Duncan asks, "What happened to the future?":
It's occurred to me recently that all the whiz-bang gadgets predicted either already exist in some form, or are unlikely to exist anytime soon. If one were to write a technology-centric non-dystopian novel about, say, the year 2040, what neato things would we imagine?
I can't come up with much.
All the recent (post-1975) technological innovations were outgrowths of trends and cultural desires that existed long before then. Using that as a framework, I think we can come up with a few ideas about where things might go. I don't know if my predictions are "non-dystopian", but here they are:
- Medical innovation: Americans are health-obsessed and desire both more control over and information about their health. At the same time, there are some really exciting technical developments that could provide real benefits while responding to the public's demands. For example, gene therapy, stem cell treatments and nanotech drug delivery hold out the possibility of dramatic improvements in the care of certain ailments. The layman has the impression that the key to making these seemingly-magical treatments work is early detection, so the demand for constant or frequent, inexpensive, consumer-administered monitoring will be high. Both home-based and wearable hardware for monitoring will be developed, as well as new over-the-counter tests. Also, consumers want drugs which will improve their lives, not just cure disease. Viagra is just the start. More and more effective drugs which make us healthier and enhance specific desirable characteristics will be developed in response to that demand. All of this requires more and better information about the possible choices, a need that will be filled both online by blogs and consumer forums, and by medical entrepreneurs like independent health coaches.
- Entertainment and communication: Take the cell phone, the ipod, handheld gaming devices and broadband internet and make them more powerful, faster, cheaper, and more ubiquitous, and what do you get? Overload. Managing the data stream will be the story. That means more creative and intelligent ways of screening out unwanted contact and information, and automating the process of finding relevant data and contacts. Spam filters are the Model T. What the hell does that mean? I don't know. All I know is that people have been talking about how your toaster will have an IP address in the future, and I just don't see it happening. Geeks like to talk about capacities as if they were predestined realities, and that's not the case. What grew and shaped the internet, for example, was porn. Why? Because people wanted to look at it without buying it through the mail or at a shop. It's pretty simple: What do people want? They want to select the amount of information and electronic contact they are exposed to. Give them that ability.
- Personal energy generation: Every list needs three items, so here's the third. High energy costs and energy-related environmental concerns are here to stay. People are working on new technologies like fuel cells, super-long-life batteries, home solar power, etc. Some of these are going to have real breakthroughs while others languish, we don't know which, but something radical will emerge. Maybe you'll be able to generate sufficient electricity to run your house by exploiting the heat gradient between your roof in summer and the dirt ten feet under your basement. Maybe office buildings (currently the number one source of greenhouse gases) will be able to have their own fuel-cell power plants on the roof, every window will also be a solar panel and the building shell will have the ability to "breathe" or become super-insulating depending on the weather.
Perhaps all this is wrong, and the future is dystopian: personal body armor and anti-pollution full-body suits. Wait and see.
Apropos of nothing: It just occurred to me that wikipedia links are not true permalinks, because the content is by definition constantly changing. Should you have the ability to link to a specific snapshot of a page (hosted by wikipedia, of course) that existed at any given time? That would create a huge multiplier for the number of pages hosted there, which may be impossible. Also, it requires the creation of a tool that compares two snapshots and highlights the differences automatically, which is a relatively trivial task.