“Intelligent algorithms, Big Data and the media will join forces to create unique and personalized experiences for all consumers” – believes Alan D. Mutter, who has worked since 1996 in Silicon Valley, California, technology’s mecca, as a CEO for three start-up companies. “I have no idea how people will get their news in 2041 because, until then, technology is bound to evolve a great deal. Seven years ago, there were no iPhones. Three years ago, there were no iPads. A year ago, there was no Google Glass [enhanced reality classes with an internet connection which allow the juxtaposition of digital images over whatever the user is watching]. A few weeks ago, there was no Samsung Smart Watch [a watch with an internet connection and some smartphone features], but what I know is this: if the reader is a left-handed vegetarian who earns 33 thousand euros a year, loves Polish accordion music and plans on taking a trip to Moscow, he will receive news, commercial and leisure information according to his specific needs, including information which will ‘land’ on his intelligent device when he walks past a certain shop or takes a particular route to work. The media will be intimate, targeted and transactional in ways we cannot imagine today” – these are the predictions to PÚBLICO by the former journalist who swapped the San Francisco Chronicle newsroom at the end of the 1980s to found a start-up company. Nowadays, his blog Reflections of a Newsosaur makes for compulsory reading for anyone who wishes to keep abreast of technology and media.
Veteran Alan D. Mutter doesn’t believe that 2041 is a magical date which will end printed paper. He reminds us that some newspapers in the US and other parts of the world no longer offer a print edition. Others only print certain days per week. He believes that, as time goes by, more and more directors and administrators of other publications will choose to stop printing or decrease their dependence on paper. “If print editions carry on decreasing in the next seven years as they have done in the last seven years (US newspapers advertising revenue has dropped from 49 billion dollars to 22 billion in 2012), many printing presses will fall silent well before 2041. On the other hand, printed paper will be appreciated by consumers for certain purposes; I passionately hope I can still enjoy the smell of ink on paper in 2041, even if that’s not how I’ll usually get my daily news. Now that I think of it, I already get nearly all my news in pixels.”
Canadian Brian Wong arrived in San Francisco well after Alan D. Mutter. He was 18 when he graduated from university in Vancouver. At 20, he became the world’s youngest entrepreneur to receive risk capital funding. Today, he is 22. He’s the co-founder and CEO of Kiip, the largest mobile network which gives out prizes to encourage users to reach their goals in apps and games (for example, a player might get five dollars off on Amazon after completing a certain level in a particular game). It’s used in over 400 apps in 30 million mobile devices. The firm was nominated by the magazine Fast Company as one of the 50 most innovative companies in 2013. So far, it has raised 15.4 million dollars in financing. Wong is willing to bet that in 2041 we will be seeing a “tinderization” of content.
“I think that the very recent and interesting app called Tinder [an app launched just over a month ago, which matches strangers who live near each other and may or may not have similar interests] is not just another app” – he writes in an email to PÚBLICO. “It’s a landmark in human history, in the sense that our content and interaction will, in the future, be a lot more binary, a lot more bite-sized. Our mobile and instant interaction requires brain processing in microbits, and the binary system is the best way to allow a massive input for the most varied customization.”
“There were so many failed hopes in terms of customization that people have almost forgotten it” – says Gene Liebel, the American who led the redesign work on websites like CNN and Reuters, and who runs Work & Co., in Brooklyn, New York, one of the most successful new companies in digital product development. “In fact, it’s such a complex technical problem that it’s only started to be solved in the last few years. The customizing functionalities we have today only add up to perhaps 1% of possibilities. In 2041, devices might be able to understand and process all our activity – not only what we consume digitally, but events in our life, and perhaps even our conversations – and calculate the type of information that’s relevant to us with an incredible level of reliability. That way,” Liebel tells PÚBLICO, “it will be possible to have technology which can fact-check the work of journalists – or a president’s speech – in real time.”
Liebel believes that perhaps 90% of the way in which people will get their news in 2041 will only be invented after 2013, but there’s one thing that will not change: “Technology changes, but we tend to still want the same things. And, as far as news is concerned, one thing we tend to want – and that the Internet tends to give us – is more control. In 2041, Liebel would like to see the so-called “reputation economy” evolve to a stage where readers have an immediate indication of new trustworthy sources of information: “I would like to have access to experts on all subjects – including the ones who are completely independent – who have gained, in time, the confidence of their peers, whether they belong to an established news organization or not.”
On the role of editors, Gene Liebel believes that, in 2041, they will no longer be able to set the daily news agenda. “Even though this may seem negative, one of the editor’s goals is to be able to capture my attention every day, whether there’s an important story to tell or not. That implies a loss of control on my part, as a reader, something that the Internet tends to eliminate over time.”
For his part, Michael Bove Jr., from the prestigious MIT Media Lab, doesn’t go as far. He thinks that curatorship and editing will partly be conducted by professionals, partly by social media, and part of it will be automated. “I tend to think that news will come from three sources: professional journalists, citizen journalists and what we can call ‘robot-journalists’ (sensors which collect data and turn it into something interesting for human beings)” – the director of MIT’s Consumer Electronics Lab and co-director of MIT’s Center for Future Storytelling tells PÚBLICO.
“Right now, we are living a radical revolution in the way news are consumed” – journalist Amy O’Leary of The New York Times tells PÚBLICO. Recently, she took part in the conference Return to Journalism, held at the Escola Superior de Comunicação Social, in Lisbon, and she’s involved in the recently-created innovation group made up of six professionals from the American newspaper. “Ten years ago, readers began to make the transition from print to online. In the last two, news consumption on mobile phones and tablets has increased at an absolutely extraordinary pace; very soon, there will be more people reading the news on their smartphones than on computers. These changes in behavior are happening faster than ever and we don’t know where they might take us. That’s why it’s hard to imagine exactly how people will get their news in 2041. Some futurists think that ‘wearable’ computers, such as Google Glass or ‘smart watches’, will become as common as our phones are today. Others imagine more radical scenarios: that biotechnology might, sometime soon, be integrated in the human body to supply information. Fortunately, journalism has always been good at finding new stories, new people, new heroes and villains. In 2041, I think that will remain the essence of our work. We just have to be much, much better at it.”
Portuguese João Medeiros, science editor for Wired magazine, agrees. It’s the journalists themselves who are facing so many challenges as well as new opportunities, who need to reinvent themselves, more than the platform or product: “Journalists must be able to experiment and innovate with the way they tell their stories, and they need to become more diligent, the fundamental component to look for the stories that need to be told in our time. That’s the essence of journalism.”
Amy O’Leary concludes: “I cannot predict what the information supply system will be in 2041, but, whatever it may be, journalism will need to remain thorough, objective and fast to respond when facts take place. People will always look for interesting and well-told stories. Those two things will always remain the same.”