This week’s CES, the rumblings about the direction of Google vs. Microsoft and the already beaten to death topic of Apple vs. Samsung has reignited some thoughts of technology and its general direction. There are many people who portray the future differently. Some will have you believe that we will have flying cars or maybe we, ourselves, will fly. Maybe the future you believe in is where the world digitally revolves around you. A few visionaries have invested in what is known as the ‘singularity’ – the final frontier where man and machine are intricately and permanently linked. Of course, the more adventurous will have you believe that the future lies in living on other planets, much less our own moon.
But what exactly separates mere fantasy from long term reality? Here are some guiding constraints.
Where ever technology brings us, it has to be natural to the human mind. It must be aligned with the limbic system – the portion of the mind where a network of structures are located beneath the cerebral cortex. This system is important because it controls some behaviors that are essential to the life of all mammals (finding food, self-preservation).
You responded naturally and it was that simple.
Take for example, touch. For decades, we have been trained to use QWERTY keyboards and an accompanying mouse. It was a huge change which not everybody adapted to. Everyone can type, but not all can type as quickly as they think or they speak. Typing is not natural. It may become natural for some but it is something you need time and practice to hard wire yourself to do. When touch came into the scene, it wasn’t well developed and therefore did not feel natural. But in the past 5 years, touch based systems have finally caught up, feeling natural and responsive. The result? You immediately reach out and know how to operate touch based systems. There was no need for touch typing classes or self help books. You responded naturally and it was that simple.
On whichever path the next waves of technological advances take, it needs to be correlated naturally with our instincts and our limbic reactions. Only by doing so will that piece of technology lead to a prolonged, long term advancement that will in turn propel other shifts in areas.
The human mind has an unquenchable zest for information. We name cats as curious creatures when it is us, humans, that are the most curious of the lot. The information we desire is driven by both curiosity and a desire to survive. These basic functions are utilized every second of living. At work, you crave the knowledge required to carry out your duties and maintain your job, your rice bowl. When travelling, the information you process as you drive includes what other drivers are doing and this is crucial for your survival. Even when you are asleep, your nose twitches for smells of smoke and a possible endangerment to your life. We desperately need information and it is not just to prevent doom and gloom.
Instant first rate information at first class convenience.
Humans are social animals. When put in isolation, even with necessities provided mechanically, the human mind rarely remains sane. We need another human with us – to talk to, listen to and interact with. Social media took the world by storm not because Friendster, Hi 5, Twitter or Facebook were brilliant one-of-a-kind wonders. Social media simply responded to our innate needs of connection.
Conversations via voice and short messages are mostly what you still see now. You can SMS or Whatsapp or BBM – it is still text. You can call or skype and it is still voice. What we are moving into is a more visual form of interaction. It is the reason why face to face conversations are better than those on the phone. Visual is simply the next step, technology has to bring us to a state where we can converse using the full spectrum of human interaction – sight, sound, touch, smell and even taste.
We are still far from that but we will get there. The current state of voice commands, video communication and even visual forms of social interaction such as that of Pinterest are steps forward but also, very flawed steps. We will continue to naturally refine these interactions until we can attain what is natural and connected. A human being wants to be connected with everyone he cares about without needing to be there; because the manner in which he is connected is as good as being there. Instant first rate information at first class convenience.
Ease of Access
As the first two points will suggest, technology is only useful when everyone gets to use it. The internet gets more useful everyday because millions are getting online and the number of users keep growing. You may have the best airline in the world but that comes to nought if you are the only one that has an airport. Technology, whatever the form, must be accessible globally. It cannot be prohibitive.
This is an irony of geek culture. Geeks are usually ‘classists’. They are rebels against the mainstream crowd. They see themselves as technologically superior beings often looking down on what the masses are hooked on. ‘Smartphones? Oh, that’s so yesterday.’ Yet, the same geeks need the crowd to make the technology they have useful. After all, what is so great about getting on the latest and greatest social platform when no one else is on? Maybe, you have a way to communicate via holograms, but that means little if you are the only one with it.
For technology to change the world, the invention must be one that is applicable and demanded by the masses. This is economics 101. This demand may not be one that is already exhibited but one that every human naturally desires. When that condition is satisfied, we need to get it out to as many people as possible. As the world advances together, the faster we can grow and the lesser dead weights will drag us down.
I admit this post sounds a little ‘in the air’. It’s like content about no content but that is exactly what talking about the future is like. No one exactly knows what the world will be like a few hundred years. Maybe one or two visionaries have that dreamed up and it will turn real in time. But whatever the dreams and aspirations are, they have to satisfy all three of the points above.
To humanity and a great future.