We all live in the future now…

On January 3, 2010, in Security, Technology, by Devost

While I’m not usually one to dwell on the significance of a new decade, 2010 seems worth reflecting on.  This post covers a hodge-podge of issues keeping in tune with this blog’s general charter of technology, security, and obscurity.  Hopefully, there’s something for everybody.

When I first started working national security issues, 2010 was one of the decades we always forecasted towards for planning and wargaming purposes. It was far enough in the future to put our futurists caps on, but still close enough to be tangible. It was the future. As we enter into 2010, I can’t shake this feeling that we all live in the future now.

Here’s why…

Devost’s law of exponential change

Massive change becomes twice as easy every 36 months. The fuse of societal, technological, and scientific change will become increasingly shorter over time. Although change might occur more quickly (e.g easier) over time, that is not to say that some change won’t be devastatingly hard, even when occurring on a compressed time-frame.

Change will be accelerated by factors of globalization, including increased connectivity and the spread of global memes. More significantly though, by almost an evolutionary adaption that makes us more accepting of massive change. It feels like we are increasingly wired this way. Market meltdowns, mass casualty terrorism, pandemics, and rapid-paced technology adoption prepare us for living in a world where change happens on massive scales and fast.

Therefore, the more things change, the more they will change (vice the more they stay the same). Change on steroids also means that our ability to alienate is also exponentially enhanced, if not intentionally, then certainly as a result of massive change that is not universally adopted.

Technology Issues

The past decade has brought us some incredible technology as well, and the next decade will build upon advances heralded in over the past few years.

Our lives at our fingertips

I’ve got the whole world in my hand. With the introduction of the iPhone 3GS last year, I’m able to cover about 95% of my computing needs for short periods of time (several days) using a device I keep in my pocket. In fact, 2009 marked the first time I’ve traveled without a laptop since they were introduced and I certainly didn’t miss the last 5%. The iPhone, which is a relatively new technology, was certainly a game changer and our advancements in that area will benefit from Moore’s law in the coming decade. Having purchased all three iterations of the phone, I’ve got them scattered throughout my house like tissue boxes.

It has been interesting to contrast this immediate access to information during my father’s recent holiday visit. My father, who designed chip cooling systems for IBM in the late 60’s before returning to the family logging business does not use computers. Questions like “I wonder how old Dick Clark is?”, “What year did Bobby Orr retire?” are all answerable in seconds. He was amazed at the absence of a outside thermometer at our house. The elementary school next door has a complex weather station I can tap into from my iPhone, so why bother when temp, wind speed, etc. are all immediately accessible. You can read about the 23 devices my iPhone has replaced.

I think smart-phones will further become phone-computers and we’ll have better storage and bandwidth that will make them essential equipment. The biggest improvements will be at the interface level with the introduction of motion-based gesturing, advanced voice recognition, and advanced voice response systems. There is no reason to be fumbling with multi-touch in two years and we’ll be talking to our phones (as well as on them) as our primary interaction mechanism. With the introduction of the Apple tablet in early 2010, a generation of technologist will be able to experiment with an entirely new form factor and groundbreaking interface components, so 2010 will start off with a technological bang.

Ubiquitous bandwidth

Telecommunication carriers be damned, I think we are moving towards and environment of ubiquitous high speed internet access that will be delivered over fiber and wireless. When I moved into my house 6 years ago, I had to put an antenna on my roof to try and catch a wireless signal several miles up the road. Later, I invested in a T1 line with gave me 1.5mbps for $400.00/ month. Today, I’ve got fiber to the house and bandwidth of 50mbps available for $150.00/month. I often get T1 speeds over cellular networks as well.

With ubiquitous bandwidth, the lines that define where we work, play, and learn indistinguishably blend together for better or for worse. We’ll get more, pay less and that will drive innovation across lots of different platforms. I didn’t start using the term cloud computing until a few years ago and now it defines my digital existence. Most of what I care about digitally is accessible via the cloud whether it be my music collection or an essay I wrote a decade ago. With additional bandwidth our dependence on the cloud will not only increase, but we’ll all become part of the mobile cloud as well. Want to know how traffic is on the toll road? My phone should be able to tell the cloud and we’ll all be gridlinked in our gridlock.

Virtual worlds

Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve been watching the development of virtual worlds like Second Life very closely. Virtual worlds have become places of employment, enjoyment, and societal petri dishes for a wide-range of cultural experiments. In seeing Avatar last week I was struck by the narrative in which the main character Jake describes how he couldn’t tell which world was real and which was a dream and that his avatar world seemed like the real-world to him. Three years ago I met several people in Second Life who expressed the same feelings about the virtual world created by Linden Labs. Immersion in virtual worlds will accelerate as the worlds become more complex. The implications of this immersion are much more complex than most are willing to acknowledge and we’ll just start to touch upon them in the coming decade as they serve for the precursor to complex cultural and religious debates we will encounter should we ever achieve some sort of singularity.

I also think virtual worlds pose some interesting financial questions as well. How much is virtual property worth? For example, someone just paid $330,000.00 USD for space station in a virtual game. That is more than most real-world houses cost. What happens if the server crashes, or worse, if the company that operates the game folds? With gaming companies have to start setting up endowments to allow for continued virtual world operation considering the extensive financial investments users are making?

Artificial Intelligence

I don’t think we’ll see true artificial intelligence in the next decade, but there is no reason why we won’t see significantly augmented intelligence software bots in the next five years. The first components of these augmented intelligence systems will be to help us organize, manage, retrieve and interact with our digital lives. While enhanced user interfaces will help us deal with information and communication overload, they’ll only get us so far. Why should I manually check into FourSquare when I arrive at a local bar?   I’m also ready for the day when my phone automatically dials my wife when I get in the car to head home at night (or at least asks me if I would like to call her). These will be the little steps that will drive the augintel (go ahead, the domain is available) space and we’ll soon two camps; the augs and the nonaugs walking down the street.

Geo everything

Location, location, location. There are hundreds of blog posts talking about the importance of location data in the next decade, so I won’t re-invent the wheel here. I’ll only acknowledge that I agree this is a critical area/capability and also highlight that space-time travel data is analytic super-food!

Display technologies

I’m less interested in the next 65″ LED display and more interested in where MyVu is in 10 years. I expect that in 10 years we’ll be talking about the personalization of display technologies as screens get embedded in eyeglasses and other head’s up displays. The MyVu glasses changed the way I travel and give me a big entertainment screen in half a pound of portable plastic and silicon. In the next decade, I do expect to wear my computer most of the time.

Security and Emerging Threats

Two primary areas of my professional expertise, terrorism and cybersecurity, will have continued prominence over the next decade.

Adversaries will be able to engage in attacks of disproportionate impact for the foreseeable future and we’ll face a multitude of complex threats for which we are not currently adequately prepared.

Mass casualty terrorism attacks will continue to be a reality in the coming decade and despite the fact that bin Laden will be captured or killed, we’ll continue to see attacks against Western targets by AQ linked adversaries. It is highly likely one of those attacks will include a weapon of mass destruction.

Self-organizing cells continue to be an emergence concern (sorry couldn’t resist the pun). While the damage a self-organizing group might be able to cause might be limited, they present an incredible law enforcement and intelligence challenge. To that end, we’ll see the re-emergence of transaction and pattern-based intelligence analysis initiatives as subject-based analysis will continue to face shortcomings in countering self-organizing groups. As big a fan as I am of the human aspect of intelligence analysis, some sort of augmentation is going to be required. The recent failed Christmas attack is probably a great example of why research and development in intelligence software is needed.

We’ll also need new tools to enhance collaboration. To that extent, it was disappointing to see two great experimental platforms shut down in 2009 (ugov and Bridge) as I was a user and supporter of both. What we need is more disruptive test-beds like these, not fewer. To that extent, I’ll continue to fund the GroupIntel Network ( which has grown to over 250 intelligence and security professionals conducting some interesting collaborative analysis.

Cybersecurity has finally fully emerged as a legitimate national and economic security concern and will see tremendous growth (both in e-crime exploitation and counter e-crime budgets) in the next several years. We’ve seen economies of scale indicating that hundreds of millions of dollars are being made via electronic fraud activities and the lines are blurring between cybercrime and information warfare in unanticipated ways. In some instances it looks like states are viewing and utilizing cybercrime infrastructures as extensions of state power.

Unfortunately, we haven’t solved the cyber-strategy issues just yet. I look forward to working with folks like the CCSA ( and Department of Defense to address some of these deficiencies.

A lot of what I said about Cyber last year is still applicable this year, so rather that regurgitate it, I’ll just point you to my post entitled “The Year of Living Cyberdangerously

Other security issues on my radar screen going into the teens include:

Mexican criminal insurgencies – My friend John Sullivan and I have been promoting some collaborative analysis of this issue for a couple of years now via the GroupIntel Network. However, the potential for increased cross-border criminal insurgency from Mexico into the United States is inevitable at this point.

Convergence – The blending of national, criminal, terrorist and other non-state gray area actors will be an issue of concern in the coming years. My interest in this area was first piqued by research done with my colleagues and friends Walter Purdy and Sebastian Junger on the Tri-border region. As it turns out the TBR is probably a good model for what we will continue to see in the future.

Decline of nation states – Not quite sure where I stand on this one yet as I see two distinct possibilities at opposite ends of the spectrum. While the science fiction fan in me observes indicators that the role of the nation-state will decline, I can also envision the rise of hyper-nationalism as well. I think we’ll observe entities at both ends of the spectrum in the next decade, but not sure which is the pervasive trend. With the significance of shadow economies and the increasing role of corporate interests in international regulation, we’ll all feel like we are living in Bruce Sterling’s world from time to time.

Homeland Security – While our homeland security apparatus continues to focus on serving the bureaucracy at the federal level, I expect that we’ll see a lot of critical homeland security issues solved at the State and Local level. Give me a DARPA style entity focused exclusively on State and Local and I’ll give you 100X better return on your security investment versus what is achieved at the federal DHS level. Several self-organizing initiatives that have suffered budgetary and political pressures (think Terrorism Early Warning Groups) will re-emerge in response to emerging security concerns from future attacks. In the past decade we’ve taught a lot of folks to fish and in the teens we’ll let them get back on the docks.


In the next decade I think the most consequential scientific issues will fall into two simple categories; genetics and space. I’m an expert in neither but fascinated by both. To that end, I hope we really start exploring space again.

My 2010 Wildcard – Gov 2.0

In the past year I’ve been very interested in the Government 2.0 movement.  I sponsored a Gov 2.0 barcamp and attended a major conference on the topic.

You rarely encounter so much passion and capability aligned towards one goal, so I’m optimistic there’s a “there” there. However, I think we going to have to see the conversations go much more granular and grassroots to see any real momentum. Also, with the move towards Gov 2.0 I’m fully cognizant of the fact we’ll likely get Gov Vista Home Professional Edition along the way as well.  It’s an acceptable risk.

I wrote a post summarizing my reaction to the Gov 2.0 Camp last March that is worth taking a look at if you are interested in the topic.

Final thoughts

Someone once told me that every generation uniquely thinks they live in the most interesting and challenging times.  I think they were probably onto something.

To that extent, I certainly feel like that is the case with my generation, but it is hard to contrast with things like the introduction of international aviation or World Wars that saw the loss of millions of lives.  I do feel like we are standing on the precipice in so many interesting and scary domains that we’d better fasten our seatbelts for the next decade.  I’d welcome your thoughts so let me know what you think in the comments below.


5 Responses to “We all live in the future now…”

  1. Matt

    Thanks for Tweeting this as I missed it first time around. You nailed it!

    On your Final Thoughts; I use this text in the closing of my talks to American Committees on Foreign Relations- topic, piracy and security operations.

    …. Over the last half-century we have expanded relationships globally at the speed of ships, aircraft and finally electrons without much consideration for the new paradigms we created. The terrorist-pirate-criminal enterprises are intent on taking advantage of this commerce to create an opportunity to instill fear or make personal profits…



  2. Matt, great column, nice survey of the future horizon. Agree on most of the trendlines you see; I suppose i even subscribe to Devost’s Law 🙂 The one I have a strong opinion on is the “decline of the nation-state” argument, which I have heard argued since I was a kid, and which of course goes back to Immanuel Kant. Your counter, hyper-nationalism, is definitely the trend I see continuing. Trumps ideology and class (to the eternal frustration of Marxists and crypto-Marxists still today).

    I’ll raise a glass to version skipping right past Gov2.0 Vista Home Server Edition 2003 Rev 2 🙂

    have a great 2010 – lewis

  3. Walt McLaughlin says:

    The future is always now. Things are always changing, new technologies are always emerging. The challenge is how to apply those new technologies to the problems that have been plaguing humankind for thousands of years: war, famine, poverty, etc.

    Poverty is the big one, creating the discontent that can easily be transformed into terrorism by extremist ideologues.

    What is virtual, what is real? Reality is where the stomach growls,anyone hungry would say.

    Good post, Matt. It really got me going.

  4. Bob Gourley says:


    Thanks much for this thought provoking piece. This should be of great value to today’s planners and decision-makers and I hope this is widely read.

    I heard an interesting story about research into RFID chips being designed for milk cartons. These chips will measure temperature, acidity and several other factors in milk. The result is we all throw away less milk. Globally this will save billions of dollars. Multiply that by all the other food products this type of solution could be applied to and this will start to add up.

    I also heard that the number of humans that own a tooth brush has now been passed up by the number of humans that own a cell phone.

    Point of that: Just stating the obvious, we live in interesting times.

  5. Betty G. O'Hearn says:

    Matt, I forgot just how great a writer you are. You really nailed a lot of points in a clear and concise manner. I need to pop in here more often.

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