Much of the technology we see today was already imagined many years ago. But some of the advancements previous generations imagined have not yet arrived, and when they do, beyond simply improving human lives, they may ultimately redefine humanity.
We have come a long way since the first generation of PCs that cost many times more and were many times less capable than today’s average computer. Today we have versatile PCs that also function as tablets and phones. We even have handheld computing devices that are smaller, cheaper and a billion times faster than their predecessors, not to mention that our phones are now also radios, music players, cameras, dictionaries, calendars, scientific calculators, translators, and maps—a lot more than we could have imagined a few decades ago. But this is just the beginning of an epic revolution awaiting humanity. A life-altering technological paradigm shift will soon transcend everything we have witnessed so far.
Accelerating Returns and Technological Abundance
Much of the changing technological paradigm goes back to Moore’s law. Gordon E. Moore made an audacious prediction in 1965, claiming that the density of transistors on integrated circuits would double approximately every two years. For the most part, Moore’s law has held true. Computers have increased in performance while shrinking in size and price. Systems that once filled an entire room now fit into our pockets, and they are vastly faster and more affordable than one could have possibly imagined 50 years ago.
According to Dr. Peter Diamandis’s predictions published on Singularity Hub, “In 2025, in accordance with Moore’s Law, we’ll see an acceleration in the rate of change as we move closer to a world of true abundance.” In his top eight predictions for the next 10 years, Diamandis writes that “we are living in incredible times where the only constant is change, and the rate of change is increasing.”
One cannot discuss the future of technology without discussing Ray Kurzweil’s predictions. He made some staggering predictions in his bestselling book The Singularity Is Near, published in 2005. A decade later, most of Kurzweil’s predictions were found to have been uncannily true.
Some of the ideas that technology futurists like Kurzweil and Diamandis present may perhaps sound ambiguous, ambitious or even overtly wishful to critics, but it’s hard to fully rule out the possibility of these developments ultimately making their way into our lives in 20, 30 or 100 years. After all, historically, many of the technological advancements that human society has witnessed had in fact been theorized many years before they came to be accepted. And although these ideas were often rejected at the time, many of them came into widespread use just a few years later.
Current Technologies Were Imagined Decades Ago
Last month, Wired published an article showing some of MIT Media Lab’s most cutting-edge technological innovations, which formed the foundation of many of today’s computing devices and technologies. Touchscreens and E Ink are good examples of technologies eventually incorporated into highly adopted products such as the iPad, iPhone, and Kindle.
In fact, MIT was experimenting with touchscreens as early as the late 1960s and early 1970s. Critics found the idea of a touchscreen quite absurd at the time because it allegedly prevented the user from viewing what they were pointing at. Yet four decades later, multitouch is standard for most handheld computing devices.
GPS navigation is another example of the many technologies gaining mainstream adoption today after MIT first envisioned them many decades ago. GPS was never patented by MIT because people thought it would be too risky to use. Nonetheless, it ultimately came to market and found widespread acceptance, paving the way for more advanced research into self-driving cars. Some other technologies have not yet found marketable use cases, but are in the process of being incorporated partly or fully into new products such as the Apple Watch, Google Glass, Samsung’s wearables and Microsoft’s HoloLens.
MIT has also made major contributions in the field of robotic prosthetics, which should enable scientists and engineers to create neurally controlled artificial limbs. These prosthetic limbs would be capable of restoring near-natural motor and sensory capabilities to amputees. MIT has been doing extensive research on how to scale up these capabilities, which could ultimately lead to the elimination of all organ and brain disabilities in humans. Another critical area in which MIT Labs has been making steady progress is optogenetics, which allows artificial sensors to be connected to the nerves of the eye allowing the blind to see.
Where Are We Headed?
With continuing development in artificial intelligence, robotics, biotechnology, nanorobotics and other critical sciences, human lives will be deeply impacted by technology over the course of the next two, three or five decades. We may be 20 years away from it, or it may arrive much sooner, but the arrival of a technological tipping point seems certain.