Monday, March 2, 2009

As We May Think Response

In July 1945 Vannevar Bush published in The Atlantic the article "As We May Think," which was in many ways prophetic of technological trends, especially in information technology. To explain the kinds of advances he expects in a field which did not yet exist, he imagines other technological advances in photography, stenography, calculators, and data storage and retrieval.
His most famous invention of the future is the Memex, which computers conceptually resemble.

More interesting to me than the inventions he predicted were his observations of what allow for technology to be made and commonly used, which is material in nature, and economically driven. His mechanically imagined future technology has in fact been actualized digitally, which illustrates that manufacturing and materials technology is in fact more revolutionary and instrumental to large socio-technological changes than a single individual invention. The changes brought by the invention of the computer (a digital memex, if you will) pale in comparison to the changes brought by the availability of the personal computer.

My predictions: 1. Today innovations in medical technology are the really cool advances. It follows that the technology of the future will not be based on electromagnetism, but on biological material. DNA contians vast ammouts of information coded in C, G, A, and T rather than 0s and 1s. If we can sufficiently understand protein synthesis, we could store information on the molecular level as well. This could work well in a world where electricity is more of a commodity.

2. Even in Bush was imagining ways to send and recieve brain signals directly:

"By bone conduction we already introduce sounds: into the nerve channels of the deaf in order that they may hear. Is it not possible that we may learn to introduce them without the present cumbersomeness of first transforming electrical vibrations to mechanical ones, which the human mechanism promptly transforms back to the electrical form? With a couple of electrodes on the skull the encephalograph now produces pen-and-ink traces which bear some relation to the electrical phenomena going on in the brain itself. True, the record is unintelligible, except as it points out certain gross misfunctioning of the cerebral mechanism; but who would now place bounds on where such a thing may lead?"

As referred to in my "Jacking into the Brain" post, this technology which allows new ways to interface with the consciousness largely already exists, what is going to be done with it is the question.

Ten years ago, people were using pagers. Now people can browse the internet with their phones. Prediction: In another ten years I expect people to be able to have brain-wave controlled Bluetooth ear peices, so they can think about who they want to call and the call will be placed. Or they can open, compose, and send a text message with their thoughts. Hands free? Check. Drunk dialing? An even bigger problem.

Prediction 3: Stemcells will allow us to grow nerves where we do not have them in order to control and recieve information from prosthetics. Extra arms would be cool, and extra senses would also be neat. But if prediction number 1. is true, we can skip the cyborg stage altogether and remain totally organic.

We wouldn't be genetically engineered, we would be biologically modified. We'll just slap on some gecko traction and some stemcells on our finger tips and be able to scale walls that much better. They'll have to test atheletes and require parental consent for minors.

But I like the traditional, robotic cyborg aesthetic, I hope to see it actualized.

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