The Future Of Computers (6)

CNNMoney recently had 3 very interesting articles that let us in on the future of computers. I simply could not resist sharing these with all of you.

Quantum leap.

Brain prosthetics. Telepathy. Punctual flights. A futurist’s vision of where quantum computers will take us.

She awakes early on the morning of April 10, 2030, in the capable hands of her suburban Chicago apartment. All night, microscopic sensors in her bedside tables have monitored her breathing, heart rate, and brain activity.

The tiny blood sample she gave her bathroom sink last night has been analyzed for free radicals and precancerous cells; the appropriate preventative drugs will be delivered to her hotel in Atlanta this evening. It’s an expensive service, but as a gene therapist, Sharon Oja knows it’s worth it.

Computers everywhere: Their most common prediction is that we will see – or rather, we won’t see – computers everywhere, painted onto walls, in chairs, in your body, communicating with one another constantly and requiring no more power than that which they can glean from radio frequencies in the air.

‘I won’t have to remember anything’: Exponentially smarter computers also raise the possibility of achieving a couple of computer science’s long-held goals: a human-brain-imitating neural network and true (or near-true) artificial intelligence. “This is going to be my mental prosthesis,” says UCLA’s Yablonovitch. “Everything I want to know, I can look up. Everything I can forget, I can find. I’m going to get old, but it won’t matter. I won’t have to remember anything.”

Computers in your headband: Of all the scientists’ visions of the quantum future, Wolf’s may be the most out-there. “The vision is that we don’t have a laptop anymore,” Wolf says. “We don’t have a cellphone. We wear it. It’s a headband. And instead of having a screen, we have direct coupling into the right side of the brain.”

Coming soon: Google on your brain.

Down the road we’re probably going to have access to something approaching all information all the time. Our lives – much longer by then because of the implications of this for medical care – will be enriched, even as our behavior will be very unlike how we live today.

Already much of our software and data is moving to giant remote servers connected to the Internet. Our photos, music, software applications like Microsoft Word, and just about everything else we use a computer for will be accessible to us wherever we go.

The other huge, and related, move of the moment is toward ultimate mobility. Several trends are taking us there. The cellphone is becoming more like a PC while the PC is becoming more like a cellphone. In short, the next great era of computing – succeeding the PC one – will likely be about smaller, cheaper, more-powerful portable devices.

If you wonder how devices can get smaller and yet replace the PC, keep in mind that a major innovation we’re seeing right now is vastly-improved voice-recognition software. While it only works on the fast processors of a PC today, the inexorable growth of computing power will soon take that kind of power into your cellphone. So long keyboard!

Surfing the Web with nothing but brainwaves.

Someday, keyboards and computer mice will be remembered only as medieval-style torture devices for the wrists. All work – emails, spreadsheets, and Google searches – will be performed by mind control.

If you think that’s mind-blowing, try to wrap your head around the sensational research that’s been done on the brain of one Matthew Nagle by scientists at Brown University and three other institutions, in collaboration with Foxborough, Mass.-based company Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems. The research was published for the first time last week in the British science journal Nature.

Nagle, a 26-year-old quadriplegic, was hooked up to a computer via an implant smaller than an aspirin that sits on top of his brain and reads electrical patterns. Using that technology, he learned how to move a cursor around a screen, play simple games, control a robotic arm, and even – couch potatoes, prepare to gasp in awe – turn his brain into a TV remote control. All while chatting amiably with the researchers. He even learned how to perform these tasks in less time than the average PC owner spends installing Microsoft Windows.

Already, the Brown researchers say, this kind of technology can enable a hooked-up human to write at 15 words a minute – half as fast as the average person writes by hand. Remember, though, that silicon-based technology typically doubles in capacity every two years.

So if improved hardware is all it takes to speed up the device, Cyberkinetics’ chip could be able to process thoughts as fast as speech – 110 to 170 words per minute – by 2012. Imagine issuing commands to a computer as quickly as you could talk.

But who would want to get a brain implant if they haven’t been struck by a drastic case of paralysis? Leaving aside the fact that there is a lucrative market for providing such profoundly life-enhancing products for millions of paralyzed patients, it may soon not even be necessary to stick a chip inside your skull to take advantage of this technology.

These are three lengty articles, but they are well worth the read.

This post is part of an ongoing series. To read the rest, see The Future of Computers (5).

Also see Extremely Fast Computers In Our Near Future.

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