Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Prophesying the Future of Digital Technology. (Personal Computing)

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Prophesying the Future of Digital Technology. (Personal Computing)

Article excerpt

"If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then unto me." Shakespeare's words are just as wise today, but this hasn't stopped people from trying to divine the future.

The latest future-oriented computing issue goes by the overbroad moniker "Web services," and the companies behind it, including Microsoft with its Microsoft .NET initiative and Sun with its Sun ONE initiative, would have you believe that your computing future lies in their hands.

A Web service is a computer program that resides not on your computer but on another computer that you connect to through the Internet. The promise is that you'll be able to use any program no matter what type of computer you're using, including a handheld PC or even one you wear on your wrist, no matter where you are.

Experts predict that it will be two or three years before Web services have any chance of replacing your word processor and other desktop applications. My prediction is that if they force you to cede control of your computing experience, they'll fail. The personal computing revolution is about gaining control through customizability and personalization, not losing it.

Still, the prospect of computing untethered without losing any functionality is compelling.

Other work is under way to create ever-faster computers through new chip technology. The engines of tomorrow's PCs may be based not on silicon dioxide but on exotic new compounds such as perovskite oxide or even the stuff of life itself, DNA. Faster computers may finally make speech recognition as workable as typing and may lead to computers like HAL from the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey."

The future will be truly mind-boggling, according to the prognosticators. In his book The Age of Spiritual Machines, Ray Kurzweil believes that by the year 2030 common $1,000 personal computers will grow so greatly in speed and capabilities that they will achieve the full capacity of the human brain.

Kurzweil, a prominent inventor and business leader in the field of artificial intelligence, makes other predictions: By the end of this century, we'll achieve virtual immortality by being able to download our minds, memories and consciousness into robots. Ultimately, he reasons, human and machine intelligence will merge and become indistinguishable, growing exponentially until it will be able to control how the very universe evolves.

It's easy to scoff at such notions as the stuff of science fiction. …

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