Future Trends

Actually, I should call this essay “Future Trends Which Will Peter Out”.

I’m a fabulous prognosticator. I predicted the World Wide Web was a flash in the pan that wouldn’t last. Seriously. Wow, was I wrong.

So when I predict stuff’s not gonna work out, you might want to bet against me.

Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality

This is being pushed heavily these days. Numerous companies are trying to “perfect” the technology. Unfortunately, it’s a solution without a problem. Who really needs 3D (I’m lumping that in with virtual reality)? What application really needs vitually reality? And even if you found a real application which needed virtual reality, could you ever do it without cumbersome accoutrements?

Gaming is about the only area where I could see a use for it. Likewise, military simulation. Beyond that, I just don’t see a point. You could watch movies in 3D, but why? Yes, we’re pushing the technological envelope, but to what end?

Along with this, let me add things like 4K. Four K is a technology for rendering more detail than 1080p or whatever. Once everyone has this, there will be 8K, then 16K, etc. This is, again, primarily useful in games. Games are also getting a boost in frame rates, up to 60 frames per second so far. But again, do we really need this? How refined must we get when the human image processing system only understands 30 FPS or so? It sounds neat, and humans will inevitably try to better this stuff, just to say they’ve done it. But again, beyond games, which really don’t need these improvements, I don’t see the point.

I just don’t see a realistic wide-spread use for these technologies. Games and simulations, maybe. But otherwise, it’s just an expensive over-engineering stunt.

Internet Of Things (IOT)

The Internet of Things is where you can program your toaster or refrigerator, or anything else properly equipped, to do stuff. For instance, on your way home from work, you can get on your smart phone and send your coffee maker a signal to start a pot of coffee. (Of course, you’re the genius who’s going to have to ensure you’ve filled the silly thing with water first.)

There is more to IOT than this. I suppose you could have your refrigerator give you stock quotes too. But at some point, I have to question whether it’s really worth it to have this. You can have a system which turns lights on and off on a schedule. You can buy coffee makers which will do the same thing. Without the use of the Internet. How hard is it to flip a switch and turn on your lights? If the Internet disappeared one day, would it really be a problem to control household machines manually?

Again, it sounds nifty, and a lot of people want to have a bunch of this in their houses just so they can say, “I got that” to their friends and neighbors. But again, it’s like a solution with no problem. Investing billions in a technology and then convicing people it’s uber kewl and they need it seems pretty scammy to me. If you can’t be bothered to turn your lights on and off manually, then I think there might be other problems involved.

Autonomous Vehicles

These are self-driving cars, and a lot of people seem to be interested in this. But again, what problem are you trying to solve? The fact that you bought a house 50 miles away from your job, and you’re got a long, boring commute every day. And you’d like to be able to do something else to and from work?

I have to say, this creeps me out. And before you declare me a Luddite, I’ve been programming computers off and on for almost 50 years now. So I’m pretty comfortable with them. But I also know their limitations. Give a computer enough raw sensor inputs of the proper variety, and you can definitely have an automobile steer its way from point A to point B. The question is, do we really need to do this, and is there any real advantage in doing it? Some cases (like 50 mile commutes) might benefit, but otherwise, I’m perfectly happy to steer myself to 7-11 on my own.

And as soon as eight or nine people die in these things, you may too.

Also, in one scenario I’ve seen it’s necessary to dig up roadway and implant sensors in the road. Expensive venture for such an incremental benefit.

3D Printing

3D Printing is a cool technology for prototypes when you can have your prototype in plastic. Otherwise, having your own CNC router in your house will end up being a waste of time. Yes, hobbyists may go nuts with this stuff. But for the average consumer, will they really want and/or need this? It sounds like a gizmo you’d buy and ultimately have gather dust. Bear in mind that this technology paired with anything other than plastic (which has remarkably little applicability) would be problematic. Most metals require a tremendous amount of heat to make them malleable enough to deploy this way. Lead, maybe, but lead’s useful in few contexts with a melting point of 621 degrees Fahrenheit. Pewter maybe, with a melting point, with melting point of more or less 350 degrees Fahrenheit (it’s an alloy, so the variable melting point goes along with what mix of metals are involved).

I see this as a boon to hobbyists, but a white elephant to everyone else.

I do see this as a benefit for replacing broken plastic parts, perhaps. But how often are you as a consumer faced with something like this?

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Unlike the technologies above, AI is here to stay. Without AI, Youtube wouldn’t be possible, nor would search engines. AI is useful where the complexity of the problem is beyond the human mind to resolve swiftly. And there are a lot of problems like that. There are millions of problems where AI is useful and will eventually be applied. Weather prediction is an excellent use of AI. (Sorry, Gents, but nothing will ever be able to adequately predict the behavior of the female gender. You’ll have to come up with something else.)

The other issue with AI is the knob tweaking involved. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Google have all proven that AI has knobs sticking out which can be tweaked to distort outcomes in ways are detrimental and unpublished. If you come across some of these knobs being tweaked, you may come to loathe the entities tweaking them. Particularly when they’re being tweaked in ways which disadvantage you. This is the case across most of the social media and search today; the knobs are being tweaked in ways which don’t match your viewpoint and are being tweaked secretly.

Cloud Computing

This is here to stay. As much as I detest cloud computing, and can think of numerous reasons not to use it, it still fits many rather common use cases. And large companies aren’t going stop using or providing it, no matter how many times it gets hacked. Of course, it does require more or less constantly beign online, that isn’t much of a problem these days. Dang near everything you do these days requires an online component at this point.

Block Chain

Block chain is a little-understood technology at the heart of things like BitCoin. The technology is still in its infancy, but is being worked on by a large number of very smart people, who think it has applicabilty far beyond crypto-currencies. And they’re right; it does. It’s complex, so I won’t go into how it works, what it can do, and all the current uses for it. The mathematics and theory behind it are beyond my knowledge. But I understand some of the uses to which it can be put and why. The only drawback to this technology is that it requires (currently) a lot of computing power, and operates slowly once is gets going. But the future uses for it will be interesting, and may actually yield wide benefits.

Quantum/Organic Computing

These are two separate technologies which are being worked on to speed up and slim down energy consumption and size of electronic components. At least that’s their primary stated use.

Quantum computing, if ever developed (a question in itself) is a highly impractical proposition at this point. Rather than dealing in strict and detectible binary states, it deals in probabalistic states at a typically atomic or subatomic level. Quantum computing would vastly shrink electronic components. But whether its theoretical limitations could be overcome is a different matter. Only time will tell, and probably a lot of it.

Organic computing seeks to use biological processes in computing. I’m inclined to believe that almost every biological process under consideraton is too slow to afford any advantage in computing. And I’m not entirely sure that scientists and engineers have a firm grasp on how to implement it. We use computers because they can operate on problems which are too complex for the mind to handle, and which must be handled more quickly than a mind can move. So relying on biological processes to do actual computing sounds pretty weak to me. We’ll have to give it time, but in the end, I really don’t think ths trend will yield what is hoped of it.

When the Machine Develops a Soul

Folks, this ain’t ever gonna happen. It’s an interesting proposition for science fiction writers, but we have to remember that it’s fiction. A “soul” is something that only life is imbued with. Circularly, life is distinquishable from simple matter by the presence of a soul. Tricky, huh? But scientists completely discount the presence of the soul. They believe that machines (or artificial intelligences) could somehow become self-aware without the presence of an actual soul. What they fail to realize is that that which is self-aware in humans (and all other life forms) is the soul. Neurons and chemicals alone are not and never will become self aware. This is the sole province of the soul (no pun intended). I’m sorry if you don’t agree here. But machines will never become self-aware unless a soul inhabits them, which is unlikely. Souls cannot be created out of whole cloth or by any chemicals which are or will ever be created or used. I’m not talking about God here. Whether there is or isn’t a God, souls do exist and do motivate life forms, not chemicals or DNA or neurons. Those things do the bidding of the soul, and not the other way around.

After half a century of dealing with and programming computers, I know what they are capable of. And after more than half a century of being around it, I know what life and pure matter are capable of. You can program machines to do a lot of things, and even a lot of things I’ve never imagined. But you’ll never get them to actually be “aware” in the sense that humans are.

Impossible Technologies

Science fiction is fun, but we have to recognize what’s fiction. There will never be such a thing as time travel. Universes simply don’t allow it. It’s a rule, okay? The reasons should be obvious.

Star Trek style “replicators” will never exist either. The computing power necessary to execute something like that is staggering, and that’s even by today’s standards. The number of factors influencing the behavior of each individual atom (all of which must be synthesized in a replicator) is probably on the order of at least ten to twenty. By this I mean that there are at least that many factors which must be completely controlled in order to fabricate an atom. Forget chemical compounds, which must be controlled in a similar way.

It might not be obvious, but if you could create a replicator, you would have solved the problem of the alchemists of long ago, turning lead into gold. (There was more to alchemy than this, but I’m being simplistic here.) Just try fabricating an atom of any element out of whole cloth. Solar furnaces can do it. And when you develop one of those for your laundry room, you let me know. Even chemical compounds often require complex physical processes to come into existence. Solvents, reagents, catalysts, heat, light, pressure all play a role in the fabrication of molecules or compounds.

By the same token, “transporters” (again, Star Trek) are an unrealistic hope. The technology for a “transporter” is more or less the same technology involved in a “replicator”.

No folks, I’m afraid some of these things are pipe dreams, fun to read about, but never to actually happen.

As for faster than light travel, I believe it will indeed happen. It will happen not because of some silly non-existent creature like wormholes. But because Einstein was wrong, and there isn’t an absolute limit to velocity. The universe exists by virtue of natural law, not by mathematics. Just because you discover some laws and the mathematics of them leads you to the conclusion that X is possible doesn’t then make it possible. If the universe corresponds to any mathematics at all, it is coincidental. The universe is put together by laws, not math. For example, I’m not entirely sure that the gravitational constant is a constant for all frames of reference. As defined, the gravitational constant would dictate that any natural process involved be linear. But what if g is not a constant? What if it actually behaves differently depending on the context. What if the “constant” is really a parabolic number, one which takes on one value at subatomic levels, another at normal temperatures at sea level, and another where galaxies are concerned. Scientists have even invented “dark matter” (of which the universe is 95% plus composed) in order to explain the mathematical anomalies involve in their observations of stellar and galactic motion. Their real problem is that the “Big Bang” theory is flawed. The universe’s behavior doesn’t match up with the theory. It doesn’t fit the math. So rather than re-examine their assumptions, they make up new and weirder stuff to explain it all away. But it doesn’t work. Perhaps it’s time to re-examine some of the core assumptions of their cosmology.

In any case, yes, I think we will travel faster than light. But it probably won’t be in our lifetimes.