and the way retailers operate.

A bottle of wine may have spime-like qualities. Its label may tell you the name and location of the terroir, the year of production and the specifics of the grape variety or blend. A spime will do this electronically. By scanning the label on, say, some bananas with your smartphone, an app could tell you who grew them, whether the farm was unionised and how far the bananas had travelled to get to you. The technology to do this already exists and is similar to that being used by Amazon with its price comparison app.

Retailers will have to adapt to a more demanding consumer. "They just won't have any choice," says Hammersley.

As well as offering us the choice to live more ethically, the internet is making us live more collaboratively. Crowd- sourcing involves getting vast numbers of people each to do a small amount of work - usually free or for little payment. Wikipedia is the original example, but crowd-sourcing projects now exist in a wide range of fields.

It is likely that you will already have contributed to one, possibly without knowing what it is. Captcha is the type of character-recognition test that requires you to type letters of distorted text to prove you are not a machine so you can buy something online or enter a website. ReCaptcha is Google's version of this service, which, as a by-product, uses human intelligence to help to digitise old texts.

When you retype the fuzzy word in the box you may be helping to digitise a rare 19th-century work Words that have been smudged or distorted often cannot be identified by a computer, but they can be understood by the human brain. When you retype the fuzzy word in the box you may be helping to digitise a rare 19th-century work. So much of this technology is now in use that web users unwittingly helped to digitise 20 years' worth of The New York Times in just a couple of months.

The US navy has created an online game - MMOWGLI, or Massive Multiplayer Online War Game Leveraging the Internet - that asks members of the public to defend themselves against a pirate attack. The navy is using the information to explore new techniques against Somali pirates. The more data it can analyse, the logic goes, the better the results.

What do you get if you cross a technology geek with a hypochondriac? Since 2008 a group of people have been using smartphones to measure members' physical and mental states throughout the day and night to optimise their health. The mass of data, transmitted via a headband that can be worn in bed, allows them to monitor the impact of small tweaks to their daily routine - whether they are aiming to sleep better, give up smoking or lose weight.

It is a movement called the Quantified Self, and Hammersley predicts that it is about to hit the mainstream with products and apps that will measure every move you make, the calories you burn and even your mood. This technology will increasingly be used to treat diseases. For example, diabetics will be able to monitor the spikes and dips in their blood sugar level and see the effect of, say, a particular meal.

Looking further into the crystal ball, advances in 3-D printing could mean that if you lose a bike part or break a cup it will be possible to make a replacement at home. Hammersley imagines going to a friend's house, photographing something that takes your fancy - a plate, say - emailing it to yourself and printing out your own version at home.

This would have serious ramifications for copyright laws, but he says legislation has always struggled to keep up with the pace of technology - and it's a battle that technology will win.

Hammersley believes the internet is essentially untamable. Censorship is not logistically possible; nor is it feasible for governments to read people's emails, despite headlines to the contrary. The task is too great. Society will have to adapt to the internet, not the other way around.

Attempts to ban online anonymity are, in Hammersley's view, misguided. "The ability to be anonymous online is a huge social good," he says. He has in mind discussion of subjects such as sexuality, death and disease, which many people might be reluctant to join in if they could be identified and judged: "It enables you to ask questions and express opinions that you couldn't before - and get answers."

What we will see more of is internet users deciding for themselves what is and is not appropriate behaviour and doling out justice as they see fit. A human flesh search engine is a translation from the Chinese, where the concept originated, and describes what happens when people start searching out something in real life that they have been alerted to online. When a video of a woman trampling on a kitten in stiletto shoes went viral in China, members of the public used tiny clues from the video to identify not only the woman but also the man who took the footage. Both lost their jobs and were hounded out of town.

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