The future of technology- impossible to predict?

October 18, 2011

Tech & Gadgets

4 months old, and already a master Skyper!

4 months old, and already a master Skyper!

I am an aunt for the first time ever and it’s brilliant. My 4-month-old niece Keeley is at the “coo-ing” stage right now and in the past few weeks she has perfected the art of smiling. Our latest routine goes something like this: I wiggle my nose, stick out my tongue, puff up my cheeks and raise my eyebrows at her until I am exhausted. She stares at me blankly, completely unimpressed. But then, just when I’m about to give up, I will make one last ridiculous expression and a massive smile will spread across her face. Success! These moments are pure happiness.

I suppose it is a bit strange that the bulk of our interactions take place over Skype, but it’s even stranger how it isn’t really that strange at all. Skyping, something that was introduced to me about five years ago, already seems second nature. For Keeley, chatting face-to-face with someone thousands of miles away is the norm.

It makes me wonder what technology awaits her. What is life going to be like when Keeley is an old lady?

Theory has it that there is as much technological innovation per century as there was in the previous two centuries. Every new technological advance accelerates another, which accelerates another and so on. This idea comes from Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns and he explains it better himself:

An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense ‘intuitive linear’ view. So we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century—it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate). The ‘returns,’ such as chip speed and cost-effectiveness, also increase exponentially. There’s even exponential growth in the rate of exponential growth.”

Though I find this concept of exponential technological growth very exciting, it also makes predicting the future so difficult. Never is this more evident than when looking at our past depictions of the future. History is full of false predictions of what the future will look like. From the futuristic World’s Fair exhibits featuring a robot-infested “world of tomorrow” to newspaper articles revealing that a “highway to Russia” is closer than we think, it seems that we rarely get it right.

helicopters for everybody

Image via Paleofuture.com

My curiosity led me to this fascinating blog, Paleofuture.com, which looks at how the future has been depicted throughout history. Perusing the website, I realised that we always make our predictions based on the current technology available. Cars will go faster, everyone will eat frozen dinners and, as seen above, helicopters will be plentiful. Back then, predicting something as foreign as the Internet would have been impossible. How can we predict that which we cannot even conceive?

So, the future of technology remains a mystery. Since we’ve established that most predictions of the future are rubbish, I suppose there’s no shame in wild guesses. Thus, I am going to put this out there on the record- pretty soon Keeley won’t have to get on an airplane to visit me in the UK; she’ll teleport!

What are your predictions for future technologies? Will we be teleporting any time soon? Why did the jet-pack never take off? Let us know what you think!

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