The Future of Computing
When I imagine computing’s future for the masses, I find myself looking back.
I had access to home computers (or at least, a remote terminal) as early as 1978. A school friend had a mainframe hookup (through his dad, of course), and we played CAVE ADVENTURE remotely with Hofstra University until we were cut off, usually in the midst of some cool new section. We scribbled the map on the sheetrock in his basement` and kept notes on the wall in red felt pen. I’m sure his parents were happy to have me over.
By 1981, I had an Apple ][ with a battered, tiny, long CRT that would make my head sing after a few hours of pecking in a program from the back of BYTE magazine. Still, the draw of creating a D&D dice roller or Breakout clone on my own computer was insurmountable.
In late 1984, I received a Macintosh with all the fixings. It was clear to me then that that machine was a precursor to the future. You could just look at it and see it. It did everything. Art, design, writing and later, music and 3d. I could even dial in to the SPOTLIGHT BBS to post on the message boards there.
But the vision, compelling as it was, was almost TOO compelling. It overwhelmed and confused, and it wasn’t until replicas of it appeared at a lower price point before desktop computing took off.
Today there are two groups of people who use computers, professionals and everyone else. As can be imagined, “professionals” — who once represented nearly the entire computing market — are now a tiny fraction of the whole and future market. “Everyone else” is who this article is concerned with here; computing for everyone in the future.
What will it be like, this future computer we'll call the Device? That’s tough to say, but I have some ideas. How do I picture an average computer in, say 2025, when my daughter is 17?
In this future, I imagine the iPhone having been the equivalent to the Xerox PARC machine. The "trilobyte" to this new Device.
First, PCs will not be going away, though I imagine they will be taking a back seat. In the future, larger boxes will be used to contain exotic new processors that cannot yet be shrunk (or ever shrunk). Perhaps even quantum computers for complex data sorting tasks. But, most likely, you’ll never even see large box machines, and their data will be flung wirelessly to local devices as needed. It’s highly likely home users won’t own one at all, keeping all they need in their Device.
People might wear all sorts of peripherals on their person to supplement portable devices; sensors and goggles and such, but I imagine it will be about more consolidation. If the past is any indication, these functions will be wrapped in a single Device, rather than a host of gadgets turning up to supplement it. Headsets might become back of the ear microdots, goggles, contact lenses, etc… Or even further, until the Device is simply IT, and due to technological and software advances the device can do things thought impossible in the past.
It is most likely, I believe that users will have a Device with them at all times. Something phone-sized that contains their life — all their data, all their media, everything. It will make phone calls, video phone calls, play movies, music. It will be able to transmit a live feed of audio/video to any other user on the planet.
It will not be a piece of electronic paper or a scroll or something else strange. It will be a substantial object and at size points already discovered as ideal by Apple and Samsung. Kids in 2025 will look back at devices from 2013 and be able to recognize them as rudimentary computers, but they will seem incredibly underpowered and pointless, just as cell phones from 1983 look to us today.
This Device of the future will be linked to that person individually, and unusable by others unless unlocked. It will do this with biometrics involving passive scanning, and it will be very difficult to fool. There will be no passwords in 2025, no user accounts. You will be you, on the internet, and only you will be able to BE you. Most likely this will be due to a combination of growing difficulty in generating secure passwords and a growth in password smashing processing power in quantum computing.
In any case, this device will be encrypted in a way that makes SSL look like a smashed Master Lock held shut with a drying piece of gum. Data privacy will be very important in 2025. There will have been a disaster or two involving compromises, theft and identity swapping on a level which is difficult for us to imagine now. Perhaps something as big as the collapse of a country's economy (hopefully not ours). Things will change rapidly in the wake of such things.
The Device will run for a week or more on a single charge, at full use, when it is not in range to wirelessly charge, but these chargers will be everywhere. Chargers will cover everyone’s house like a Wifi network (hell, it might BE the equivalent of a Wifi network). Public areas will transmit this power for free (train stations, airports, etc…) This will all add up to make running on battery power unusual, and running out of battery power a near impossibility.
Upload and download speeds will be obscene. Just like looking back on 1994 from 2013 and thinking “how could I live with a 10 minute download for 1mb?” the kids of 2025 will think the same, only they will be lamenting GBs or even ZBs and SECONDS. Whatever technology replaces fibre optic or wired transmission (and it is coming) it will be fast, and it will be cheap. The commodization of data and the data monopoly will end sometime between here and then, and it will end with the destruction of the Cable companies and Telcos. Content will be the only real commodity online.
A typical usage scenario might be a person returns home and places their computing Device down nearly anywhere in their house. They sit at any number of locations anywhere in the house to “use” it (when they do this, their data will be backed up instantly and in the background, allowing tthe device to be replaced, if lost). Out and about, something similar might happen; with a keyboard projection and screen projection (or even something more exotic like contact lenses showing a monitor and keyboard).
Sitting at a table with a keyboard and huge monitor, the user can simply start interacting with the Device. This willl be much like computing today, only software will lead to huge leaps in predictive assistance, like complex grammar suggestions, image offerings, and other, more subtle things.
As we use spelling correction now, I imagine we will use quality correction in the future — a fast and live offering of ways to improve nearly any creative endeavor. We may pay for data collections in their fields of varying quality.
Basic presentations of data and ideas will be produceable with a simple “Computer put together a comparison between 2024 Q4 for Blahco and 2025 Q1 Blahco.” While these computer generated versions might lack flair, they might appear much like a basic Powerpoint created today.
This predictive computing will apply to art and design as well. Computer examination of composition, color theory and more will lead to previews of altered concepts where the Device does much of the heavy lifting, offering new and compelling options that can be applied to an image like a filter. Smart select of elements in an image will enter a range where it seems downright supernatural.
Animation will require only keyframes to render out incredibly compelling finished works, opening this art up to a much broader group of people. Video editing will be drag and drop with no lag, and predictive assistance will make tasks that require days now take only minutes or seconds. For example, people will cut together short films in a manner much like people cut together GIFs today. It will be something for the kids of 2025 to do for fun. Expect illegally cut together altered versions of famous films to be a popular pastime.
Social networks and portals as we understand them will be gone or going. People will connect their Devices to form their own networks. Families, friends and connections will be established predictively by the Device, they will be user-editable in real time, and easy to change. There will be no third-party between you and sharing a photo with a linked friend. There will be no reason for such a party to exist any longer. Perhaps Facebook and Twitter might still exist, in some form, but they wll likely be for old people (like myself, in 2025, I suppose). Much like AOL and Hotmail remain “email for old people” today.
This Device will understand social relationships on a subtle level. It will “understand” the contents of photos, and will not share the risque pic of you, with your mother. The computer will ask questions and change its behavior based on an ever-present data collection on your behavior. The level of “intimacy” with the Device will also usher forward the death of the third party storage of data. People will be much more concerned with the “ownership” of their data. People will not be “posting” things to a third party machine, and instead will be sharing directly, Device to Device.
When I look to the future of computing, I imagine more of the computer “getting out of the way” to the point where their ubiquity is so great, they aren’t even noticed anymore. They will be about as dramatic as a pair of eye glasses are today. Taking its place as an “ancient” technology that simply is, and ever will be.