Drones, Phones & More: What Tech Will Last A Century? - InformationWeek

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1/26/2015
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David Wagner
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Drones, Phones & More: What Tech Will Last A Century?

The first transcontinental phone call was made 100 years ago this week. What technology including the phone will make it another 100 years?
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Introduction
(Image: TRF_Mr_Hyde)

(Image: TRF_Mr_Hyde)

We're marking the 100th anniversary of the first transcontinental phone call this week. If you missed our celebration of the call itself, please check out InformationWeek's picture gallery highlighting the call and the history of the phone, one of the most fundamental business tools in the enterprise.

That got us thinking. What other technologies will survive and adapt as well as the phone has? What technologies are coming to the end of their life cycles? We’re putting some major technologies to the test of surviving another hundred years.

The phone's survival and adaptation over 100 years from simple communication device to handheld computer is a tribute to the brilliance of the invention. It also indicates humanity's innate need to communicate, even across great distances, even if we’re reducing that communication to increasingly shorter text messages.

Before we get to those other technologies, can I simply point out the irony of the text message? Bell invented the telephone so we could hear each other's real voices instead of sending short, clipped messaged via telegram. For over 75 years, we have long intimate conversations on this device. Now we take the smartphone, the most powerful communication device ever invented, and turn it into a glorified telegraph machine sending shorter messages than Western Union. Seriously?

Is usage like that threatening the life of the phone? Are other changes in society making other technology obsolete? In the 1970s would you have believed that the phonograph, a contemporary invention to the phone, would have all but disappeared? Would you have believed you'd be telling your kids what a record was?

Not all technology survives. Sometimes there is a paradigm shift that wipes an invention from common use. Take gunpowder reducing the bow and sword to things you see at the Renaissance Faire. Some have survived for centuries like the wheel or paper.

A century is a long time in the lifetime of an invention. Just think. Since Bell made that call from New York to San Francisco, his phone went from something requiring living operators to connect people to rotary and touch-tone phones, to wireless and cellular, up to our current smartphones, which are personal computers in our pockets that take pictures and everything. Some technologies adapt. Others die.

So I thought I'd go through some of the most fundamental technology, old and new, in the enterprise today and see if I think it will last another 100 years. Seeing a couple years into the future is hard enough. Trying to see to 2115 is impossible. Remember it was only a little over 60 years between the Wright Brothers and landing a man on the moon. But heck, I'll give it a shot.

Check out the slideshow to see what I think survives and what doesn't. Then comment on what you think I got right and wrong.

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David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio

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Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
1/26/2015 | 8:22:39 PM
Ah, about that drone crash on the White House grounds....
"Drones, here for good but perhaps not as common as you think." That verdict may hold, especially after the FAA, FBI and CIA review how a government employee was able to let a drone slip out of control and crash onto the White House grounds. That's not putting ideas into ill-intentioned heads anywhere, is it?
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2015 | 12:47:31 AM
TV
How about the TV? Favorite pass time of many.
Verdict: Unlikely. It might be replaced with something like the hololenses or a full blown holodeck.
Gigi3
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Gigi3,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2015 | 4:16:06 AM
Hand Held computing devices.
David, now old phones & its technology are modified in to un imaginary. For wired connection to wireless and from voice to video and data streaming. The latest smartphones are of powerful like 8/12 core laptops. I mean it's more than like a hand held computing device or mobile office.
tzubair
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tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2015 | 5:05:40 AM
VoIP
@David: The telephone does survive in its current form when you consider that people still use the handsets to make calls. However, as far as transcontinental calls are concerned, most of them are being carried out via VoIP and the conventional telephone lines connecting the continents are no longer being used. Do you think it's still fair to say that the technology has survived?
tzubair
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tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2015 | 9:31:14 AM
Re: TV
"Unlikely. It might be replaced with something like the hololenses or a full blown holodeck."

@mak63: I think TVs might not have a natural death but will certainly envolve into a hybrid product. Just like you mentioned, the back-end may not get the content throrugh conventional satellites or cable and would source the content via internet. The front-end may look like a TV but it would definitely be something hybrid.
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2015 | 12:36:00 PM
Evolution rather than revolution
A lot of technologies have been around for ages in one form or another. Headphones and speakers are a great example. Likewise, though not as long lasting, the humble keyboard and mouse. In-fact the former of those even more so, as the gaming keyboards of today are mechanical, using basically the same technology that the earliest IBM behemoth's did. 
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2015 | 12:59:45 PM
Really, no paper?
It doesn't sound like going to bathroom will be much fun in future. So, are we back to corn cobs or on to lasers? And I'm not sure I will want to eat without paper plates, think of all the extra dishes! Doesn't sound like progress to me, Dave. :-)
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/27/2015 | 1:07:52 PM
Re: Ah, about that drone crash on the White House grounds....
@Charlie- Yes, I wish that had happened before I went to press. that sure does put things in perspective. I suspect that the White House is considering installing those defense systems they put on ships.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/27/2015 | 1:15:42 PM
Re: TV
@mak63- I stuck with enterprise tools, but I think TV is a fascinating discussion. Depending on your definition, streaming might be killing tradition TV. If you mean the screen we use to watch the entertainment, i suspect we'll still be watching some form of screened entertainment in a century. But maybe holgrams will replace it. It is a fun question.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/27/2015 | 1:18:59 PM
Re: VoIP
@tzubair- True, the network has changed. But I think we're still basically making calls on a network of connected wires/signals. So I think VOIP counts. But it is a fun question. Each step awat from the original seems a small step. then you take a look at all those little steps and it is hard to recognize the thing we keep calling a phone.
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