The creeping miracle of technology

by Edwin on March 8, 2014

If you’re anything like me, you may be feeling short-changed by the present…

Where is the future my childhood books promised? Of flying cars, jetpacks, and holidays spent in a toroidal space station anchored at Lagrange point?

It’s easy to spot the big stuff that didn’t happen, while the little stuff that did is so woven into the fabric of everyday life that it barely merits a second glance.

Incremental change is a funny thing. It creeps up on you, catches you unaware, until one day the penny drops and you notice that something is different.

Take hair. You don’t go to bed one day with short hair and wake up with long. Hair growth is a continuum, and at some point it becomes “too long”, which is the trigger for you to go to the hairdressers.

Nowhere has this process of incremental change been more evident than in the field of computing. Moore’s Law – which, to be pedantic, is a prediction rather than an actual law – has seen to that.

Thanks to Moore’s Law, when I leave the house, I slip into my pocket a thin rectangular device, significantly lighter than a paperback book, which:

  • Contains over 500 hours of music and 30,000 pages of reading matter
  • Can track my position in real time, alert me to traffic, give me directions, even let me see photos of where I’m about to go next
  • Can take dictation and transcribe everything I say
  • Lets me communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world, through voice, video, text
  • Lets me know what my friends and family are up to
  • Allows me to capture the world around me in high definition
  • Records where I’ve been, and how many calories I burnt doing so
  • Gives me access to billions of hours of video
  • Lets me watch over 20,000 films on demand
  • Tells me which is the best restaurant to visit, and what’s on at the cinema this evening
  • Knows what time the next train is – and that it’s running 12 minutes late
  • Allows me to surf the web (another miracle) at speeds that would dwarf the broadband of a few years ago
  • Lets me translate what I see and hear from over 100 languages
  • Allows me to shop for billions of products, including millions of books (which I can add to the collection in my pocket at any time)
  • Helps me keep track of the contact details of everyone I know
  • Can teach me the basics of how to do anything (when was the last time you came across something that hasn’t had a “how to” guide or video made about it?)

I imagine that if I stepped through a portal into the past, and told my childhood self – sat hunched over books about starships and gleaming domed cities – about the miraculous device in my pocket, it would have seemed so far fetched as to be laughable. More fantasy than science fiction.

Yet around the world billions of us take all this for granted.

Perhaps it’s time to take a moment and think of the future we’re already living in…

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