Interview: Dave Evans (Cisco)

Sitting across the table, some 13000 kms away in San Francisco, was the man of the future, Dave Evans, chief futurist, Cisco. Through the enclosing Telepresence screen, I could almost feel the glare of his peering eyes. But then, that’s the side-effects of dealing with a futurist, who’s job profile involves looking always over the horizon. Dave is just the man for it.

The best thing about him is that he does not confine himself, solely talking about networking and hardware (which could be expected since he draws his paycheck from Cisco), but he can shed light on a variety of topics. For instance, a good 15 minutes of our time in the interaction we spent discussing how the human society will evolve, will ever have a scenario like that poignantly imagined by HG Wells in the Time Machine, a division of the human society of lazy Eloi (the haves) and the wily Morlocks (the have-nots).  Well, he charted the division from the digital divide perspective and seemed wary of how it might widen in the future.

Nonetheless, we did speak much on technology and here is what he had to say on various things.

Just one thing, don’t forget to read Dave Evans 25 top tech predictions at the end of this interaction. In fact if possible, read it first before diving into the Q&A.

In one of your prognosis, you have spoken about data explosion. How critical is the issue?

Data explosion is one of the biggest issues that will hold sway in the days to come and that is simply because we are generating information at an exponential rate. To give you an idea, the Internet in the US at 2015 will be 50 times larger than in 2006 because of the huge volumes of data uploads. Even as we talk now, the Internet is growing fantastically, savour this, everyday some 10 billion email messages are sent, close to 20 hours of video is being uploaded on YouTube every single minute. So in a way, we are drowning in this sea of data that we ourselves are creating.

This explosion has led to the realisation that data is not knowledge, and we need to be careful and not err in believing the same. The difference is essential as today companies across the world are digging deeper into the vast loads of information they have to find nuggets of consumer insights and thereby build up business. Thus, it is very critical for an enterprise to chalk out a strategy on how to deal with data explosion.

You have also spoken about instantaneous communication in the future, how will that have an impact?

In the years to come, thanks to wonders like quantum computing, etc. instantaneous communication will indeed be a reality. But even today, the world has more or less flattened when it comes to communication as the Internet has enabled communication with everyone in a matter of few seconds. The impact is huge, for instance, a few centuries back if I had to share knowledge with you, I would have to go through the arduous old trade routes and it could take anything between a few weeks to months for us to get together and exchange words. And here we are today in different part of the globes, sitting across the table and conversing in real time. This ability to share knowledge instantaneously will have a huge impact in the days to come, business models, revenue models; everything will change under its wake.

You also used the term ‘flattening’, what are the implications of the same?

Huge and we are already witnessing the impacts of the same. You see, the flattening, so as to say, has not only resulted in an agile workforce, but has also turned the world into a sort of global marketplace. So any company located anywhere in the world can sell anything to anyone located elsewhere. That’s why countries like India and China are blossoming. They are becoming tour de force vis-a-vis the US. This is a huge challenge for enterprises and even bigger opportunity for them.

Do you think the networking and communication capabilities be able to cope up with this growth?

Indeed. In fact, we see exponential growth in networking speed and exponential growth in computing power. The computing, networking, storage technologies are all rapidly evolving for tomorrow. The best illustration of the same is that unified communication and telepresence are no more fancy concepts but real technology and there are lot many companies that offer these solutions, which goes on to prove that the network is keeping pace with the requirements.

And how will the workers and management cope up with this change?

It is indeed a two-pronged challenge for the management. The expectation of the worker coming into the enterprise has changed significantly. So by the time a worker is 38 year old, they would have anywhere between 10-14 jobs behind them. And that is quite different from what we have seen historically. If I remember the number correctly, typically in a company, 25% of the workers have been in the company for one year or less, 60% of the workers have been with the company for 5 years or less. But that has changed quite dramatically today. So what we are seeing that workers have exposure to lot more jobs in their career. Because of the exponential change all around, work has become almost a buffet with such a delectable choice around, the top ten jobs of 2015 still don’t exist. The top 10 jobs of 2010 did not exist in 2006. So there is an explosion of jobs and opportunities are very attractive to the new work force. And that is both good and bad; the positive side of this buffet is that because of the exposure employees are much aware and informed. But the big challenge for the management is how to attract and retain this agile workforce.

You have also stated that 95% of what we know will be invented in the next 50 years, so in a sense innovation will become very critical for the enterprises going forward. So how should they approach the challenge, knowing that everything is in a flux?

As a species we are crossing the threshold of discovery. We are learning so much about everything around us, right from the microscopic genome to the vast cosmos around us. This will have a huge impact on what we invent and what we innovate. Let me contrast innovation and invention. Invention is the act of bringing out something brand new, while innovation is the act of putting a few things that already exist to create a new thing. For instance, most people today do not remember the time they used to lug their suitcases around. Nowadays, every one of them has a wheel on it. But that was not the case till sometime back, till some smart Alec thought of putting together the ubiquitous wheel on the luggage that we struggle with. This was innovation and not invention. Similarly enterprises will have to continuously look at existing processes and functions and innovate to remain agile and be able to surmount the challenges posed by the technology avalanche.

Technology avalanche, that sounds ominous and rather scary.

Agree. That’s why I have consciously chosen the term avalanche, because it is a very disruptive force of nature. Remember, I dub it as disruptive and not destructive force. The landscape is never the same again after an avalanche hits. Part of my objective is to get the message out that an avalanche is coming and you do not see it as yet because it is building up. And when it finally hits individuals and enterprises, those who are not prepared will be completely blind-sided by it. But those who are will be able to ride through it with ease. History is littered with examples of great many companies that missed the next wave and were obliterated in the bargain.

How should the IT manager prepare for this avalanche and how should he or she quip themselves to ride it through?

To gird up for the technology avalanche, the manager needs to do a few things. The first one might seem obvious but is very important and that is to understand that the world is changing rapidly. This is important because unless you understand and agree you cannot really prepare for the future.

Secondly, think about the technology infrastructure and IT investments in different manner. Newer technologies like cloud, virtualisation are gaining strength and the days of hard wiring and hard drives are gone. So when you think of designing the infrastructure you need to think about open standards, interoperability, virtualisation and other things. Always keep one eye on what is happening on the horizon. And finally be agile. Coming back to the avalanche metaphor, what makes a great skier ride through the turbulence; it is the preparation and the mindset. So, understand, evaluate and prepare for the future, hire the right people, embrace new tools like social media, innovate and importantly have faith in your own abilities.


Top 25 Technology Predictions

By Dave Evans, Chief Futurist, Cisco IBSG Innovations Practice

1. By 2029, 11 petabytes of storage will be available for $100—equivalent to 600+ years of continuous, 24-hour-per-day, DVD-quality video. (Source: Cisco IBSG, 2009)
2. In the next 10 years, we will see a 20-time increase in home networking speeds. (Source: Cisco IBSG, 2009)
3. By 2013, wireless network traffic will reach 400 petabytes a month. Today, the entire global network transfers 9 exabytes per month. (Source: FCC Head Julius Genachowski)
4. By the end of 2010, there will be a billion transistors per human—each costing one ten-millionth of a cent. (Sources: Intel Corporation; Cisco IBSG, 2006-2009; IBM)
5. The Internet will evolve to perform instantaneous communication, regardless of distance. (Source: Cisco IBSG, 2009)
6. The first commercial quantum computer will be available by mid-2020. (Source: Cisco IBSG, 2009)
7. By 2020, a $1,000 personal computer will have the raw processing power of a human brain. (Sources: Hans Moravec, Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, 1998; Cisco IBSG, 2006-2009)
8. By 2030, it will take a village of human brains to match a $1,000 computer. (Sources: Hans Moravec, Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, 1998; Cisco IBSG, 2006-2009)
9. By 2050 (assuming a global population of 9 billion), $1,000 worth of computing power will equal the processing power of all human brains on earth. (Sources: Hans Moravec, Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, 1998; Cisco IBSG, 2006- 2009)
10. Today, we know 5 percent of what we will know in 50 years. In other words, in 50 years, 95 percent of what we will know will have been discovered in the past 50 years.
11. The world’s data will increase sixfold in each of the next two years, while corporate data will grow fiftyfold. (Source: Technorati)
12. By 2015, Google will index approximately 775 billion pages of content. (Source: Cisco IBSG, 2009)
13. By 2015, we will create the equivalent of 92.5 million Libraries of Congress in one year. (Source:
14. By 2020 worldwide, the average person will maintain 130 terabytes of personal data (today it is ~128 gigabytes). (Source: Cisco IBSG, 2009)
15. By 2015, movie downloads and peer-to-peer file sharing will explode to 100 exabytes, equivalent to 5 million Libraries of Congress. (Source:
16. By 2015, video calling will be pervasive, generating 400 exabytes of data—the equivalent of 20 million Libraries of Congress. (Source:
17. By 2015, the phone, web, email, photos, and music will explode to generate 50 exabytes of data. (Source:
18. Within two years, information on the Internet will double every 11 hours. (Sources: University of California at Berkeley School of Information Management and Systems; IBM)
19. By 2010, 35 billion devices will be connected to the Internet (nearly six devices per person on the planet). (Source: Cisco IBSG, 2009)
20. By 2020, there will be more devices than people online.
21. With IPv6, there will be enough addresses for every star in the known universe to have 4.8 trillion addresses. (Source: Cisco IBSG, 2009)
22. By 2020, universal language translation will be commonplace in every device. (Source: Cisco IBSG, 2009)
23. In the next five years, any surface will become a display. (Source: Cisco IBSG, 2009)
24. By 2025, teleportation at the particle level will begin to occur. (Source: Cisco IBSG, 2009)
25. By 2030, artificial implants for the brain will take place. (Source: Cisco IBSG, 2009)

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