In the Technology Horizons program at the Institute for the Future, we’ve been researching the impact of the Internet for over 40 years. We’ve seen the global network transform how we communicate with each other. Then we watched the internet change commerce, how we buy and sell. But we think the next big story is coordination. Starting now and through the next decade, we’ll see new tools and platforms that can bring together resources, people, and ideas when and where they’re needed, amplifying our strengths to get things done. Whether you’re managing a business, building grassroots support for a cause, or organizing your family, there are new possibilities to coordinate our collective efforts to achieve more.
We created this toolkit to immerse you in our research—with 18 profiles of leading-edge early signals and useable tools—to help you make the future today.
This is about the future of getting things done.
The next decade presents us with new opportunities to amplify our capabilities. As individuals we can accomplish almost superheroic feats, extending our influence and coordinating our time to get more done. In groups and organizations we can bring together people at the right time, in the right combinations, to engage everyone to the best of their abilities.
Check out these opportunities and challenges for the next decade. Whether you're an individual or organization, ask the questions and begin to imagine the possibilities ...
Immerse yourself in the next decade's technologies of coordination.
We've identified six emerging mechanisms that will coordinate people, time, and resources in important new ways. All of these mechanisms are a combination of new technologies, evolving platforms, and interesting patterns of working, organizing, and taking action that we've observed from leading-edge networks. Use these what-if questions to start exploring the mechanisms.
What if it becomes possible to automatically route an incoming task to the most qualified available person?
What can we learn from the (dis)organization of online networks like Anonymous?
How will online bots influence and reshape our attitudes, behaviors, and social networks?
What if we’re moving to a packet switching model for the physical world?
What if you could summon a creative workforce from your immediate surroundings?
What do we gain - and what do we lose - when invisible bots run the world without human intervention?
Human task routing is an evolution of crowdsourcing that uses software to route or manage crowd contributions. In some cases, it's simply a matter of matching a task to the most qualified person available. However the approach can also be used to tightly coordinate a complex series of tasks so that they come together as on-demand crowd processing or "human computing." This new form of coordination can not only help solve the thorniest problems faced by businesses and researchers but can also create manageable, accessible jobs for people all around the world who need them. Already, microwork is employing the underused talents of people from urban slums and villages, from cities and farms, and from a variety of educational and professional backgrounds. This mechanism will be a foundation for coordinating any activity in the coming years, and a potent force for amplifying and disrupting existing institutions.
As “a word processor with a crowd inside,” Soylent routes writing microtasks to anonymous contributors on Mechanical Turk using algorithms that allow crowds to edit documents in real time.
LiquidFeedback, an online system for discussing and voting on proposals in an intraparty or intraorganizational context, blurs the boundaries between representative and direct democracy by allowing users to directly delegate their votes to those they believe are most qualified to represent their interests.
As more of our interactions take place online, persuasive socialbot swarms will emerge to influence opinions and shape behaviors. These autonomous software programs will operate on social networking platforms and quickly gain friends and followers by finding common interests and imitating casual conversations. Socialbots will first be deployed to disseminate marketing and political messages to target audiences, or automate natural-seeming interactions between brands and their customers. More advanced socialbots will take active roles as shapers of a social group. These programs might be designed to automatically inject happy people into depressed groups, link habitual exercisers to the sedentary, and introduce citizens with high levels of local engagement to neighbors who are more disengaged. The growth of socialbots may be curbed in the next decade by a growing backlash and new defenses against nonhuman programs—but they are just as likely to be adopted as a beneficial influence.
The first competition to find the most influential socialbots on Twitter—run by the research collective Web Ecology Project—gave socialbots points for attracting new followers and for the number of interactions with real humans.
Project Realboy was an early Twitter bot experiment with three goals: clone tweets from real people to seem human, start following people in an existing social group, and aim for a 25% follow-back rate.
The Bot or Not project will scan a social network profile on request and report back signs of automate or repetitive activity to alert users to how the “botfestation of the Web” might be affecting them.
For more than eight millennia, towns and cities have served as social search engines, allowing people with shared interests, goods to trade, and complementary skills to find and interact with each other. Traditionally, buildings and districts provided structure to these searches. You went to a bookstore to discuss ideas about literature, a stock exchange to buy and sell shares, or a guild house to learn and apply a trade. But social graphs, location awareness, and predictive data-mining technologies are now converging into hyperiocal situation-awareness nets that intensify our ability to rapidly scan and source human resources from our surroundings. These capabilities will create new ad hoc working groups to get a job done on the spot. They will also create throwbacks to old forms of on-the-fly organizational design. Here-sourcing a temporary workforce from the surrounding crowd may feel as routine as hiring day laborers from informal street-corner labor markets.
The PulsePoint mobile app allows citizens trained to perform CPR to receive alerts of nearby cardiac emergencies. The alerts include the location of the nearest public-access defibrillator.
With the tagline “hire your smartphone army,” Gigwalk aims to be a micro-work platform for the streets. Unlike Amazon's Mechanical Turk, where most tasks can be completed from anywhere in the world, Gigawalk tasks are tagged to precise locations. Common gigs include shooting photographs, scouting products in stores, and collecting on-the-ground data.
The Twist mobile app allows people to share current location and ETA, including traffic delays, with ad hoc or predefined individuals and groups
As communities of discussion grow into platforms for action, the do-ocracy will emerge as a potent force for massive co-creation, directed disobedience, and rapid awareness of social and political issues. A do-ocracy typically begins as a loosely connected network of people who share similar passions of values. As discussion turns to potential action, members of a do-ocracy break off into smaller groups organized around shared goals and coordinated sets of tasks. These subgroups often persist only until a goal is accomplished, dispersing as quickly as they formed. Do-ocracies in the future will be characterized by evolving arrangements of leadership and identity. Leaders will be whoever is the most persuasive at attracting energy to a cause. As the most anarchic new mechanism of coordination, do-ocracies will be difficult for traditional organizations to harness. Such core qualities of these groups as a just-build-it attitude will become fundamental to new types of networks.
The Anonymous global collective has dubbed itself the hive mind, though some of its most prominent hacking and protext actions come from ad hoc smaller groups of members convincing others to join.
Part software code repository, part social network, GitHub lets users create their own version - or “fork” - of a project. But only through conversation and consensus can a new fork be accepted as a core feature of the original code.
Reddit is a social news site focused on technology and Internet culture where users vote stories and causes to front-page prominence. In recent years, the Reddit community has become the first catalyst for action on issues from thwarting legislation that would regulate the Internet to raising $1 million for a bullied school monitor.
The emergence of free-range automation technologies will allow the logic of Internet routing to be applied to the physical world. Already, a suite of services is emerging around business models that promise to help coordinate physical objects so that they are available where most needed. While the model is most pronounced in applications like Getaround, a service that allows users to rent out their personal vehicles, its origins can also be seen in more established Internet business models like Netflix. Moving forward, matter routing will become more dynamic, as experiments with technologies like self-driving vehicles and drone-based delivery networks reach the commercialization stage. Ultimately, matter routing is likely to converge on something that looks very much like packet switching for physical packages.
Getaround is an online car sharing or peer-to-peer car rental service that allows drivers to rent cars from private car owners, and owners to rent out their cars for payment.
An effort to refine technologies developed for DARPA’s Grand Challenge competitions for self-driving vehicles, Google’s driverless car project has proved the concept of robotic cars, with thousands of miles already logged in traffic.
This start-up seeks to use quadracopter drones to deliver goods and medicine to hard-to-reach regions, beginning with deployment in Haiti.
Background computing processes will control more and more tasks of human and organizational activity. Algorithms can process new information and react faster than any person. Financial markets, physical infrastructure, even motor vehicles like Google's self-driving car will soon be dominated by these autonomous daemons. Within the tasks they perform, these programs are capable of learning. Increasingly, they will be programmed to manage humans in organizations as well as physical systems. "Corp bots" that manage electronic businesses will be able to decide when and where to initiate transactions, and even to form new business entities. At some point we will be able to design entire organizations around algorithms with just a handful of humans in charge. But as the master passwords used to control them are lost or forgotten, they will become largely autonomous. Free of human safeguards, they may react to unexpected events, and each other, in highly volatile ways.
A trading malfunction stemming from software errors in August 2012 at major brokerage Knight Capital Group resulted in $440 million in losses for Knight, rattled the stock market, and renewed concerns over computerized trading on Wall St.
Tim Hwang, whose Robot Robot & Hwang LLP site promotes disruptive technology for the law, is working on a toolkit that allows people to use computer code to program the behavior of corporations in the same way that people can program robots.
The algorithms behind this startup translate raw data in to plain English stories, from sports scores published as news articles to market data instantly blogged as financial reporting.
Put the future to work.
In recent years, many people have speculated about the emergence of a “Hollywood model” of work, where teams come together for a discreet project and then disband when that project has finished. However, the next decade will go far beyond this vision, to the point where it is actually possible to divide work into dozens or hundreds of microtasks and engage a distributed network of workers or volunteers to tackle them. Microtasks can be algorithmically matched to a contributor’s expertise, skill, interest, or location, even in parallel coordination with other workers.
Through smart phones and always-connected and location-aware devices, you can engage people in previously untapped niches of time and place. On-the-ground resources can become actionable at a moment’s notice.
What does someone use your app to do? What are the two most important features?
Imagine the opportunity to start from scratch by putting the six mechanisms to work. This is a chance to rethink your organization’s existing assumptions and change your current patterns of work. What can you learn from re-imagining how you get things done?
Jump forward five years—what's changed?
Imagine five years have passed. Every day a distributed network contributes to your work through microtasks, people use your app wherever they go, and new organizations and dynamic networks build on the six mechanisms of coordination to reboot how we get things done. The work of every organization will have been disrupted—and not every group will survive into the coordination economy—but some have been able to amplify their mission and thrive in this new landscape.
Realign your thinking about how you can better coordinate resources, people, and ideas in the future. How has your prototype made an impact?