Computers for Mankind!

Written by Paranoid

Warning!!: This article started out innocently enough, but turned into a very long text, so make sure you feed the budgie before you start reading, otherwise it'll die of starvation!

I usually think about the future of computers, and what benefits could be reaped for mankind through future advances. There's no doubt that in the last 20 years (since the release of the APPLE in 1977) computers have become widespread in the home, and went from being a nerd's hobby to being a normal item - maybe even an essential item - for most people. If we look at the leaps and bounds that computing has taken over these years, one can only be optimistic for the future. The rate of technological advance in computing seems to be faster and more important than any other field. For example, I just read (in my Computers In Business magazine supliment!) that the japanese have invented a truly portable personal computer. I use the word 'personal' here in the same was as in 'personal-stereo'. Yes, you can easily wear this new compact computer. The whole machine, including the headset and main pack, weighs only 499g! What amazed me was that the machine had a 233mhz processor, a hard drive (about 200mb I think) the size of a coin and a really cool transparent 'screen', which was attached to a headset that you wore. I don't want to start rambling about this marvel of technology though, and how we could all be walking around connected to the net 24 hours a day etc... I just used this example to show how far we've come in the past 2 decades. Could any rational and sensible person have predicted machines as powerful as that being invented by now? A computer that you could wear as easily as your walkman??? Let's not forget Bill Gates' famous statement that nobody would ever need more than 640k of memory!

Anyway, let's now look to the future, computers continue to become more advanced at an exponential rate, so what can we expect in another 20 years? (I'll be middle aged then... bummer!) Well, what I think should be looked at more so than it is now is ergonomics. For all you dudes who never studied communications I'll explain that word. Ergonomics is basically designing something with the ease of human use in mind. User-friendliness. In the very near future one would expect that the computer OS environment will be made so simple and intuitive that anyone could use it. That's in theory anyway, but Microsoft haven't really performed exceptionally well at this to date. They haven't done too bad I suppose, I mean, remember all the hassle involved in installing hardware and even some software using windows 3.1, or DOS? Still though, I think Win 9x uses too many resources for what it offers. This isn't necessarily a problem though, since the resources available for software is growing all the time.

The problem at the moment is that computers should support people rather than the other way around. People shouldn't have to struggle with computers to do basic things, the OS should be (and will be) better designed for the average persons' needs (this may be difficult to fully understand for you and me, since we're experienced users who know how to use our PC's, but my point is that one shouldn't have to gain so much experience to be able to use one). I suspect that people will debate with me on this point, Win'9x OS' are fairly straightforward - I agree - and not too difficult in terms of accessability - but OS' could be more ergonomic.

IBM have developed some excellent voice recognition software, which I think will be become standard in the future. As the vocabulary and power of the software get upgraded the science-fiction view of being able to talk to computers and them talking back will be a reality. I can't see true artificial intelligence being developed in our lifetimes though (unless you're 2 years old, reading this - in which case you're a genius and will probably invent it yourself!). But voice recognition, together with touch-sensitive screens and ergonomically-well-designed-software could remove the need for keyboards. Thus using your micro-box would be simple and intuitive.

Another problem is the internet. I can almost hear the groans of all the people reading this, who may have read my articles last issue. No, I don't hate the internet, and I'm sorry if you think I'm criticising it too much. I just don't like wasted potential (ironic, since I am wasted potential - I should be writing for FORBES or maybe heading the R&D department of MS! :)) and the internet has many flaws. These flaws will be ironed out fairly soon though. In fact, I recently watched something on TV - an interview with one of the big guys of the net, inventor of the web or search engines or some such thing, who says they're actually doing what I'm about to talk about now. So this part of the article is not just speculation anyway!

Wow, I do go on a bit at times! Anyway -whew-, the number one irritation with the net is that it's difficult to find the information you're looking for. I mean, the net is supposed to be a tool for people, not a time-consuming trawl through pages and pages of irrelevant info. The reason for this is the search-engines. They just search the pages for keywords. Not ideal in practice, since searching for an article about baby chickens could result in the search engines producing hundreds of porno sites. (OK, I know nobody really looks for information of baby-chickens - or chicks if you don't get it - maybe some girls who're looking for wallpaper? Or the owner of a KFC? My examples are bad, I know... ;)) The solution for getting irrelevant sites is supposedly improving the search engines, and adding a new feature to web-pages, whereby the page will have some kind of header which specifies to the search-engine the exact kind or areas of information presented on it. This will help quite a lot, but I would even go further and say that some kind of regulation needs to be placed on the net.......

"Paranoid, you bastard!" - Yeah, I know that's what lotsa you are saying, but I'm not suggesting any change in the current freedom-of-speech aspect. I do agree that the web should be open for all. I just think there would need to be some control over these new site-headers so that web-masters don't abuse 'em and thus misinform. Porn sites should also have tighter control placed over them - and they will as soon as the governments of the world EVENTUALLY adjust to new technology (and in some cases discover it exists!). Categories and standards need to be drawn up, I cannot advocate the setting of standards enough. Essential. The problems arise when the standards are badly thought up, and do not allow growth, or as much flexibility as possible (bet you never thought you'd hear 'standards' and 'flexibility' in the same sentance!).

Ideally this would mean that when you enter something into a search-engine - such as 'RS-232' and maybe click on an information checkbox - you would be presented with a list of sites offering information on the RS-232 interface and not a thousand commercial sites or other sites with the word 'RS-232' mentioned somewhere in passing. When this happens getting information will no longer be a time-consuming problem, and the net will realise it full potential.

By the time the net is truly refined, we should all have extremely fast (read 'instantaneous') net connections, possibly integrated with our televisions as well. It'll make the old 2400 baud days of BBS' seem positively stone-age. Television is already undergoing 'year 2000isation' in the form of digital television. So maybe soon the net and television will become integrated. However this could only occur when standards and regulation are enforced (remember I said that earlier?).

Nobody can dispute the fact that computers can help mankind more than any other recent discovery (with the possible exception of VIAGRA). So, computers can and will improve our quality of life in the future. They already are.

So, to sum up this mammoth article (I actually did try to keep it short), computers will be smaller, more aesthetically pleasing, more commonplace (like television) and the operating systems will be easy to use, with heavy emphasis on voice-recognition and touch screen interaction. They'll probably be a 'home-control-centre' (or HCC - to add my own jargon to the mix! :)) controlling lighting, security and electrical appliances in the home. The operating system will soon be like a flash-rom, which means it's chip encoded, which further means that it'll 'load' instantly, or appear as soon as your turn on your computer. And other software you use will probably be stored on the internet or a similar network, and you'll just have shortcuts to it. By then the lag-times caused by bandwidth and modem speeds will be minimal. You might also be walking around wearing a personal computer, possibly have an interface chip or chips implanted in your head, and a cable connector in the back of your neck ala 'Johnny Mnemonic'. Well, don't know if the last prediction will take off... So remember, we all need to make computers more ergonomic, and to enforce standards on the internet for information retrieval purposes. That's all I wanted to say! If you've read the entire article down to here, then thank you, and congratulations! You're either very bored or interested in what I was saying! ;)

- Paranoid/Eclipse