What would happen if you crossed your happy little Macintosh Interface with an industrial robot, and threw in a dose of Artificial Intelligence, too?
Many things are still the same, Suzan, on this warm December day, 2049. I like it out here by the lake. All the walnut trees are so colorful, and they smell so good! OK. Begin… As far as computers today are concerned, they are absolutely everywhere, but you will rarely ever see one! Let me explain.
A long time ago, when I was barely out of college, I taught a computer class and told my students to imagine the future of computing. First we watched an old Star Trek video, where I pointed out to them that the computer was all around the people, but nowhere to be seen. (This was way back in the bad old days, where primitive computers were in big ugly boxes, sitting on office desks!)
Then I painted for them a word picture, of a man sitting at an empty table. He was wearing glasses, but he had no computer, monitor, or keyboard. He was just sitting there, talking to himself, tapping his fingers on the blank table, and sometimes absently pointing at the empty wall he faced. A refugee from an asylum? No! He was wearing his computer in his glasses, which had a small ear piece that also acted like a microphone. His gigantic Mac graphic interface was projected on the wall in front of him, and he was typing on the virtual keyboard appearing on his desk, which the glasses projected. Instead of a mouse, he used his finger to touch what he wanted, on his ghostly monitor. He was talking out loud because he was using his voice mail on the Internet.
Strange, Suzan, how close I was to this reality, this year of our Lord, 2049… and how far off I really was! Yeah, it’s all come true, but forget the glasses!
How did it happen? Well, a lot of people used computers for much more than just their personal work and surfing the Net. They began to put computers into running their businesses and industries. Almost nobody back then who were using personal computers at home ever noticed. All they were concerned about was Bandwidth! But the really Big Picture was in industry! At first, computers in the factory were doing quality control much more precisely than the most dedicated Quality Assurance employee could ever do. Their complicated, but still primitive computers were used in more and more tasks in manufacturing, as they copied the successful manufacturing techniques and procedures from the computer chip makers. Their products were better and so was their productivity.
Others used their computers in engineering to create better and more cost effective designs. This led to better products and improved sales. It also led to lower manufacturing costs by virtue of precision manufacturing controls and the greater reliability of computer-controlled machinery. This was going on almost everywhere, and in every major business.
Along the line, someone smart decided that they could build really small computers and peripherals if they let the computers build the tiny factories that were needed to build them. Micro-miniaturization was the big thing for awhile, as well as a renewed interest in robotics. Soon those two things merged. Micro factories turned out Microbots. Soon there were little computer robots which could go almost anywhere and do anything they were programmed to do. You needed a microscope to see one.
Another smart person got these Microbots to build still smaller factories, which turned out still smaller Nanobots, and so forth. Finally, the little things were way too small to see, even with a microscope, because they were nearly molecule-sized! Why, a whole supercomputer would be no bigger than a period on a page!
That, Suzan, changed everything!
Nowadays, when you want a computer you go to the store and buy a pill. In that pill are several million Nanobots, much smaller than your body’s cells. Don’t worry, they’re perfectly safe to use. In fact, they do quite a few chores for you once they get into your body. Once inside, they follow a standard, fail-safe program (No, Suzan, not Windows! Hee hee!) A few of them plant themselves in your inner ear, your vocal cords, and in between the rods and cones of your retinas. The rest act out many roles, from data storage, communication channels to the Net, and radio links between all the other Nanobots. A good number of them police your arteries and lungs, keeping them clear of debris, while still others are always on the lookout for pre cancerous cells, or dangerous medical conditions. Thanks to Nanotechnology, people today are a lot healthier and better connected than they ever were in the “dark ages” of computing.
The pill you just took only cost a few dollars. Everything in it was completely manufactured by other computers. Once you took your pill, it was only a matter of a few minutes before you found yourself seeing and hearing your friends on the Net. They could see and hear you just fine, for the Nanobots delivered a ‘3D model’ of you that so closely approximated you that your own mom couldn’t tell the difference. This neat trick gives you privacy, so you could still surf the Net even if you were in the shower. Nanobots always keep your ‘picture’ presentable.
You can surf the Net and answer your email in your car, too! Not to worry, though. Your car’s computer drives (or flies) you safely to your destination. In the old days, vehicle accidents claimed many thousands of lives every year, but now, with the computer doing the driving, accidents are a thing of the past.
I have a few other vehicles that are computer driven, too. My Doggy is one. It is little more than a small, secure box on wheels, which I send to the store or the mall when I want to buy something. It really doesn’t go there. It goes to a warehouse somewhere, while I go online and visit the virtual 3D store. It is never crowded when I go, and the virtual people there are so very knowlegable and courteous! I just tell them what I want, and how I want it, and their computer tells the warehouse’s robots to put it in my Doggy cart, and he brings it home.
Come to think of it, there isn’t much in our lives that is not touched, enhanced, or protected by some computer somewhere, because it’s all made by computers.
All this has caused many changes in our lives, all for the better. Houses now are built on assembly lines by General Motors Habitations. These are ‘living’ appliances, which protect and meet the needs of their inhabitants almost before they think to ask for something. Old style dwellings still exist, but whole forests are no longer required to be cut for lumber to build our new homes. People nowadays prefer to live minimally in smaller dwellings. There is a “Zen” about people and computers that sort of transcends accumulating property.
A while back, some chemist put his company computer to work on creating a new plastic out of the most abundant elements on the planet. His computer invented these new water-carbon plastics, which are now used to make almost everything we have, from our vehicles and appliances to even our dwellings and offices. Wonderful stuff, and so colorful! (Reminds me of antique iMacs.)
Another physicists found a way, using his computer, to create efficient new motors that run on water. Those motors break the water down into hydrogen and oxygen to get their power. They are also computer controlled and self-repairing too, using Nanobots, of course, and a small onboard supply of metal and plastic stock. Things last longer now, so people upgrade their homes, cars, and appliances just like in the old days when they upgraded their computers.
What else? Oh, television now is only on the Net. Great Bandwidth! Apple Computer, those guys who started it all with Macintosh personal computers, became our biggest entertainment company on the Net. Their programming is all in 3D! It’s like walking inside a movie set! The old Networks were bought out by Ted Turner’s kids a long time ago. Their programming is all 2D reruns. Yeah, we still have “I Love Lucy” and “Star Trek!” Some things never go away.
Businesses have changed too. Since manufacturing and almost every other business is automated by Microbots and Nanobots, people have much more free time on their hands. So schools and colleges on the Net are a booming business. Seems most people want to keep growing and learning. Especially with the 20 hour work week. Learning is a necessity for people to be successful today. For instance, student engineers study the intricate designs that the computers invented so they can learn how to be better engineers.
Our computers are continually contributing to the great wealth of the world’s knowledge, too. It has been estimated that between 1900 and, oh, 1970, man’s total knowledge from the last two thousand years doubled. It only took about another decade before it doubled again. Now, all the knowledge doubles every couple of days! Without our computers, we could never keep up, or even make sense of it all! Hooray for Nanobots!
One interesting change is in the people! Because computers are so prevalent, both the kind you carry and the kind inside, people all over the world are connected to the web. We apparently all talk the same language, because the computers automatically translate anyone’s speech or writing immediately. So I am talking to my friends Chen and Ahman, and we are chatting up a storm, when it occurs to me that their words are not quite matching their lip movements. I stopped them and told my companion to quit translating for a minute, and asked them to do the same. Then we tried to talk! How awkward that was for the three of us! We put our translators back on fast, so we could converse again. I’ve never learned another language, but that was an eye opener. Those two guys are some of my closest friends, but they never would have been if it hadn’t been for our computers!
What else? Ah! All the old public schools are all gone now. Good riddance! A good prognosticator named Martellaro once predicted that as soon as people found out that everything you needed to learn was on the Net, they would leave their old paradigms and their hopelessly old-fashioned schools. He was right. Computer Mentors are big now, especially since they can synthesize the vast amount of information so quickly, and then leave it us to pick and choose what we want to learn that is important to us and our interests. Learning is fun now!
People explore more now, and they travel everywhere. Why not? You never have to leave your office or your work behind. People found out very soon in our new computer age that they no longer had to be tied to cities or to their offices. Almost no one has to commute to work anymore since they can telecommute from anywhere on the planet. Man has finally begun to spread out over our big empty planet, instead of hiding in dirty, crowded cities. Travel to the moon and Mars is opening up for those who are more adventurous. They will be taking their computers with them when they go, of course, in all their myriad forms.
This is what typifies our age, Suzan: Man working and playing, always with his computers which are all around him–and inside him–and everywhere he goes!
If computers watch out for us and protect us, then crime is down, right? Yeah! For instance, it’s nearly impossible now to sneak up on people and rob them (or worse!). Besides, people don’t use money anymore. There is no need. Our computers, keyed to watch out for our health and our surroundings, make it so. The same is true with any forgeries or scams. People wear their computers and their bank accounts in their bodies. What better ID could there be?
But we have a lot of new types of crimes now. They involve Nanobots, of course. Some Pacific Rim groups are having a ‘war’ with us, so to speak. They learned how to manufacture Nanobots, too! However, their computers are crudely built and they carry trashy advertising. They are programmed to secretly insert themselves into our work and our surfing. Sometimes they are so good at this that we hardly realize that we have just experienced a commercial, or an illicit sensation, until it has passed. We know they’re not airborne. We think they are ‘caught’ by people touching things, so many people wear plastic gloves all the time now! Or they stay home.
A few people believe that those renegade Nanobots only come out at night while we sleep, to inhabit our dreams and fill our heads with compulsions to buy certain products or services! Personally, I think those people aren’t infected with rogue Nanobots, but with paranoia. Our own Nanotechnology is very well programmed to deal with any unidentified Nanobots, once they are finally discovered in a host body. The few people who don’t use Nanobotic computers (those Luddites!) are immune to any micro miniature devices ’cause they’ve no internal computers to interface with! But, boy! They’re on the Net hootin’ about it!
Is there artificial intelligence in our computers now? Well, not exactly. Self-aware computers only exist in old movies and books. But it is uncanny how computers today mimic self-awareness. You know very well, Suzan, that they converse with us, and interact with us, seemingly with a mind of their own. If they are not self-aware, I am hard pressed to prove it. I know, I know! I’ve read all the material about how they only imitate intelligence and personality, and how they have all the Net to draw from for experience, and how they use complex computer-designed software programs that approximates a synthesis of people’s interactions with each other… I know all that, Suzan!
But when my Companion, that artificial personality that inhabits my internal Nanobotic computer is interacting with me, well, she’s just like a close friend! I forget who, or what, I am talking to anymore! Besides, what’s the difference? If she isn’t real, she’s the best imitation of a real person I ever met! She never intrudes, but she is always there for me, and she is never selfish, and she never goes away. Why, she even chats with our GM Habitation and with my cars when I’m too busy to talk to her! (I wonder? Does she ever get lonely?)
Now, I’m not someone who talks to his house or his car! I mean, there is a limit to these computerized appliances having an artificial, animated, and intellectual soul! Why, today almost all the toys and teddy bears the kids like are just animated cartoons and characters that move and talk and like to play tricks. But we are adults. We are decent and rational folks. So I keep any conversations with computers strictly to my own personal and internal Companion. It’s more polite that way, and it doesn’t look quite so silly talking to a toy or to an appliance!
Have I missed anything, Suzan? Probably I have. So much of my life is transparent to me. I might not notice that it is also touched by a computer.
Oh, I know they are everywhere! They perform our surgeries. They grow and protect our crops. They invent things, too! One university computer I saw synthesized Mozart. Imagine that! The Computer became Mozart in order to keep writing more of his music, seeing that he died so young. People have a great debate now about that new music. Is it really something Mozart might have created, or is it just modern trash? I think it sounds pretty good! I hope they do Beethoven some day, or Da Vinci!
Anyway, Companion! You got all this? Good! I’m done now!
I did as you requested, Suzan. I finished this little summary of how computing has changed us these past fifty years. Good thing I still have a good memory! What? Oh, I know I didn’t cover the computer enhancements in sports controversy, or the ethics of using nanotechnology in embryos, or a bunch of other things, but I covered the subject you asked me for, right? I know you had me do this little exercise in order to hone my logic and thinking skills. Yeah, it was hard to do, but it was fun! I guess I’m not such an old rust bucket after all! Why, I still have almost a hundred years ahead of me, don’t I?
Oh yeah? I knew you were going to ask me to do that! Converse about computing for the next fifty years, huh? That is a much harder assignment, you know! I don’t remember it as well as the last fifty. Hee, Hee! Will I get my hour to work on it, just like this last assignment? Hope you kept a copy of what I said. I might like to read it sometime, or send it to a friend. Now where’s my fishing pole?
OK, Suzan. Here goes… Begin!