The future (1)
We are about to start a new year, and I wish you all a great and successful one. It’s a good time to look at not just another year, but the future. What’s in store for us?
Man has been on this earth for about 200,000 years in his current form. For the past 199,700 of those years little has changed. Man has struggled through a short, brutish life (30-40 years) of growing up, working (most likely as a slave in a cruelly demanding menial job), having some kids and dying.
It’s a very different world today. Scientific awareness of any society-influencing value didn’t start in any substantive way until the 17th century. And today’s modern living probably didn’t start until Henry Ford invented mass production in 1926. The world has never been the same since.
A total of 199,700 years of negligible change in the human condition and 300 years of earth-shattering change. The past 50 years have seen more change than in the whole of human history, and it is accelerating, moving into a level where poor, benighted humans can’t adapt fast enough.
AI (artificial intelligence) is now intruding into everything we do at an ever-increasing pace. Robots are replacing people faster. Nanotechnology is bringing things down to a size where we can’t even see them. Nanotechnology — things the size of molecules — is going to revolutionize electronics as drastically as the transistor (from which the chip emanated) did in 1947. I was studying valves at university then; transistors were introduced in my last year. The limit on size won’t be how small you can make it but what’s the smallest you can handle, or it will be built into your body, even into your brain.
Our future is an electronic one. Nothing, but nothing is now just a simple, mechanical function. There’s a chip in everything. Open the hood of your car, there’s no engine but a black box on top of god knows what’s inside. A light switch will soon know what level of light is needed and adjust accordingly. When you switch on your smartphone, it doesn’t switch on, it programs. It runs through all sorts of activities before it allows you to use it.
The Department of Education is still giving books to kids — a book for every child. A tablet contains a thousand books and of far better quality, too. The agency is rolling out the distribution of tablets for senior high school students — but needs far more funds to cover all students at all levels. I love books and much prefer to read and feel them. But now it’s a Kindle when I travel. It weighs nothing, takes up no space and does not need external light. Sad, but that’s the reality of the future.
Online shopping is now also a given.
What determines the size of a smartphone won’t be the components needed to fit into it, but the screen to read. Eventually (a short “eventually”), that will be replaced by a hologram—a screen projected into the air. A little later, your phone will just be built into your body and be connected to your brain. Your thoughts will be transmitted — hopefully, the ones you want transmitted. There’ll be an interim period where you’ll still vocalize, but the phone will be in you.
As Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, said: “In 30 years, a robot will likely be on the cover of Time magazine as the best CEO.”
Yet, despite this reality and inevitability, we still have politicians and bureaucrats acting as though they were living in the 19th century. They are basing laws and regulations on the past, not allowing for change.
The latest is the proposed national ID (to be called PhilSys). As I argued in my March 8, 2018, column, “Don’t be a Luddite,” you no longer need a card to identify someone; even fingerprints are passé. A photo will do or an iris scan, even the sound of your voice — these are more reliable and precise. Walk into a government office and it can instantly recognize you and allow you to transact business. A voice call even allows you to transact business from your phone. I hope the technical working group designing our national ID takes this into account and designs it for the future.
(To be continued)
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