For geeks that were involved in the world of Usenet, UUCP networks and academic bulletin board systems, the so-called “Internet” started at least in the early to mid 80’s. However, for the mainstream user, things only took off after Tim Berners-Lee and the good folks at CERN developed HTML, HTTP and URLs in the early 1990s.
Around the same time, Tim also developed the “WorldWideWeb” (later, Nexus), and then of course there was Marc Andreesen’s tide-changing invention of the Mosaic web browser. Mosaic transformed the “web” from a system used by select users in academia and the military into a system that more and more “average” users were starting to access. Although, I would argue that while many of us geeks started diving more into the Internet at that time (the 90’s) than most other people, the “average” person knew little, and cared little, about the Internet at that time.
Even by 1995, I would say the majority of people considered it to be nothing more than a fad, although the adoption rates were starting to soar. I think for those of us that were active online in the late 80s and early 90s, we all knew the potential.
Seeing Into the Future of Technology
That’s really the bottom line isn’t it? Being able to see the potential of certain elements of today’s new computer technologies, and understanding how certain technologies will be adopted by larger society, and which will fall by the wayside after people tire of the fad.
The example that I always talk about – because it frustrated me so much at the time – was how slow initial development of mobile Internet was. Toward the last part of my 4 or 5 years as an eBay powerseller, I started attending antique auctions with the hope of buying box lots and discovering some gem that was worth a fortune on eBay. Since most auction-goers were antiques dealers over 50 years old who were mostly interested in art glass, furniture and the highly-valuable antiques – the competition for finding those gems was next to none.
The approach was to buy box lots, and then research each item on eBay when I got home. But then, I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be sweet to have eBay available right at the auction? I asked my local cellular provider rep about it, and his response was, “It’s not quite there yet, but it’s on the way…6 months to a year.”
The moment the technology came out, I bought the first generation smartphone. It was a total novelty to auction goers to watch the young kid playing on his phone.
My antique expert friend of 50 years would ask, “Are you really on the Internet with that thing?”
“Yup,” I’d answer, trying to hide it so people wouldn’t know what I was up to. Within the span of two years after that, you would be hard-pressed not to find people holding a smartphone at an auction. That’s the pace of technology change, and that’s just one small example of the effect it’s having on every aspect of society.
Technology #1 – A World Integrated With The Internet
I don’t think that I have any special gift to see into the future of where technology is headed, but I do think that most of us here – including readers like you – have a greater insight into what breaking edge technologies are capable of if they advance just a little bit further.
I spend a lot of my time doing this in my work on my own blog, and some of the cutting edge technologies today are so promising that it shocks me to think about what can be accomplished with very little effort. When it comes to the Internet, this is already happening.
A year ago, where we live in Southwestern Maine, our house resided in this odd cellphone signal bubble, where we couldn’t get cellphone access. Today, we get full signal. You can see the cellphone towers cropping up everywhere, and before long there will not be a square inch of this country that can’t get cellphone reception.
Now, when you compound that rapid growth of the cellular grid with rapid advancements in data-streaming over those wireless cellular networks, you can see where things are headed.
If you have any devices – tablets or “readers” – that need a wi-fi signal to get online, I believe that within the course of 5 to 10 years, you will see a merging of “wi-fi” and “cellular data” into one, massive Wi-Fi network from border to border (in whatever country you live in). There will be no difference. The “Internet” as we know it will be this giant, invisible, wireless grid, streaming insane amounts of data and information through the air – like the radio stations of yesteryear.
Technology #2 – Streaming Entertainment Will Replace Cable Television
You’ve probably heard of the Jetsons or more modern “Meet the Robinsons”, where the future consists of homes that are automated with an assortment of gadgets. You’ve already seen where the standalone gaming consoles of yesterday are now becoming the home entertainment centers of today – combining Internet, TV and gaming into one gadget that does it all.
How many of you know people that are sick of their local cable company’s insane rates, and have opted to save money by just streaming shows using Netflix or other content streaming providers? I know a lot.
It doesn’t really take much of a stretch to imagine a future world without cable companies. Just take a look at Damien’s series on building a Linux home entertainment center, or my article on building a remote control TV system and dropping the cable company.
In all honesty, it may be too early to drop the cable company right now if you want some of those premium channels you love so much, but how long will it take for the producers of TV content to realize that there’s more ad profit available to them if they stream direct to consumers and remove the middle-man?
Isn’t the very concept of a cable company archaic by today’s technology standards? And if cable companies try to prevent this sort of activity by messing with our Internet, there is DSL available, or whatever future infrastructure replaces today’s wires. Oh wait – the future will be high speed wireless Internet – so who even needs a cable to the house to get Internet?
Technology #3 – Hands Free Computing With Thoughts
I don’t know if you missed Karl’s article on using your webcam to control your computer with your face, or James’ article on cool Kinect hacks, but what those articles hint at is how computer interfaces may be moving away from the old mouse and keyboard. Given some of the latest developments in mind-reading technology that now allow toys to be sold where kids can control a “floating” ball with their mind, just consider the applications that are available in the world of computing.
This year there have been news reports about recent discoveries in neuroscience that allow scientists to start mapping brainwaves with spoken words. When I first read about this, my mind really started to race because of the scary possibilities in the world of surveillance and spying, a topic that I cover a lot at my blog. But beyond spying, what about computer technology? What if you can simply go to your computer, think your search term, and voila – there are your results?
But, wait a second…why even go over to your computer? For years, science fiction has offered us the possibility of being in a room and saying, “Computer….” followed by a command. Star Trek fans know full well what I’m talking about. But, what if this technology went even beyond science fiction by allowing you to sit in a room and just thinking, “Computer….turn on television” and boom – the TV switches on. You didn’t move, and you didn’t say a word.
Would you call me crazy if I said that all of the components of that kind of technology exist and that it’s merely a few years away? The furthest out is the capacity to translate brainwaves into words, and then there’s the pesky task of figuring out how to measure a person’s brainwaves. They can do it with toys right now, by using a wired hat. So maybe you’ll just have to wear a fashionable cap with the probes in the inner band, and it could wirelessly transmit the signals to your home computer. The technology isn’t as far-fetched as you might think.
Technology #4 – Scary Surveillance Technology
It goes without saying that if the above mind-reading technology becomes a reality, there will be some very real fears about the possibilities of surveillance and privacy invasion if, somehow, someone can detect your brainwaves from afar. Think about it – if your very thoughts can be translated into intelligence, nothing will be private anymore.
One of the things that I write about often is the latest in satellite sensing technologies. NASA just launched one of the most impressive infrared sensing satellites known as TIRS (Thermal Infrared Sensor) that can map the temperature signatures of the entire planet every 16 days. So, what if there is eventually a sensor powerful enough to detect individual brainwaves?
Does such a technology exist today? I highly doubt it. Is it potentially something that could be developed in the future? Maybe. It’s a scary thought to consider.
Even scarier – remember the future worldwide wireless Internet system I mentioned at the start of this article? Well, there is nothing to prevent spy satellites from intercepting and hacking into those Internet transmissions – the more wireless we go, the more susceptible the world becomes to those sorts of security issues. But I’m convinced the world will go that way, and these will be the security issues that country’s will face.
Technology #5 – Integration Of Biology & Computers
Finally, now that I’m done scaring you, the last new computer technology that I see on the horizon is biotech. This is something I had a long discussion about with a friend of mine recently. Today, there are more and more companies depending on biometrics – thumbprints, facial and voice recognition or eye scans – to beef up security for access to sensitive information or locations.
Biometrics can be fooled – thumbprints can be stolen or duplicated for example. So more companies are turning to using little USB “tokens” with a pin code, plus an additional pin code that you have to remember. The two pieces of information form the entire access password. The problem with this – you need to remember to carry around that token with you everywhere.
I’m convinced that the world is quickly moving to an “implanted biometrics” society, where such security tokens will be embedded into your body where a sensor can detect the presence of that token. With the presence of the correct implanted token, combined with your remembered password, you can gain access.
This technology may also spill over into the financial world, where people will no longer carry around credit cards or debit cards. Instead every person will have a financial “token” implant that you can use to make financial transactions by waving your wrist or the back of your hand against a sensor. Unlike a credit card, an implant can’t be stolen.
So these are the 5 technologies that I see emerging within the next 20 years. This is based on what I know about emerging technologies today, a bit of intuition based on the direction technology has headed over the last 20 years, and of course a bit of guessing as to what technologies the masses will adopt.
I’m also excited to hear your thoughts. What are some technologies that you see as “game-changers” within the next two decades? How will computers and the Internet continue to transform the world? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Image Credits: Telecommunication Antenna Via Shutterstock, Young Businessman Via Shutterstock, Satellite Above Earth Via Shutterstock, Iris Scan Via Shutterstock, Abstract Architecture Via Shutterstock