The inventor, entrepreneur, and futurist Raymond Kurzweil has noted in recent times that we are rapidly approaching a singularity. No, this isn’t an event horizon you might find near a black hole, it is the a precipice of radical technological and scientific breakthroughs that will change the way we live in a few short years.
The rate of technological advancement is accelerating. If you plotted the inventions of the past few centuries on a time graph (see right, click to enlarge), you would see that major advancements in the nature of our humanity are growing exponentially. Triumphs that occurred once per century are now becoming once per decade, or every few years. Soon it will be every year, and then every month.
It’s hard to predict what may come, but here are some of my thoughts about technology in the not so distant future, say 5-15 years. We will begin with those technologies which are closest in time, and proceed to those that are more distant.
- No more keyboard or mouse input – The mouse was invented close to the dawn of the modern personal computer. The inventor of the mouse is largely attributed to Douglas Engelbart; see The Mother of all Demos from 1968. But the mouse and its older cousin the keyboard have changed little since their introductions. Very soon we will not have the need for them anymore. Advances in other, more advanced, and faster input technologies such as touchscreens, voice recognition (think Siri), and mind reading will be a much more efficient way of interacting with our technology. The keyboard and mouse will become things of a primitive computing past history. Which leads to the next prediction.
- Touchscreens – These will become much more widespread than they are today. Yes, we have them in our smartphones and tablets, but soon we will have them in our computers, TVs, walls, microwaves, counters, doors, coffee tables, and just about any other surface you can imagine. In fact, every surface will become a “touchscreen,” just as you see in your smartphone today, where you will be able to interact with technology by simply touching objects. Every surface will become touch sensitive. And our touchscreens will only improve (see new haptic feedback tech). And yes, I do believe we will continue to touch objects. The Minority Report-type hand gestures look cool on the big screen (and even I have pre-ordered my Leap), but our sense of touch is so ingrained in what it means to be human, and fulfill such a basic need of our psyche, that I think we will still be touching things for a long time. Of course, mid-air gestures will only enhance our sense of touch. Touch and gesture technology may also take on many other forms, such as turning our bodies into touch sensors, and objects understanding just how they are being touched.
- Mind reading – We are even now on the cusp of computers being able to understand what we are thinking about. Machines and sensors can be trained to know when we are thinking about certain things. See this computer reconstruction of the brain’s visual activity. This link notes, “Given a big enough database of video material and enough computing power, the system would be able to re-create any images in your brain.” We may be able to soon record and view our dreams as movies, again recalling the popular sci-fi film Minority Report. Prosthetics and other machines can, even today, be controlled by thought. Soon our computers will be able to tell what we want, just as the thoughts pass through our mind; instead of us telling the computer what we want by indirect means, the computer will know what we want just by our thoughts. We will be able to look at a screen, and browse the Internet, for example, by just thinking about what we want to do. Think about that. It will become so intuitive, you won’t even know you are controlling a computer. Information will just be delivered to our eyes, for the taking.
- Eye tracking – This is one of the technologies that will allow the above to happen. Cameras and sensors will be able to see exactly what we are looking at, and combined with mind reading, be able to know instantly what we want to do with that thing we are directly looking at. Even now, there are products available that have replaced mice for computer input for disabled people, and within a few short years the technology will become ubiquitous.
- Self-driving “cars” – This is all the fad right now in the media, with Google leading the way, but I think it is closer than most think. People’s commute, and traffic, are certainly the largest waste of human time and productivity in our current time. Imagine the things that could get done if we didn’t have to worry about how to get from one place to another. It just happened! You need to get downtown, so you let your technology know (perhaps simply by thought), and in minutes you’re stepping into a “car” and being whisked away to your destination. Car is in quotations because the machines that will take us from place to place may be much different than what we think of a car today. They may become more like pods, or enclosures, or even offices on wheels. Or will they have wheels? See this demonstration of a self-driving car.
- Miracle drugs – It amazes me the things that the pharmaceutical companies, biogeneticists, and other scientists are coming up with these days. I don’t think we are many years away from a cure for all cancers. Studies have already shown ways to manipulate bacteria to attack cancer cells. This technology will only get better and better. Our ability to heal ourselves will become immense and fast. In fact, futurists like Kurzweil believe that our ability to heal and cure ourselves from disease, and even slow or stop the aging process, will allow us to, in essence, become immortal and live forever. He predicts this by the mid 2040′s (his “singularity”). I predict it by the Millennium (which could be about the same time, who knows?) when we are told by prophets and scriptures we will be changed in the “twinkling of an eye” from a mortal to immortal state (cf D&C 63:51). What does that mean? Science may progress, by the aid of God, to the point of holding the answer to what “twinkling” involves. All divine processes work by scientific processes, simply ones we do not currently understand. (See my reference to James E. Talmage on how miracles operate by natural law.)
- Ubiquitous and instant access to all information, of any type – With all the incredible input and access methods that we will have with machines, and with the acceleration of bandwidth and storage space, we will be always connected to every bit of information we need, at any time, from anywhere. Our smartphones have already gone a long way to providing instant access to all information wherever we may be, in the palm of our hand. We will not need hard drives on our personal computers anymore. Furthermore, personal computers will disappear, because there will be nothing personal physically on them anymore. All the information will exist out in the “cloud,” if you will. This is because bandwidth will become so fast, and storage so ubiquitous, that we won’t need to store anything locally any more. The Internet will become our hard drive (as it already has in many respects), but will become so commonplace that we will not concern ourselves with the size or storage location of our data. We won’t think about it in those terms anymore. Even today, I hardly worry about the size of my hard drive, because a few terabytes is just so much larger than I can currently fill up. Increasingly, we have access to the information on our home computers wherever we are. It will eventually just be there, always, whenever we need it, and instantly accessible. We won’t worry about the storage implications of it, nor the location of our data. And that includes all information that humanity has ever recorded, available at instant recall, from our minds. Indeed, we won’t have to rely on our feeble, error-prone, and weak biological memories as these technologies progress.
- Everything connected – Every thing around us will be connected to everything else. Our furniture, our homes, our clothes, even our food. This is the “Internet of Things” which is exploding with innovation right now. The net will become so integrated into everything that it will be considered one big connectedness, indeed, one great whole (see my lengthy comments about the holographic universe). Some observations of quantum mechanics already show this interconnectedness within the universe (i.e. quantum entanglement, which seems to break the law of the speed of light and therefore the theories of relativity). At some level all things already seem to be connected to everything else. We won’t worry about connecting things to the Internet, or going to turn on or off a light switch or press any button. We’ll have access to all of those things, from wherever we are, and many of them will be autonomous, without requiring any interaction from us. Yes, the couch you have in your living room will be connected, and will know the current ambient temperature in order to adjust its own temperature; it will know your tastes, how soft or firm you like it, and a myriad of other bits of information, perhaps even color and shape.
- Instant things, any thing – In addition to having access to all information wherever we want it, we’ll have access to things too, wherever we need them. 3D printing is in its infancy. Imagine in a few years when “going to the store,” for anything, is something you tell your children, and they sit back in awe at the radical thought of it. You need a plate? You print one up, and in a few moments, you have it. You want a tomato to eat? Sure thing, delivered. Need some new socks? Throw your old holey ones into a machine, and in a few seconds, new ones will pop out. Manufacturing in the next few years will drop rapidly and dramatically to the individual, instant, and home-based level, such that all you’ll need to make the things you need or want is the code, available instantly from the all-connected net. Things will be reduced to lines of codes (if they are not already).
- Intelligent things – Going back to the couch, all the things around us will know what we want, will know what to do, and will in many ways seem and actually be intelligent on some level (we will have imbued our human intelligence into these things). Artificial intelligence will abound (think of what people would have thought about Siri ten years ago). As everything will be connected, everything will have access to all available information at all times, and will increasingly be able to make decisions on our behalf, and on its own behalf, for the betterment and enhancement of humankind.
- Extrasolar exploration – We are talking these days about missions to Mars. I think it’s not too distant when we will be exploring beyond our own solar system. Some audacious people are even drawing up plans for Star Trek space ships, and NASA is working on warp engines. We will have to overcome the little problem of the theory of relativity in order to travel faster, to make interstellar travel possible within our lifetimes (unless we become immortal), but even our quantum physicists are beginning to see ways around that, with quantum teleportation. Advances in ion engines, and others, will also facilitate interstellar travel. (Could the Star Trek Enterprise be built?)
- Instant travel – Speaking of travel, you won’t actually have to go anywhere, really. Advances in 3D virtual reality technology will be able to take us anywhere we like to go, and experience it as if we are actually there. And, of course, we won’t have to type it into a computer; the computer will already know what we want and where we want to go. Holodeck-like devices will even allow us to physically move through such environments, and early contraptions have already been made that allow that to happen. See again the Leap device that will soon be available, for more examples of touching things virtually (Microsoft’s Kinect was a precursor).
- Work anywhere, anytime – Since we’ll have all information available to us anywhere we are, and we can travel and appear to be anywhere we want, any time we want, there will be no need for us to “go to work” anymore. We’ll be able to work from where ever we want, and whenever we want.
- But what kind of work? – Work we must, but the lunch is free. Yes, I don’t think we’ll ever come to a point in time when it will all become fun and games (cf Moses 1:39). But, the opportunities of doing the kind of work we desire will become infinitely more accessible to us, for many of the reasons given above. We won’t be restrained by the limitations of our “physical” world any more. On the contrary, new understandings of our physicality will allow new opportunities we cannot imagine.
- Rapid learning – With all this ubiquitous information will we still want to learn? Yes, I think so. But our abilities and capacities to learn will become much more advanced. Our understanding of the brain is accelerating. We will be able to plug in to vast databases of information, and in a very real way be able to download it into the neural networks of our brains in short time. (No, I don’t think we’ll have large fine-tipped syringes plunged Matrix-style into the back of our heads. It will be much more refined and non-invasive than that). Or perhaps we’ll have such ubiquitous access to information, we won’t have to necessarily store it in our brains. It will all be available at instant recall whenever we require it. If this all sounds like the qualities of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence of godliness, it is.
This all sounds pretty exciting. Unfortunately, with great power comes great responsibility. Just as much as these technologies have the ability to transform our society and civilization into the most remarkable place imaginable, so too have they have power to utterly destroy it. I don’t think it will come from an uprising of machines, as is commonly shown in science fiction, but will come from man’s misuse of these incredible technologies. The interactions between these forces and how they play out is one we will all witness in the coming years, and have a responsibility to do our part.
I, for one, am optimistic, and am looking forward to the future.