I think it’s worth recapping a few of the things that are going to be with us in the near future. I suggest doing this now, because we have a funny way of becoming totally blase about technology very soon after we start using it regularly (case in point: smartphones. They are seriously awesome. As a kid, I used to sometimes dream of how cool it would be to have a walkie talkie, but I didn’t believe that I would actually get one in my lifetime. I’ve had a bunch of them now, and my current one – which is two years out of date – can take photos and upload them to the internet and any number of other brilliant things). So what I propose is we get our amazement in early, in order to give this stuff its due.
I’m just gonna briefly highlight three technologies that have been blowing my mind recently and that I think have a good chance of becoming widely used in the next 10-15 years. Other suggestions very welcome.
1) Self driving bloody cars! CASE IN POINT: right now, you’re probably thinking “big deal, we were hearing about those 18 months ago,” and yes we were, but still. Until Google dropped its info-bomb on us, I would have guessed that self driving cars were at least five years away and would have to surmount an awful lot of obstacles before people were happy with them being on the road. It turned out that Google just built a whole fleet of them and set them loose. How cool is Google? (OK yeah privacy, blah blah, but who cares when they build self driving cars? Apple does not do that). Now, all the major auto manufacturers have their own systems in development, but Google is probably still best at it. For further amazement, check out this recent Wired piece:
A car comes speeding along the adjacent on-ramp. Do we accelerate or slow? It’s a moment that puzzles many human drivers. Our vehicle chooses to decelerate, but it can rethink that decision as more data comes in—if, for instance, the merging car brakes suddenly. The computer flags a car one lane over, maybe 30 feet in front of us, and slows imperceptibly. “We’re being held back by this guy because we don’t want to be in his blind spot,” Levandowski says. A bus suddenly looms next to us. “Even if you can drive in the center of the lane, down to the centimeter, that doesn’t mean it’s the safest route,” he says. And so the car drifts just a bit to the left to distance itself from the bus. “If you look at it, we’re not actually driving center, though we’re still not driving as bad as he is,” he says, pointing to a gray SUV ahead that’s straddling two lanes.
The fact is, driverless cars will of course be safer than humans. After all, they will never lose focus, never get angry with other drivers, have perfect knowledge of all the laws of the road and which lane they need to be in, will have 360 degree vision, etc. But the extra special thing about them is the efficiencies they’ll create. We need way less cars than currently exist, because most cars sit idle nearly all the time, waiting for us to get in them. Services like Zipcar are affordable because they take advantage of not everyone needing their car all the time, but when all cars drive themselves they’ll be able to come and pick you up rather than you going to a special location to collect them, etc etc. I’m pretty sure that they will manage their speeds to minimize congestion as well. God, I can’t wait.
2) Frickin’ tiny autonomous flying machines! I’m not entirely sure what the application of these bad-boys is going to be, but it will most certainly be astonishing for a little while and then we’ll forget about it. I’ve linked to these before, but the latest video is, of course, the most amazing yet:
So, I’m thinking these will be bad news for bike messengers and good news for Harry Potter fans. You have one of these, you rename it Hedwig, you write messages on wee scraps of paper inserted into a little tube on the underside and you say to it (because it has voice recognition tech, obv) “take this over to Dave’s place” and off it goes. The coolest bit is when it flies in through an open window at his place and just flops down on the couch, and he’s like, “Oh, a message from Pete.”
3) GODDAMN MIND READING. This is the best one. It’s the furthest off of the three, but has greatest potential to change us as people. So far, they’ve got as far as people doing simple control of a mouse pointer with their brains, and recreating some images and words that people are holding in their minds. But for goodness’ sake! This is one I really couldn’t have imagined being achieved until it actually started happening. But the applications will be just… silly. Mind control of a computer will probably be first, but that will lead us to some unexpected places. Rather than consciously entering calculations into a spreadsheet using our minds, for instance, we’ll start using computers to extend our mental capabilities, including memory, calculations, path-finding and other sorts of judgments. But the wildest part of it is that with computers able to understand the words and images in our heads, we might be able to transmit them between each other. As in, computers will enable us to communicate with each other telepathically. How that will change inter-human interaction I can’t begin to imagine, but it’s something we’re going to have to deal with in my lifetime. Personally, I can’t wait.