Monday, 21 January 2013

SF and real tech: what might the future bring?

My laptop broke early last term. I can't say it was a particularly frustrating experience; I keep my most important files on USB sticks as well as the laptop's hard drive, so I could plug one of those into my mother's (largely unused) laptop and keep working while my machine was sent for repairs. My internet activity was only slightly affected by the change in machines, and if anything I did start working harder than before. For a while, anyway.

The temporary loss of my laptop did, however, remind me of how I spent quite a lot of my first year at university: alone in a terraced house twenty minutes from campus, without television or internet. Although I could easily make the journey into uni, laptop in tow, and use one of the many wireless internet networks available to access the various sites I typically do of an evening at home, I was also rather lazy. Some nights, I'd be in bed by seven or eight o' clock and just lie there, waiting to drift off to sleep, instead of doing something productive.

I imagine things would've been different if I had a phone that could access the net, or even had some means of getting online instantly whenever I wanted, something that I could just hook up to and lose myself in, or maybe something inside my body that allowed access to the data-rich realm of the internet with just a thought...

Where exactly is computer technology going at the moment? The first computers were massive things that filled rooms; now you can hold more power and memory than they had in the palm of your hand. The market seems to be filling with increasingly slim phones, tablets and notebooks; the room required in a device for hardware appears to be decreasing, with large (touch)screens being the primary reason for larger models to exist – and even then, they still have thin profiles, if not always thinner ones than in their previous incarnation.

To detour into the world of console gaming for a moment, compare the size (specifically the thickness) of the original Nintendo DS with its descendants; with the exception of the 3DS and 3DS XL, which use rather new technology, almost every incarnation of the platform has got thinner and more streamlined, its applications more varied and its hardware capabilities more powerful than the last. The wiring and circuitry of the DSi XL is pretty much identical to that of the much smaller and more compact DSi, its predecessor; it's a lot of hardware in a small space. And what of the games themselves? Cartridge size decreased from Game Boy Color to Game Boy Advance, and now more data than either of those carried – for different graphics and means of gameplay – can be kept on what amounts to a glorified SD card. Things have changed a lot in only a few years.

I don't think it would be too great a stretch of the imagination to say that eventually, technology might get so small (and yet be so powerful and advanced) we wouldn't need large screens to enjoy what it offers, at least not in the case of the internet; the tech could just be implanted and integrated into our bodies somehow, as in so many cyberpunk-inspired sf stories, and the information would flash across our retinas whenever we wanted – the ultimate hands-free experience – or we could dive into the net itself for a time, leaving our bodies behind as our minds wonder. Maybe this seems a little far-fetched right now, but who's to say what the future might bring?

Would we let technology literally become a part of ourselves, and have our bodies and minds be so immersed in it? How long would it take for such technology to appear and be accepted by society? What sort of ethical implications would it have? Would it completely displace our current technology? If we became dependent on it, what would we do if something went wrong with it and we lost access to it, or it became faulty? What else might change as a result of it? What alternatives to this might appear instead?

There's a lot of questions surrounding this sort of thing, hence its popularity in sf – the 's' stands for 'speculative' as well as 'science', after all. The possibilities of technology have had massive impact on fiction for a long time, and the relationship has proved reciprocal in the past. H.G. Wells imagined something like the internet might appear, and lo, it did, somewhat influenced by his ideas, if not necessarily in the exact form he might have expected. Other technology might come about in a similar way.

1 comment:

  1. It's funny you should comment on how technology is evolving because I was thinking about this the other day. In the second episode of the Doctor Who reboot in 2005, Rose asks to be taken into the future one hundred years and the Doctor says that he can do that but it would be a bit boring and instead takes her to the last day of planet Earth. I disagree with this though, technology is a huge factor in the evolution of society, and a hundred years ago the technology was massively different. It's only just over a hundred years since the sinking of the Titanic and the technology upon that sole vessel is so completely different from what you would find on the equivalent today that 1500 people would have survived a devastating accident. One hundred years into our future can only bring the same discoveries. 2013 is a completely different world in terms of technology to 1913, it's a shame that likelihood is we won't get to see 2113, although with the evolution of technology who knows?


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