The vision of future

Forty years from now, clearly technology will have progressed so
that the commodity products of the day will be vastly different, probably
unrecognizable, compared to those that we buy today. I mean, just imagine
yourself back in the 1960s of cars with tailfins, TVs with mechanical tuners and
glowing tubes, and room-sized computers programmed with decks of punched paper
cards.

From that vantage point, you might try to envision the commodity
1 GHz PC and marvelous 18.1 inch Compaq TFT8020 LCD display that I’m writing
this on, or the Internet through which you’re reading it. Wouldn’t have
happened. So I won’t presume to forecast how things might look forty years from
now–as we all know, five years is stretching things. But as in the 1960s, there
remains a group of people who routinely do try to peer forward, and often, by
that effort, affect how new technologies comes about, and how people initially
perceive them.

That group, of course, is the science fiction authors, and the
best of them have no qualms at all of looking forward forty years, extrapolating
where today’s nascent technologies may lead. History has proven that these
`speculations’ are worth reading–not necessarily because any one author’s
vision will come to pass (although look at Arthur C. Clarke, who foretold the
communications satellites, and other authors’ early visions of cyberspace), but
because these explorations help us to think beyond our `comfort zones’–something
increasingly important for all of us as `change’ continues to accelerate.

Recently, RCFoC reader Rob Streno pointed me to a book by James
Halperin titled `The First Immortal’. While nanotechnology (today’s fledgling
`science of the tiny’ that holds extraordinary potential to change our world)
isn’t the focus of this book, I did find an interesting passage that looks back
forty years to the `old days’ of 2000, which put me in mind of our looking
back to the technologies of `the sixties,’ from today: “Grandmother’s
eyes came alive. I imagined she was recalling the forward march of computer
technology during her own early years. She had never even owned a PC until she’d
reached her thirties. Her first machine had been torturously slow, couldn’t
respond to speech, and covered most of her desk! Nowadays, six-year-old kids
were wearing a hundred times more computing power in their belt buckles or their
pinkie rings.”

‘Remember,’ I went on. ‘Even the smallest silicon chips back
then were made from transistors comprising half a trillion atoms apiece. Yet
almost every late twentieth century scientist agreed we would have unimolecular
transistors by now–and, of course, we do. Most nanoscientists today believe
that such transistors, currently maintainable only under sterile laboratory
conditions, will be commercially available within a decade.

Already we can build a mechanical computer, as powerful as a
turn-of-the-millennium ‘laptop’ but much faster–because it’s so much
smaller–in a space slightly larger than a human cell. In twenty years we’ll
assemble electronic computers perhaps a thousand times smaller and ten thousand
times faster than those of today.

We now have nanomotors smaller and mightier than a bacterium’s,
constructed atom by atom, molecule-by-molecule, from ceramics and metals far
more durable and predictable than proteins. Don’t forget, nature typically
demonstrates only the lower boundaries of the possible.’ Grandmother smiled,
nodding here head, envisioning, perhaps, an eagle trying to race against a
mach-seven luxury liner, or someday, a starship.

‘We can already build computerized machines powered by today’s
smallest motors, and your smallest capillaries could easily accommodate
hundred-lane superhighways of such machines. Yet nanoscience is still an infant;
a precocious one, but an infant nonetheless.’ As I said, clearly science
fiction. Incredible things would have to happen in nanotechnology and molecular
and DNA computing to allow these visions to become reality in forty years. But
before you say, “it’s impossible,” remember to look back those forty
years into our own past…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *