2020 Vision: Four high-tech trends - positive and negative - to watch over the next 10 years

1. MAGNETO-RESISTIVE MEMORY (MRam)

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

This is a bit techie but stay with us. Current technology allows computer memory to be either fast (able to get data in and out of storage very quickly, as with your PC's Random Access Memory, or Ram) or non-volatile (able to retain data when the power supply is switched off, like your hard drive). But it can't be both: you can't use flash memory for PC Ram, or Ram chips in a digital camera, although it would be a great advantage.

Your PC would boot up in about a quarter of the time it takes now, for a start.

Magneto-resistive Ram (MRam) is the holy grail of memory - it's fast and non-volatile (and, unlike flash memory, it doesn't degrade over time).

It manages all this because it stores data magnetically, like a hard disk, rather than using an electrical charge. Once the polarity of a magnetic particle is set, it remains set until it's changed again.

MRam has been described as 'the perfect memory for the mobile generation' and although it's early days yet, US firm Freescale has a functioning prototype and you can expect to see MRam completely supplanting existing storage formats in the medium term.

2. INTERNET CENSORSHIP

The web is supposed to be a free and easy environment where the overriding caveat 'if you don't like it, don't look at it' holds sway. But if you surf at work, your employer already has a say in what you can access.

And even web star and good-guy capitalist Google sparked a big row earlier this year when it agreed to censor content in return for permission to operate in China.

Of course, from a business standpoint there are good reasons for all these decisions, but there is no doubt that the 'anything goes' nature of the internet is experiencing change.

As the web becomes a more corporate, commercial and controlled medium, pressure to limit access to 'controversial' material - whether it be politics, bootleg music or pornography - is going to grow.

3. LOCATION-BASED SERVICES

MT has been writing about location-based services for at least five years, and the hype is a long way ahead of reality. But the technology to enable location-based services to take off is about to mature at last.

GPS chips are getting inexpensive enough to fit in mobile phones - although military-grade satnav looks rather like overkill for many of the proposed services. Passive RFID tags could provide a cheaper and simpler option, as could city or region-wide wireless services (Wi-Max).

Location-based services is the marketing guru's wet dream - offering what you want, where and when you want it. With more sophisticated mobile advertising delivery, this is going to change your life: whether you want it to or not is another matter ...

4. MALWARE

Computer viruses have been around for years, and stories of the havoc wreaked by Melissa, the Love Bug, Klez, Netsky et al make regular doom-laden appearances in the media. But if you look behind the hype, you could be forgiven for thinking that the consequences aren't quite as awful as they might be. And you'd be right: a few hard drives scrambled here, some e-mail services offline there - hardly the end of the world.

But things won't stay that way. As we all get more fully networked and interlinked via mobile wireless devices, and the hackers and their programs get more and more sophisticated and devious, one of those Doomsday scenarios where the internet itself crashes spectacularly will eventually happen.

It's just a question of when.

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