Five Trends for the Future
Marshall McLuhan noted that all media and technologies are extensions of the human body or mind. Clothing is an extension of the skin. But with the increasing miniaturization of technology and especially information and sensor technologies, our extended skins can include functions that no human or animal skin includes including quite literally the ability to see, hear, and think.
Five important trends in technology are converging at this time:
UBIQUITOUS AND CONNECTED
The first trend, miniaturization is one of the driving forces in modern electronic and digital technologies and is well known. Following Moore’s Law, increasing numbers of small electronic circuits can be etched into wafers of silicon. Miniaturization is the driving force behind both the personal computer and now ubiquitous mobile “smart” phone revolutions.
Increasingly, technology is focused on the very small. Biotechnology deals with the components of living organisms, i.e. cells and the molecular materials that comprise them, and control their construction. Nanotechnology deals with the construction of engineered devices and materials at the nanometer scale. Beyond this, we have the emerging science of femtotechnology operating at an even lower scale. Getting small is going to be big business.
As a result, our technology is simultaneously becoming increasing complex. This is the second trend. The smartphone is not just a smaller computer than ENIAC, it is also a much more complex device communicating with various sensors, displaying color graphics, recognizing voice inputs, etc.
We can, for example, engineer increasingly complex decision logic and capabilities into everyday devices and objects, adding novel capabilities such as autonomous operation or pattern recognition. Because it also leverages Moore’s Law growth, the complexity of the functionality that we can embed into objects and the world, is also increasing exponentially. These objects are going to be increasingly apparent in the real world though inventions such as self-driving cars and the Internet of Things.
Another important law to consider is known as Metcalfe’s Law which states that the value of a network grows exponentially in the number of nodes that it connects. As technology has been miniaturized and included increasingly complex functionality, it has become highly desirable and therefore ubiquitous. Wired and now wireless communications allow ubiquitous technologies to be connected, forming a network in which they can operate, exchange information, and cooperate to accomplish objectives. Consider the rise in the use of mobile phones worldwide where in some cultures these devices are more common than indoor plumbing.
The fourth trend, intimacy, is not as widely recognized. Our technology is becoming increasingly intimate, up to and including actually becoming parts of our bodies and minds. Computers originally were so large they were housed in buildings; then we had them in our homes. Now we carry them in our pockets. Beyond this, hundreds of thousands of people around the world have electronic neural implants that help them hear and see, or use electronic heart pacemakers and related devices. Many of us already are cyborgs.
Finally, trend five, as technology becomes miniaturized, intimate and ubiquitous, it will disappear. Our clothing will include nano-engineered materials that remove and repel dirt, computational components to control temperature and appearance, and sensors to measure our bodies and environment. But it will be made from materials that look familiar, woven threads, and it won’t look any different than normal fabric. Recent advances in nanotech based metamaterials have been demonstrated that make a real world cloak of invisibility possible. Invisible is the new black.
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