The Pace of Technology
BusinessWeek has a series of articles on the The Innovation Economy including this one on "This Way To the Future," which briefly describes how life was like 75 years ago, when the magazine was founded and estimates how life will change 75 years from now.
The history of science and technology is one of my favorite topics. In my earlier post, Technology is Young, I described a realization of how most of items we used today were invented within a half-century. I am actually came to this realization earlier from my Information Technology course at my MBA program, which listed thousands of common inventions and plotted it in a timeline. Even low-tech inventions, like the ball-point pen and bandages, came about just 75 years ago; the widespread use of plastics, and later inventions like nylon and vinyl, also occurred within that time.
Modern medicine, with advances in pharmacology and surgery, just arrived during the twentieth-century and is still undergoing a rapid transformation, so much so that doctors constantly have to reeducate themselves, because everything they have learned just ten years ago is obsolete. Just in the nineteenth century, dissection of human bodies was illegal for moral reasons, hindering doctor's understanding of the human anatomy; now, every medical student dissects bodies in first-year anatomy class. In earlier centuries, surgery was declared immoral, because the church deemed it to be violation of sanctity of the human body, which was made in God's image. Though not outlawed, stem-cell research is facing some of this same kind of moral resistance from a ban in federal funding, but, if history is any guide, resistance will dissipate decades from now as life-saving benefits become more evident.
Mark Treadwell does a better job of describing the past than I did in his "The Year That Was -- 1904," which looks back a century ago in the year 1904 and describes how life was like. I should also add, that around that time, most Americans were still in farming, and the average person took wash themselves once a week.
Just I as like to look at the past, I am equally interested in the future. In fact, the software product that I am currently developing is my attempt at kickstarting a future wave of desktop applications employing artificial intelligence. In the past decade, we started seeing exciting new developments like nanotechnology, wireless, and biotechnology. Information technology and the web are accelerating advances across the spectrum of human disciplines (both technological and non-technological).
As you may know from prior posts, I am a subscriber to Kurzweil's Law, and regularly read from KurzwelAI.net's Accelerating-Intelligence News (RSS), which is a daily compilation of latest new innovations in techology that will transform the way we live.
Kurzweil traces the path of evolution in history towards increasing intelligent, self-aware and self-improving systems. In medicine, for example, Kurzweil believes that in the future holds for machine augmentation of the human body. Already, there have been a dozen successful experiments with mind-machine interfaces (aka, thought-activated computing), where humans can manipulate machines connected to the body with their thoughts. Future devices might offers humans additional sensory abilities or augment existing ones. Kurzweil also sees that we may arrive at a point where all major classes of diseases are conquered and various parts of the human body are either fully understood or easily manufactured and replaced. Human lifetimes could become indefinite, surpassing the supposed limit of 120 years.