What will technology look like in 30 years?
Can we predict the technology of the future—correctly, this time?
I finished my article 7 signs you survived the best era of IT with a request from my colleague, E.G.Nadhan, to write about "What will be the technology world 30 years from now?"
We need to recognize that we did not do a great job decades ago to predict what would be "the future" of technology. After all, people used to think that by the year 2000, everybody would be driving their flying cars, robots would do all the boring work, and the world of technology would make humanity free of diseases, poverty, and all the little problems like work or taxes.
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Well, it seems that we weren't prepared to predict the future at that time.
What about now? Are we able to predict the world of technology 30 years from now? In a way that when we read this article years ahead, we don't laugh? Honestly, things are changing so much faster and radically now that the chances of correctly predicting the future with any accuracy is pretty small.
Anyway, if I am still around in 30 years, I will want to re-read this article to see how far off or on I was.
Keyboards still? Really?
I understand that keyboards were and are a convenient way to input data into computers.
It all started long ago, from typewriters, mainframe terminals. And it made a lot of sense to just keep using something that was familiar.
But if you think about it, keyboards are very limited as an input device: You can only type one character at a time (even if you type really fast). It takes a lot of space, and it accumulates dead cells from our bodies under the keys (not to mention your food and the eventual coffee that you accidentally spill).
But I agree that even though it's kind of strange to still use keyboards, it's pretty effective and precise. Some of us had to go to special classes to learn how to type, but kids today seem to be smarter and learn how to use one without any formal lessons. Actually, the modern human being may be de-evolving, because now people type faster with their thumbs on cellphone keyboards. Or maybe that is evolution.
There have been several attempts to replace physical keyboards with virtual ones: It would project the image of the keys on the table and the victim, I mean the user, would type. It's still a keyboard and not a very ergonomic one at that. There's no "bounce" or feedback from projected keys.
What will be a better input device?
In the future, hopefully not too distant, voice recognition will become precise and freer from errors caused by poor understanding or wrong contextual interpretation.
When you tell your computing communication device to connect you with your boss, it will work flawlessly. Also, if you speak your destination into your flying car, it will take you there correctly, safely, and in a timely manner, obeying the flying rules, and waking you up when your biometric sensors indicate that you need a bio break.
But, even better than having to talk to your gadgets, will we be able to just think about what we want?
Reading your mind
Electroencephalograms (EEGs) are already very commonly used for brain diagnostics and consciousness research.
But the level of electric signals detected at the surface of the head is low and is just an indication of what is going on inside the brain. Some researchers like the Brazilian neuroscientist, Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, have created brain-machine interfaces that can help people to regain limb movement and to control devices. Of course, for someone who is paralyzed and can move using this type of technology, this is fantastic and exists today.
For this type of brain-machine interface to function for complex tasks, it's not enough to detect the electrical pulses outside the head, which means there must be sensors or devices inside the head. Brain implants are not so desirable if you just want to control your car or play a video game.
What could be really interesting in the future is to have some mechanism to access your thoughts without being so physically invasive and to correctly interpret those thoughts. Capturing information from a brain might not be the biggest challenge to overcome. The greater challenge is knowing exactly what to capture from the brain. We can focus our attention on no more than 50 bits of information per second, due to the action of the prefrontal cortex. That happens to protect the brain from being overloaded because your body's environment generates 11 million bits of information per second for the brain to process. Everything that you hear, smell, see, feel, and remember. Everything that your organs are telling you and everything that's happening inside and around you. But you only notice these things if you pay attention, to autonomic processes such as breathing, salivating, and digesting.
It's really a huge amount of information to process, and when we tap into that, interpretation and contextualization will be crucial if we want to use it to control things in the external world. Just imagine someone giving instructions to a flying car but at the same time getting a communication connection from someone who wants to fight. This could present some problems.
Putting things inside your mind
If we can read thoughts, we might also be able to insert things into them.
Devices like monitors and speakers are delivering information to our eyes and ears, but what if we could bypass these organs and put the images and sounds directly into the areas of the brain responsible for processing them?
Yes, we need a safe method to deliver the content but we don't want to send microwaves and fry the neurons. Also, we need to send that information at a pace that the brain can process.
Admitting the possibility of such a thing, nothing prevents us from also sending sensations, emotions, and even memories into someone's mind. If you're an entrepreneur you're probably visualizing mountains of money at this point. The things we could deliver for the purpose of work and for socially accepted content would be limitless. But also, other forms of entertainment would certainly be explored. There's also the possibility of placing unsavory thoughts, emotions, and memories into a person's mind.
Flying things everywhere
We already hear about online retailers delivering goods via robots or drones. It seems it won't take long for this to become commonplace after air space regulations are figured out.
Online shopping with drone delivery can be enough to make the airspace crowded, but there is more: Flying cars are somehow a reality today if you can spend around US$ 400K and have a pilot's license. You also need access to a runway or an open space for take-offs and landings.
The ideal flying vehicle should be able to take off vertically, be controlled mostly by auto-pilot, but also be listening to the mental commands of its occupants. Well, in the case of families or a pilot that isn't alone, there will need to exist some protocols like "Who controls this thing?"
And of course, the car will need to be intelligent enough to avoid collisions with other flying cars, airplanes, delivery drones. I hope that the programmers that create the algorithm for all that stuff keeps his mind calm and clear when dictating the code to the processing centers.
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There are many possible scenarios for the future and here I just commented about some of the most obvious ones. Technology will certainly have huge impacts on all other areas of human existence, such as health, finance, education, and work. And, even love.
I sincerely just hope that the essence of humankind keeps up with the technological evolution, which seems to change faster and more radically than human nature does. And I will always be on the side of the humans in this ever-evolving landscape. After all, we don't want another future like we saw in the Terminator movies.