As a father of two young kids, I watch with awe as my kids interact with technology on a day to day basis. They can work computers without being shown anything about them (though User Interfaces are arguably much improved). I can only imagine what technology will exist when they are my age!
THE FOUNDATIONS OF KNOWLEDGE
As a child, I too was enthralled by the evolution of technology. I’d disassemble keyboards and use just the membrane. I thought it was cool, and it felt like I was emulating a scene from “Hackers” (circa 1995). If you haven’t seen it, it’s an entertaining film about how the world saw hackers in the days of the early internet).
The keyboard, in my mind, was based on an XT computer, though the precise details are a little hazy. Without realising it, this was my first experience with serialisation technology. All of these various encounters with technology along the way laid foundations of curiosity to the inner working of anything electronic.
It’s worth noting that this is far from my first experience with computers, however, it’s when I first recall really diving deeper into how and what made them work. It was, after all, a time when personal computing was still in its early phase. Sure, computers had put people on the moon, but they certainly weren’t in every home.
CURRENT TECHNOLOGY WAS ONCE IMPOSSIBLE
Just 100-years ago, what we now take for granted was totally incomprehensible. Consider living around the time of the First or Second World Wars, where some amazing technological breakthroughs for the time, were seen.
If during that period someone tried to tell you they were inventing a black box, which can fit in your pocket, that would allow you to see and speak with a friend on the other side of the world in real-time, you would consider them crazy, right?!
However, the precursor technologies were there, even if you wouldn’t have realised. Wireless broadcast (albeit analogue) was in use with radio, video cameras and lenses (though entirely analogue / film based), and battery technology too (though more akin to lead acid batteries than Lithium).
Sure, there’s a big leap to digital communications; undersea fibre cables for lightning-fast Internet, and an entire communication infrastructure. Further to that, the modern transistor was only invented in 1947 too, let alone CPUs. However, it could be argued the analogue versions needed to exist before their digital versions could have come to life.
What happens now has already happened in the past. Albeit in a different way, the Industrial Revolution saw massive advances in a short space of time. However, this would not have been possible if it weren’t for the preceding technologies that enabled or provided breakthroughs which could be leveraged in other ways.
Where I’m going with all of this is; what can we expect from the future?
Our kids are growing up with iPads, ultra-fast WiFi, Artificial Intelligence and Augmented or Virtual Reality. With such an amazing array of technologies at their fingertips, they will find ways to enhance, combine, and springboard from these ideas in ways that we cannot feasibly imagine.
Using lasers as a propulsion method for public transport? Sure.
What about space elevators to bring satellites back down to earth for routine maintenance? Why not?
Perhaps a geothermal energy system that bores right into the outer core of the earth, to provide renewable energy anywhere in the world (not just in geologically suitable areas)? Absolutely.
These ideas that feel a little crazy right now, are all theoretically possible. Perhaps there will be some technological hurdles, but when inventors and engineers base their ideas on current technology, they’ll make similar leaps forward as those who in generations past based their own advances on the then current technologies.
We cannot even begin to theorise where these technologies will go. While we’re in the midst of a tech boom thanks to the Internet, this too will no doubt slow to a mainstream level. We could see a massive boom in interstellar mining, strides in renewable energy, or one of an unlimited number of possibilities.
Technology breakthroughs lead to more technology breakthroughs.
For example, the invention of the atomic bomb rapidly lead to refinement and miniaturisation, and the silicon transistor soon lead to modern CPUs.
More recently, we see qubits technology enabling headway into quantum computing, along with the privatised space industry rapidly reducing costs for space exploration (and ultimately colonisation).
As engineers and enthusiasts, we constantly stand on the shoulders of giants. Each of our own projects is enabled by the invention of the Arduino, the microcontroller, the silicon transistor, and ultimately each respective component down to the copper tracks. We no longer think about the individual components as much as the whole, and that’s perfectly fine; we’re building the next thing - not the same thing.
I, for one, cannot wait to see our future generations standing on our shoulders, further making the impossible not only possible, but every day.