Future Works

Posted on 2012 March 19


Random thoughts on techno-wizardry that may appear over the next ten years:

End of the PC: Back in the day, when it introduced the point-and-click interface to computers, Apple owned the technology outright (bought from Xerox), but Microsoft basically stole it and made it available to manufacturers, who quickly overwhelmed Apple’s product. The courts sided with Microsoft. Game over. Lately, though, Apple’s iPad has become the standard tablet for work and play; it sports word processors and database apps (including Microsoft Office, the behemoth of the class); you can use its dictation function with ease, which removes the need to toil over the teensy keyboard. The iPad dominates a market that’s growing by leaps and bounds. At this rate, people will abandon standard PCs and laptops and adopt tablets as their main computers. And the iPad, with its incomparable style, fit and finish, will rule the roost. It’s Apple’s revenge.

End of the Keyboard: Digital dictation is sweeping through the tech world, and already we can voice-command our computers, tablets, and smartphones to dial someone, write an email, or wake us. With all this gabbing going on, soon there’ll be a big market for sound-cancelling appliances that prevent others from hearing what we’re dictating in our office cubicles. (Besides, there’s no point in the boss knowing about the hours we spend cruising Facebook, now, is there?)

Spread of 3-D: 3-D is hard to see without special glasses — except when you’re using a small screen, like a phone or tablet, that you can point directly at your eyes for the optimal viewing angle. 3-D phones are on the market, and you can own a 3-D TV. But we all just bought a flat-screen for the living room, and we’ll be reluctant to spring for a whole new set right away. So look for hardware (or software) that converts your current screen to 3-D. Some will say that’s not technically feasible, but neither is big-screen 3-D without glasses … and does anyone doubt we’ll invent that before long?

Heads-Up Sunglasses: Speaking of glasses … Today you can make smart phones show you an image of the street in front of you enhanced with information about the stores and businesses there. Airline and military pilots have a similar feature, called a heads-up display, or HUD, that projects navigational information onto their windshields. Soon you’ll have a HUD projected onto your visual field by the glasses you wear: it’ll provide you with constantly updated information about nearby stores, the route you’re taking, the weather, etc. Combine this with apps available now that let you share contact info with others, and someone who dons dark glasses while looking at you may be noting your name and phone number as well as your good looks.

Rise of the Robot Taxi: Car sharing and peer-to-peer rentals are all the rage, and they get us used to the idea of autos as appliances for short-term use. Self-driving vehicle technology has matured quickly and soon will make its way into our lives, whereupon we’ll be able to call for a temp car that will drive itself to us, taxi us to our destination, and, when we’re done with it, drive off to the next user. It’ll do all this more cheaply than a manned taxi. Come to think of it, robot cars may evolve into the efficient, self-organizing, self-deploying solution to mass transit problems we’ve been looking for.

A Final Thought: These developments will make our lives easier and more prosperous. But there’s nothing in them to help with the real difficulty of modern life, which is our ongoing suspicion of outsiders — those outside our political parties, or neighbors whose skin or accents or traditions differ from ours, or anyone whose lifestyle happens to conflict with our own. We’re hard-wired to distrust the other; urban life, with its constant imposition of strangers into our daily experience, merely aggravates the problem. We can be chauffeured in a robot taxi, gazing through a HUD at the data-rich world passing by, but we’ll still recoil from many of people and things we encounter.

And there’s no app for that.

*     *     *     *

UPDATE: Nevada Accepts Self-Driving Cars

(Next up: the first driverless crash . . . )

UPDATE: Google develops Heads-Up Glasses

(Already! And I thought it would take a few years . . . )

UPDATE: Noise pollution in the office

UPDATE: On-demand driverless vehicles will make owning a car obsolete