When I was a kid, I would create things in my dad’s workshop that would revolutionize society. They were futuristic and impressive looking — only they didn’t do anything.
As I got older, I at least made the lights turn on, but that’s where it stopped.
I read comics about Dick Tracy’s wristwatch, and saw science fiction television where mad scientists created the strangest gadgets. I watched villains fight my hero Superman with then state-of-the-art technology. The flashing lights on all the spaceships I saw were impressive. I was inspired.
When I finally got to visit Mission Control as an adult, I was surprised to see that my inventions of the late ’50s didn’t look much different than NASA’s devices of the late ’60s.
Today’s technology truly amazes me. There are now approximately 2 billion personal computers on desks on the planet, in addition to the 6.5 billion mobile phones in use worldwide.
Think about what they do for a moment. In mere seconds, we can send a message to anyone. We can pull up a weather forecast, check traffic patterns or see if our plane is running late.
There are bank balances and sports scores to check, photos from loved ones to view, the ability to update your Facebook status and, oh yeah, call anyone from anywhere.
I have in my phone Internet access, a camera, a level, a compass, a barcode scanner, a document scanner, a flashlight, a virtual assistant, music, movies, a calendar and a to-do list, as well as unlimited maps and, of course, email and texting ability.
And I was impressed that Captain Kirk could talk to the Enterprise from Rigel One with his communicator. Aside from the fact that he could beam aboard, I do believe we’ve got him beat.
Now we have various wearable computers on the market. There is the WIMM One, an Android watch that Dick Tracy would love, and Google glasses, the eyeglass computer display that would make Kirk envious.
We have gone from mouse-controlled devices to touch- and voice-controlled. Now researchers are working on thought-controlled devices, and it’s not science fiction.
In Japan, thought-controlled robots are being developed. Google has announced that they are testing a fleet of robots for various purposes. Robots, although perhaps not yet mainstream, have worked their way into real life, so to speak.
There is talk of thought control use in car navigation systems and for assistance with people with disabilities and the elderly, among other areas.
Moore’s Law states that the number of components in our technological devices (and the speed at which they deliver) will be doubled approximately every 18 months. This, in fact, has held true since the 1960s. So not only are our gadgets getting smaller and smarter, they’re also getting faster.
In retrospect, I recall how slow my first 286-SX computer was, running Windows 3.1. Think of how we will feel about our laptops of today, 30 or 40 years from now. We will snicker at their quad-core processors and their paltry terabyte of storage space.
Did you even consider back 30 years or more that you would be wearing a portable phone, talk to your car’s navigation system or be able to access map information via a satellite? How about hanging your television on the wall? That would all be absurd, right? Yet we do these things now without even giving it a second thought.
In the coming year we can look forward to some new innovations. USB devices for example, will be bilateral, meaning there will be no more upside-down when you attempt to plug them in.
Aside from the ever-evolving iPhones and X Boxes, there will be new gadgets. Virtual glasses are being honed for mainstream use. Watch for Meta space Glasses and the Foc.us Headset, both coming soon.
We will more than likely see more ergonomically designed devices, including curved displays on our portable gadgets, smarter TVs and better home automation.
MIT researchers are currently working on software that will make our Internet connections three times faster than they are now. Leap Motion, a Texas company, says mouse clicks may be a thing of the past as soon as their hand-motion technology gets refined.
“It’s a new era in which people interact with digital information as naturally as if it were real,” said Leap Motion co-founder David Holz.
And research continues. There is a group of scientists who gather with the purpose of making human space travel beyond our solar system to another star a reality within the next 100 years. They discuss the possibilities of warp drives and wormholes. Perhaps they will beam aboard.
Those researchers say that they want to go faster than the speed of light, regardless of what Einstein said — and they don’t want to stop at Mars: To infinity and beyond.
Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville. His column appears biweekly on the Business page and on gainesvilletimes.com.