Eller: En ynka mobiltelefon i Bangladesh

Cisco Networkers Forum i Cannes i början av 2007 träffade jag äntligen på en man som inte förutspådde vår snara bortgång, utan snarare, med logiska argument och ibland bara enkel statistik, påvisade att vi kunde utvecklas otroligt, och det tillsammans med maskiner istället för att försöka fly undan dem.

Stora hallen i Kongresspalatset i Cannes var full med cirka 3000 Cisco-entusiaster som helt klart uppskattade hans föreläsning. Här är hela hans tal ordagrant. Låt mig säga att talet var fantastiskt och att applådåskorna efteråt var minst lika imponerande. Det var den första management-föreläsningen som jag inte somnade ifrån omedelbart. Talet är 4500 ord långt så det tar en stund att läsa, men det är väl värt det. Han hade inga anteckningar utan meddelade mig senare att han hittade på allt eftersom. Ovationerna som följde, avslöjade att nätverksfolk vill se en ljus framtid.

- Good Morning! How are you? I am a future... ologist.

(ingen reagerar)

Well, you are very polite. How can anybody be a futurologist? How can there be an -ology or a science of the future? Isn’t it a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron? Like, military intelligence? Or, European harmony? And for those of you from the UK, an English batsman?

But the reason I use such a ridiculous term to describe what I do, is to make an important point when we come to think about the future. And my point is this: Just as there is no good word for somebody who studies the future we lack a language with which to think about the future. Now, I said this at a university about a month ago and a young lady said: “Excuse me Mr. Hammond, but I think you’re wrong. Surely Shakespeare had a language for the future? Because his words are as resonant today as when he wrote them three or four hundred years ago.” I said: “You’re right. What I should have said is that we lack a language for the technological future.”

And where there is no language there can be no thought. That is our primary difficulty when it comes to thinking about the future. I’ll give you an example. What you, ladies and gentlemen, are doing at the moment is building an always-on, always-connected, everyone-to-everyone, everything-to-everything society. It took me that many words to describe the basics of what we are doing as we create our networked world. We don’t yet have a term, a language, or a good descriptor for what it is that you are creating. As a result of that it is hard to think about the implications. But I believe that what you are doing is profound, and I believe it will have a massive impact on evolution.

I want to go back in time to start with before I start to talk about the future. I want to go back, let’s say a million years, to when our forefathers, our ancestors, the pre-human primates began, in Africa, to... stand up.

Nobody knows precisely why. Was it to see further over the plains of the savannah? Was it to look for game? To look for predators that might attack them? No matter what the reason, there were two important consequences of standing up: the first was that the bones at the back of the skull had room to enlarge and fall backwards under the force of gravity. The second was that the larynx, the voice-box, fell to the back of the throat where it found room to enlarge and grow. As a result of these two things, an enlarged brain and an enlarged voice-box, our forefathers started to make sounds that had meaning. They pointed to one another, to objects, and named them with arbitrary sounds, and my point in telling you this is to say that language is wholly virtual. No matter what language we are speaking in, or reading in, it is a virtual transaction.

I want to define the word “virtual” for you: “Virtual” means the power and presence of meaning without necessarily having a physical form. Virtual does not mean “computer memory space,” or the reality approached by a computer game. We are virtual creatures. Indeed, we are the virtual ape.

After we began to use language to communicate, we started to learn how to do other, new things. Twelve thousand years ago we began global warming, not two hundred years ago with the industrial revolution, but twelve thousand years ago when we started to deforest this planet and to kill the Earth to release the methane contained within it. The agricultural revolution brought time and money for more learning, and then all of a sudden there was an explosion of knowledge, which ash led to us being here today. Five thousand years ago in Mesopotamia, today’s Iraq, there were three crucial virtual inventions. The first was mathematics. The second was cursive writing, alphabetic writing, writing which used characters which could be moved around to make up words. Previously there had been pictograms and hieroglyphs, but the invention of modern alphabetic writing allowed us to record and to forward language, an thus knowledge.

But I said there were three virtual inventions five thousand years ago, and the third was equally important. You can shout it out, I just want to know what you think the third invention might have been. Wholly virtual! Anybody?

(någon svarar rätt)

Yes. Money! The third, most important invention was money. Because money, Ladies and Gentlemen, does not actually exist.

In the temple one day, a lad whose job it was to carry bundles of wheat, sheaves of wheat across the temple in order to barter them for chicken, decided that he was fed up with it, so he picked up a stone and he said to the young man who brought the chicken in: “Look, don’t worry about bringing the chicken in, just bring me this stone. Lets call it a ‘shekel’, and then I’ll give you the wheat.” Of course the lad went outside with this stone and said: “Look what that idiot in there has given me. He has given me a stone and he will give me some wheat for it!”

All we do with money is that we agree collectively, as a society, that we are going to invest some piece of coloured paper, or some piece of tin with value. Money is wholly virtual and it doesn’t exist at all, as I told my bank manager last week.


After these three crucial inventions we went on a blizzard, on a flurry of invention. We had printing in the 13:th century. We began to measure time properly. And then we galloped up towards the 19:th century and there was the telegraph, and then there were so many more inventions, but we lacked language to describe them. The locomotive was an iron horse, the automobile was a horseless carriage, and the projector was a magic lantern. Radio was wireless, the refrigerator was an icebox... You get my drift? We don’t have the words when a new technology comes along to describe what it is that it does, properly. We use combinations of other, old words to try to describe it which is why we have such trouble when we try to think about our future network society.

So today we’re are building an always-on, always-connected, everyone-to-everyone, everything-to-everything society. And the first stage ahead of us now, the next big development: The mobile revolution. Over next five years almost all major organisations will extend their networks so that they are data-rich, fully integrated and fully mobile. And that leads me to the problem I’ve been touching upon all morning: language. What do we call the device, formerly known as the mobile phone? Not just a phone, is it? It’s a camera, it’s a database, and it’s an e-mail system. For many of these it’s got application software. “Mobile phone” as a term will come to seem as outdated as “iron horse” or “magic lantern”. We just don’t have a word for the device that is going to be the centre of our lives.

All of the white heat of technological development is at the moment in these devices and in the networks that serve them. The two things, the devices and the networks, are indivisible. They are all part of the same thing. But the mobile revolution, which you are creating, which hasn’t really arrived yet will make major changes to the way business and society functions, in the simplest ways, but in the most effective ways.

The shop assistant becomes a personal shopper equipped with rich data in her hand. When a woman comes into the shop and says: “I want that hat, in red, in my size” the empowered shop assistant can say: “I’m very sorry Madam, it’s not in stock at the moment, but I have one on the way here now. It’s arriving at three, it’s in your size. Shall use the last credit card details you gave us?” Empowerment is what comes out of the enterprise network extending out to the finest tendrils of the organisation. Broadband, data-rich, secure. It allows the massive investment in IT infrastructure for any organisation to be finally realised. The mobile, data-rich unit, on the end of a network anywhere in the world is the golden promise of IT. There are all sorts of difficulties about doing it, but it has to be the one thing that makes sense out of all previous investments in IT infrastructure. Because it will release and empower society in ways we will find hard to imagine at the moment.

I want to give you one example of this, which I think is going to change a lot of business models. At the moment many companies live in what I call a market economy, they make things and they sell them. Let’s imagine a manufacturer of air-conditioning units. Today the manufacturer makes the units, installs them for the client, and probably maintains them. That’s the relationship. Tomorrow, when your networks are always-on, always-connected, everyone-to-everyone, everything-to-everything this company no longer wants to sell you an air-conditioning unit. The company becomes a supplier of cold air. Because the end customer doesn’t want to buy an air-conditioning unit, the customer wants cold air, wants to manage climate in the factory, in the office, wherever it may be, and because the company that makes the air-conditioning unit can, through your network, stay in constant contact with the unit, the company can monitor the environment, can monitor the performance of the unit and therefore, can contract with the end customer to supply cold air.

This is a move from the market economy of today, to the subscription economy of tomorrow, made possible by networks. This is going to affect all sorts of businesses. For example we are already seeing this trend in the automobile business. BMW no longer wants to sell you a BMW, they wants you to have the experience of driving a BMW on an ongoing subscription basis. As well as providing you with a car, the company wants to provide you with maintenance, wants to provide you with roadside service, with replacement cars and the next upgrade car when appropriate. The company wants an ongoing, subscription-based relationship and your networks will enable this for many, many types of organisations.

But the subscription economy isn’t the golden goose with the golden egg. The golden egg, the real payoff of what you are doing is the releasement of business process intellectual capital. Every organisation does things a certain way, whether it’s designing a golf course, creating a show or doing product launches. Every company knows how it does what it does, but at the moment that knowledge is locked up in the individual’s mind and memories and he goes home at night. In a few years’ time, when the data-rich, fully mobile networks are in place such capital, the capital of business processes can be captured. And when captured it has a value, because value is created when a society agrees a value is created.

I shall give you an example. I want you to imagine a few years ahead, let’s say eight years or ten years. I want you to think about a Far East electronics manufacturer, perhaps based in Singapore. Ant this company has decided that they might want to open a new factory in Mexico because of they did so they would get access to a tax-free zone. The company sends a project team to Mexico. They make their investigations, they talk with consultants, the local government and so on and they come back to the board and they say: “Well, we think it’s a good idea. This new factory would actually cost 500 million US dollars.” After deliberations the company decides to go ahead with the project.

As the project progresses everything to do with the building of the project, designing it and so on, is recorded. Video, sound, e-mails, every piece of print is digitised, every drawing is digital, and so on. This is an opt-in system, not an opt-out system. Nobody is recorded routinely. What happens is that when you go into a meeting to discuss the drainage or the architecture or whatever it may be, you allow the networks to record it. If you wish to opt out of recording you can do so instantly. So at the end of this, shall we say, three-year building project everything that ahs been going on has been captured. Every meeting with the architects, every meeting with the consultants, every discussion about drainage, every discussion about the labour unions, environmental laws and so on. All the details about the difficulty and the problems faced when building this factory are captured in a giant database. It’s 20 petabytes in size. It’s not structured but we’ve got very, very powerful search tools. We don’t just search by keyword, we can search by facial pattern recognition, by voice-print recognition, and if we just find the person who was in that meeting the system can turn up every other meeting he or she attended, every other e-mail, every other phone call that went on.

How valuable would that data be to another electronics company thinking of building for the first time in Mexico? Does it have a value? The project has cost 500 million dollars. Does this database have a value? Yes, of course it does. But today, there would be no way of showing that value on the company’s balance sheet. Because there is, as yet, no internationally agreed way of showing business process intellectual capital. I’m not talking about intellectual property, not talking about trade names, not talking about patents, I’m talking about the processes of how we do what we do. Every organisation possesses this knowledge but not every organisation at the moment captures it. This will be the next major phase of wealth creation, made possible by data-rich, fully extended networks.

As we meet here, accountancy standard bodies all around the world are meeting to discuss how to allow this sort of intellectual capital to be put onto the balance sheet, how such capital should be maintained, how it should be amortised, and what sort of conditions should allow for it to continue, in other words, how often must the database be updated, who’s responsible for it and so on. Remember that the company who has built this factory in Mexico does not have to sell that knowledge to have the value, they only have to have the ability to sell the knowledge. Just as the company would not necessarily sell its headquarters. It only has to have the ability to sell its headquarters in order for the value of that building to appear on the balance sheet.

Business process intellectual capital will be what is driving your network takeups in business over the next 10-12 years, allowing every company, large or small, to add new, genuine value to their balance sheets.

But there is something even bigger that is underlying all of this. I would imagine that if I went anywhere in the world to any audience in the world I would find it hard to find an audience who understood the word “exponential” better than you do. But I would still argue that although we all understand the true meaning of “exponential” it is very hard for us to appreciate what it means and what it is going to mean for us in the next 10-20-25 years. You all know that Moore’s Law has held good for 42 years. Gordon Moore said 42 years ago that every two years the number of transistors on a chip would double. Very often that is shrunk down to 18 months, but no, he said “two years”. And it’s held true since 1965. But over the last two or three years something strange has been happening. That two-year period has begun to shrink to closer to a year. You will have heard, and I have heard that we are constantly about to approach some sort of physical barrier which will prevent this doubling of density of transistors or switches on a chip every two years, or as it appears now, closer to a year.

But every time that is said it appears to be a new breakthrough, which allows the law to continue. Two weeks ago, Caltech researchers demonstrated a working molecular processor, which has ten times the number of switches on it than even today’s most dense processor. There appears to be no immediate barrier in front of us. So if we do continue exponential chip density development into the foreseeable future, what might it mean?

Well, I am not naive enough to think that the doubling of chip density equates with doubling in speed, nor do I think it’s a doubling in ability because I know the other elements of architecture aren’t going to keep up with that. I know that there’s going to be a massive software lag before we can take advantage of new processors and new speeds, and I know that human ingenuity won’t keep up with it.

But to make a point I want to imagine that it does mean a doubling of speed and power every two years, just for the sake of argument. Assuming that today’s fastest PC is equal to 1, if we double that speed for the next 25 years every two years, how much more powerful would a computer of 2032 be than today’s machine? There’s enough mathematicians here doing to the power. I will tell you. In 25 years time your PC will be eight million times more powerful than your PC today. Now, of course, that’s not going to happen. We’ve talked about the software lag, we’ve spoken about human ingenuity, but I wanted to make the point so that you will understand that the lily pond is almost half full.

But I said just now that there’s a movement towards chip speed, power and density doubling every year. Just for the fun of it I want you to think about what might happen if chip power doubled every year for the next 25 years. If today’s most powerful PC is 1, how much more powerful would the PC on your desk be in the year 2032? The answer, believe it or not, is 32 billion times! That’s the power of the exponential curve. So we have two figures, one eight million times more powerful and one at 32 billion times more powerful. Of course it’s not going to happen like that, for reasons that I have already explained. But what is clear is that something significant is occurring because we have reached the point of Very-Interesting-Indeed when it comes to computer speeds and abilities.

Futurologists have begun to talk about “the singularity” and in our jargon the singularity is the term for the point at which machine intelligence comes to equal our own intelligence. The best guess at the moment is that this is going to occur somewhere between 2027 and 2035. But perhaps the most terrifying thing from today’s perspective of that happening is that when the moment comes when machine intelligence is equal to our own, “exponential” means that two years later it’s twice as clever. And two years after that it’s four times as clever.

Can you feel the rate of change itself changing? Can you feel the speeding-up? I can tell you this much: Over the next eight years we’re going to have the same amount of technological change that we’ve had in the last 20 years. Think back to January 1987. What were you doing? What was your cellphone like? How much e-mail did you do? Did you buy a copy of “Lady in Red” by Chris de Burgh? And if you did, stand up...


It’s a long way ago in technological terms, 1987. But that is where we will be in eight years time. And after that, four to five years time. And after that, two to three years time. We are coming to a point at which we will have to consider, for the first time, the arrival of super-intelligent companions. Now, will they be aliens, will they be robots that threaten us, should we be running in fear? Ladies and Gentlemen, I have to tell you that in my opinion it will be the reverse. We will be seduced by these beings. They are, after all, us.

I now need to announce that I am actually a visitor from the year 2042. I say this because my companion Maria, who is implanted with a nano-implant just behind my ear, has told me that I’d better confess. Unfortunately I cannot tell you how I got here, because you would not understand. But you understand that any advanced technology, which is sufficiently advanced, seems like magic, as Arthur C. Clarke pointed out. Maria, who is my companion, who is able to speak directly into my thoughts and listen in to them, and attach to the web and to all of the people I want to speak to when I want to speak to them, first joined me in the year 2012 in my hand-held device. For which we still don’t have a name. And she was a piece of software that used to make calls for me, speak to people for me, leave messages for me, a natural language interface that worked very well. And she upgraded herself with regularity and she learned from me every single day. Maria then transferred wirelessly to a little in-ear device that replaced my communicator. And now she lives in a nano-implant inserted with keyhole surgery just here.

(Pekar bakom örat)

Science Fiction? Exponential development is going to take us there. But while all that is going on are we humans remaining as we are? In 25 years time we will be regenerating our own organs from inside. Stem cell research promises that we are likely to be able to regenerate every organ of our body, including the skin, so that when I am 110 I will look like I am 35. And I will be, biologically, 35. Now, that is going on in the same time frame that takes us to singularity. A cyborg future of eternally young people? What do you think? Nonsense? Futurologist musing? Or, with the rate of exponential change, a possibility? How old will you be in 25 year’s time?

If you can make it in reasonably good health from now to 25 years, do you think you might live to be 150? Yes. I do to. There are many of you in this room who can, and should expect to live in youthful form to be 150.

People often say to me, when I go off on one, “Ray, there are so many people in the world who haven’t got enough to eat. Don’t you think you ought to be paying more attention to that side of life, rather than drifting off in mad fantasies about living forever?”

Not long ago I was in Bangladesh at the invitation of the government, and they were very keen to show me their telecomms infrastructure. I was taken to a rural village and introduced, through a government interpreter, to the head woman of her village. A very elegant woman with a beautiful sari. She had no shoes on her feet. She stood in the mud, but she was holding in her left hand a gleaming chromium Nokia mobile phone. And of course my initial reaction was to think, “What are we doing? Shouldn’t we actually be trying to find shoes for this woman? And what are we going to do next? Sell her Ray-Ban sunglasses?”

But she explained to me, through the interpreter, that she is now earning five US dollars a day. And the impact of this one phone on her village of 180 people, the economic impact has been phenomenal, because everybody in her village is allowed to use her phone to make a call. And at the end of that call the local system displays what the call cost and the person who has used the phone then pays her the cost of the call plus 10 percent. This had all been put in by Telenor, as part of the Norwegian overseas aid program. All the cellular masts had been put in on the British railway embankments that were built above the flood plain in the Victorian era.

In her village one phone call can save a day’s walk to see a doctor who isn’t there. One phone call can save half a day’s walk to a marked that doesn’t have the seeds that are required, or the part to mend a broken agricultural tool. The impact on the local economy in terms of time saved, end the efficiency of finding the best market price for the goods is phenomenal. In percentage terms it’s giant, far more than any Western GDP increase in growth. Hundreds and hundreds of percent a year. The same is true for the very poorest fishermen off the coast of Goa. These fishermen could not afford radios for their fishing boats but they can affords low-cost, pay-as-you-go mobile phones, and the result of that is that when one fisherman finds the fish he is able to tell all the other fishermen to come to that particular shoal. And when the fish catch is made the phone can be used to find which market is offering the best price for that fish.

This revolution is occurring all over. We are creating a society that is always-on, always-connected, everyone-to-everyone, everything-to-everything. You are doing that. I believe it is our natural home. We are virtual apes and the virtual environment, the virtual domain, is where we belong. It is an evolutionary step as much as a technological step. We are approaching the singularity and our future beyond that lies in a convergence of the human and machine intelligence.

Thank you very much for listening. I liked talking to you!

(Ofantliga applådåskor)

Läs mer

www.hammond.co.uk/index.html och välj Futurology för mycket mera intressant läsning.