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Predicting the Future

March 30, 2012

And he’ll take [the home computer] as much for granted as we take the telephone.       – Arthur C. Clarke

In a fascinating interview with Australian television, science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke predicted a future of personal computing. By the year 2001, he imagined that we’d be using our personal computers to connect to our bank accounts, buy tickets, and even work from anywhere in the world. He envisioned a world interconnected through computer networks and one where these technologies are inescapable aspects of our lives.

When Clarke describes the hyper-connectivity of the future, the interviewer asks a fascinating question: “Do we become a computer dependent society?” It’s a loaded question. Clarke looks at the question functionally. He responds by saying that yes, we will become dependent on computers, but that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing since computers will allow us to live and work wherever we want. However, the question also insinuates a net negative effect on our culture. Clarke recognizes this and says that we will still be able to interact with humans, even humans from other places in the world.

Of course, Clarke could not have envisioned the truth of his words or the total ubiquity of computer technology. Today, few can imagine life without computers or the Web. Fewer still remember life before Facebook and social networking. Baby Boomers wax nostalgic about handwritten letters, the impromptu telephone call, and family dinners, even as they reflexively reach for their smart phones. We expect robot pets to provide companionship to our parents and grandparents as they age. While many marvel at the Internet’s ability to connect disparate lives from across the planet, how many of us take the time to connect with people on the other side of the globe?

Predicting the future is hard. Clarke always seemed on the cusp of the future, a digital seer. Yet few can predict what lies ahead. This social media quagmire we find ourselves in may not last forever. Or social media may prove so addictive and such a compulsive habit that we want it hard-wired into us. In one future, I see a world that has moved beyond social media to harness the Web’s power to create greater social good. In another future, I see people with computers designed on a nano level to be a part of their biology; this is a world where “social networking” simply becomes “networking.” They are one and the same.

I offer these visions to demonstrate that the future is ours to control. What we do now, this very moment, affects the future of technology. Act responsibly.

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