July 13, 2004 - 20:06
By Robert J. Sawyer
As a science-fiction writer, my job is predicting the future. And that’s gotten harder with each passing year. Moore’s law tells us that computing power doubles every 18 months. If that holds up — and i believe it will, with breakthroughs in nanotechnology, new techniques of producing three-dimensional circuits, and new substrates for microprocessors — then in 10 short years, we will have computers 128 times more powerful than those that exist today. Can anyone guess how that much computing muscle, widely available and inexpensively priced, will affect our day-to-day lives? Well, let’s find out ...
Here are some of my predictions for a typical day in late 2014; feel free to track me down in 10 years’ time and tell me i’m wrong!
Our mornings will still begin with waking up. But forget the old-fashioned alarm-clock buzzer. Tomorrow’s bedside clock will be a sophisticated brainwave monitor. It’ll keep track of your sleep cycle, gently bringing up the room lights at precisely the right time so that you’ll feel rested, not cardiac arrested, as you awake.
Today, your coffee can be brewed while you sleep; tomorrow’s robokitchen will have an entire hot (but low carb!) breakfast waiting for you. Also waiting will be an electronic-ink newspaper, with stories geared to your particular interests culled from sources worldwide (with foreign-language news automatically translated into English).
Of course, you aren’t the only one who has to get going in the morning. Your spouse and kids will be taken care of, too — with smart toilets analyzing their urine and sensor-rich toothbrushes checking their saliva to make sure everything is ticketyboo; most health problems will be caught early and be trivial to correct.
Your spouse might telecommute — perhaps half of all white-collar workers will do so in 2014 — but you might still have to physically go to your office. Along the way you’ll take your kids to school.
No point quizzing them on facts as you travel along, though. In a world in which any information can be easily accessed anywhere, mere memorization is no longer part of the curriculum. But analysis of information — knowing how to think — ah, that’s the ticket!Naturally, your electric car will drive itself, communicating with millions of chips that have been steamrollered into the asphalt covering our roadways. No more traffic accidents; no more gridlock.
Once you’ve dropped the kids off — yes, learning can be done online at home, but socialization still happens best in a real school and at a real playground — you will use the rest of your commute time productively, catching up on full-motion-video e-mail and reading reports (or having them read to you by totally realistic voice synthesizers). You’ll arrive at your office relaxed.
Throughout the day, your wristband — a combination cellphone, PDA, camera, and e-book display, all controlled by spoken commands — will be your lifeline.
You’ll have just one phone number, good worldwide with no long-distance or roaming charges, and the wristband will screen calls for you, with a computer-generated avatar kicking in to deal with most routine matters.
Still, even 10 years from now, much business will require face-time. No problem. One major wall of your office in, say, Toronto, will be a vast flatscreen, showing you your company’s Vancouver office. You’ll be able to walk up to the wall and chat with whomever is depicted as casually as if you were both sharing the same water cooler.
Your cubicle will have a smart wall of its own, giving every worker the appearance of having a window; yours might show real-time footage of Lake Louise, assuming that global warming hasn’t melted the adjacent glaciers and flooded everything. And no matter which office chair you sit on, it will adjust automatically to your body’s proportions.
Of course, we’ll all live in an enhanced reality. Today’s bulky virtual-reality goggles will have been replaced by contact lenses that overlay textual information on your vision; the lens will be in constant communication with the computing powerhouse in your wristband. You’ll never be in the embarrassing situation of not remembering the name of an acquaintance you happen to run into; facial-recognition technology will identify the person, and provide you with all pertinent details instantaneously.
You’ll want to make some time in your day for exercise — and the microprocessors in your running shoes will keep track of your pace, telling you when to slow down or speed up for maximum effect. Meanwhile, nanotechnological probes will be working their way through your bloodstream, clearing plaque out of your arteries, and getting rid of dangerous chemicals.
And naturally, your wristband will be recording everything you see and do, with software indexing it all as you go along.
You won’t have to worry about losing your car keys in the future — your biometrics will identify you whenever necessary — but you might forget where you’ve put your sunglasses and hat (sadly, both of which you’ll probably always need when venturing outdoors). No problem: just ask your wristband, and it’ll tell you where they are.
Recording your entire life will take a lot of storage, but the cost of data storage will be essentially zero by 2014, so that’s no problem. The images of your life will be beamed through the air to an archive that only you can access; quantum cryptography — unbreakable even in principle — will have made such transmissions totally secure.
On the way home, you’ll stop to pick up a few things at the grocery store. No standing in line, though, to check out: you’ll just waltz out the front door, as the Radio Frequency ID chips in the products you’ve bought allow their costs to be tallied and your account automatically debited.
You might make dinner yourself, if you enjoy cooking. But if not, your automated kitchen will again take care of everything, including doing the dishes. And you’ll have a humanoid robot, too — the descendant of today’s dancing Honda Asimo — that will take care of all the other housework.
After dinner, you’ll have your pick of any TV show or movie ever made, available instantly on your wall-screen TV.
(Micropayments will work flawlessly: you’ll be able to access any premium information off the expanded, full-motion-video Web, with the creator compensated automatically.)
Meanwhile, your kids will be off in their rooms, enjoying fully immersive virtual reality experiences — who’d have thought homework could be such fun? Eventually, though, it’ll be time for them to get ready for bed. Smart washcloths will make sure they clean everywhere, including behind their ears.
And, a little later, you’ll turn in for the night, as well. But perhaps just before you fall asleep, a thought will occur to you — something you just have to remember to do the next day.
Except you don’t have to remember it at all; all you have to do is mention it to your wristband — yes, you’ll go to bed with it on. And then you’ll fall asleep, totally relaxed, confident that your technology will remind you of this, and everything else that’s important, come the bright and wonderful morrow.
So, have I got it right? Only time will tell. But, as I said at the outset, if I’m wrong, feel free to look me up in 2014 and let me know. Of course, if you do, I’ll bend your ear then about what life will be like in 2024 ... LINK