The Future Began YesterdayDecember 12th, 2009 by Hannu I. Miettinen
“The future begins today” is a favorite slogan of many technocrats. But the reality is, it began yesterday.
Many of the inventions which will affect our lives during the next few decades have already been made. Right at this moment, unknown to most people, their applications are being developed in thousands of technology companies around the globe. These applications will have a phenomenal impact on our daily lives.
Just to take a few examples of how recent technological developments will affect our future:
- The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector is currently undergoing a revolution that will most likely transform our work and daily life even more than the PC revolution in the early nineties. Can you imagine?
- In physics, a series of breakthroughs in the development of superconductors will have a huge impact on future information technology, and will allow, for example, very high-speed microcomputers to be developed.
- Over the last few decades, large supercomputers have become cheaper and their applications more widespread. They will even let us predict the future – of the weather at least! – allowing us to make reliable weather forecasts two weeks, maybe even a month, ahead in time.
- In supercomputing, a circle is also closing. In the early 1970s, physicists at the University of Helsinki bought computer time from Copenhagen. (I spent many nights manually punching tens of thousands of punch cards. It is hard to believe now!) In the near future, instead of buying powerful computers like we do today, we will once again buy computer time, at a price which varies by the hour. The computer, or rather the computers that we will use, may be located anywhere on Earth. CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, uses this method already for analyzing the data produced by the new superaccelerator LHC
- In electrical communications a revolution is also taking place. Laser videos, new computer memories, and the availability of thousands of satellite channels are transforming the way we educate ourselves and communicate information across the world. We already access a huge amount of well-organized and graphically displayed information at home at the touch of a button. This is only going to increase.
- Recent innovation in brain research and information technology is now allowing the human mind to link directly to computers. Brains and computers work together, so that each performs those functions for which they are best suited. Information can be moved from the computer’s memory straight into the human memory and back again. We can even download information and mental images from other peoples’ memories to our own!
This is exciting stuff, but it can also be overwhelming. Science and technology are evolving so quickly that it is difficult for us ordinary people to deal with all the consequences. The new technology feels strange, even frightening to us. We do not quite know how to react to it. We feel intimidated, confused, and even a bit dim-witted. Social decision-making and legislative work therefore fall behind and our involvement with technology falters.
And herein lies the challenge: As ordinary people, we must be prepared to receive these new technologies, know how to deal with them, understand how to use them for our benefit and how to avoid wasted opportunities and even negative impacts. We must hurry to get involved in technology. We must influence it and make it such that the Earth is a good place for us, for our children and grandchildren to live and to thrive.
How do we meet this challenge? By being informed, by keeping up with new developments, by thinking about how to use technology and not just letting it overwhelm us, by not being technophobic, by believing in our own ability to use technology. It is the product of human invention after all! Its possibilities began, and remain, in our creative and intelligent hands.