Most people have seen the tale of Epic, a picture of the future wherin megacompanies like Google and Amazon merge to create the future of the Internet. It's both hopeful and chilling, which I guess makes it a good piece of Science Fiction.
But it's also starting to turn into science fact. Google is teaming up with libraries to digitize their content. How can you not be blown away by the idea of always-on access to pretty much the entire store of human knowledge (or, realistically, a representative, but scanty chunk of recorded knowledge, considering all search engines combined index a very small percentage of the web).
One of the major effects I see of this move is bringing factory robotics to intellectual efforts. Once again, the drudge work gets shunted aside, the menial labor of stocking shelves and indexing physical texts manually. Like any time we automate a process, there's going to be an adjustment period. But in the end, we'll see the same thing happen. The demand for unskilled labor will drop, and the demand for skill labor- in this case, individuals who can wade through this information and find what you want, when you want it, and connect it to pertinent information, will increase.
Research is a hard job. Only through my conversations with manycolored have I begun to realize that it really does take a specialist. Someone has to be able to manage this information, and the best indexing and search algorithms can only go so far- someone is going to have to be able to connect those pieces. The automated tools will merely serve to make that process more effecient (and faster- which is not the same thing).
Vaguely related, one of my back-burner ideas is the thought of organizing a Programming Library and creating a role for Programmer Librarians. Look at it this way- there is a wealth of software written, source code already available to solve pretty much any task you can imagine. Some of it's open source, some of it is pay-to-play, but it's out there. Very rarely does a programmer need to create a solution from scratch. But as I said above, research is hard work, and so much effort ends up being wasted recreating what's already out there, simply because our programmers are not research individuals- they're programmers. So why not take someone who already knows Library Science, train them in the basics of programming, and start assembling a library of code that includes Open Source and Proprietary efforts, and have a group of librarians that really know how to find what code snippets you need to write the software you need to write.
They'll be a powerful force in the future.
Speaking of powerful future forces, I shelled out for another wireless router and a 27dbm 500mW antenna for it- giving me the maximum broadcast power allowed by those bastards at the FCC. In optimal conditions, we're looking at a half-mile radius. I firmly believe that as wireless technology drops in cost, Internet access as we know it will become free, to be paid for through the use of Computer Mediated Reality devices that depend on an always available, always on connection. Without an infrastructure of wifi networks, the next phase in commercial evolution won't happen.
And there's a mint to be made by the first people there. I intend to be one of them.