What the future role of technology could be
If future generations ever returned to the start of the 21st century, we’d be their ape equivalent, prey to the same pitying we now bequeath on all those that lived before the 90s. Our lumpy smartphones would seem archaic, not yet having transitioned to a computer chip grafted onto our brainstem, and what remains of our verbal communication would appear as efficient as a caveman throwing a rock at a tree to start a fire.
If technological evolution continues at its current pace, few human functions will remain that can’t be better performed by a machine or software. In the mid 70s, Moore’s Law accurately predicted a doubling of hardware capabilities every two years. Many of us will remember our first threshold-pushing 20MB hard drive, which in the face of 60GB-sized smartphones would now be a source of mockery. And any recent slow down to this rule is more to do with our diminished need as opposed to the discovery of a ceiling not prophesised.
As technology advances, its role evolves and expands, usurping ordinary human functions in the name of convenience and progress. It began a long time ago; email became Instant Messenger (IM), which eventually became social media. Then there’s Internet shopping, turning the average UK high-street into a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie, and now we’re more likely to develop a friendship with the Tesco delivery man than we are with our neighbours at the local shop.
For those alive and well in the 70s and 80s, the obtrusive bleeper became an icon for fast-paced business types, but this pales when compared with the modern smartphone, which is essentially a fifth limb for many of us. It’s not only that the number of quality of life technologies is increasing, but that we’re becoming increasingly dependent on them. To be part of the modern world, it’s necessary to have a smartphone. Likewise, it’s increasingly necessary (and just a tad self-destructive) to be an active participant in social media.
Almost unconsciously, technology has transitioned from convenience to necessity. The pervasive application of smartphones in our daily lives represents the apex of an upward (or downward, depending on your view) trend toward complete co-dependence, wherein technology serves as a substitute for points of human contact.
We’re sat before the dawn of wearable devices. The likes of GoogleGlass will take this co-dependence to the next level, at first becoming a tool for seamless access to information (incl. messages, emails, etc.) and eventually transitioning into a heightening of sensory input. Theoretically, such devices could detect dangers before we ourselves register them, or see individual objects from distances normally impossible for the human eye.
But that’ll just be the beginning. Driverless cars, for example, have been whispered about for years, and are quickly becoming much more than a regular feature of sci-fi films. Recently, Mercedes Benz discussed its research car F 015 Luxury in Motion, a driverless car which can double as a cosy living space or meeting room, with electronic side panels capable of performing a personal computer function.
Steve Jobs is famous for having said people don’t know what they want until they are shown. Whilst this is partly true, it also alludes to a dangerously false pretence: the idea that what we want is equal to what is good for us, or what we need. We don’t miss not having a driverless car and the dangers of technological overdependence are well rehearsed through innumerable films and books, but we’ll want it when it appears. Anything new and ground-breaking is usually an instant hit, but technology’s role should always be beneficial to mankind, augmenting our realities rather than substituting for them.