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Change the Future

Past predictions on the future of computers have been really wide of the mark. ...Can you do better? What will never happen? What will definitely happen? Email your predictions to us at cs4fn@dcs.qmul.ac.uk ? We will feature the most interesting here.

Beware though...the trap most people fall into is to assume that change over the next 100 years say will be of similar magnitude to that of the last 100. That is known as "linear growth". In fact technological change has largely followed what is known as "exponential growth". The most famous computer science example of this is Moore's Law: the correct prediction made 40 years or so ago that the number of transistors on computer chips would double every couple of years. It is that fact that means that computers become out of date soon after you buy them.

The clock at the Musee D'Orsay

What exponential growth in technology means generally is that in a hundred years the change will be similar to that made over the last 20 000 years or so - the amount of change since cavemen, rather than since the invention of the car!... but only if exponential technological growth continues.

Be careful though, that doesn't mean anything is possible - the future will still obey the laws of physics.


To get us going here are predictions made more recently by scientists and technology-based business people:


According to John Horgon in his book 'The End of Science', that scientists "will never achieve their most ambitious goals, such as understanding ... human consciousness" - so presumably will never make conscious robots or computers.


Professor Kevin Warwick of Cybernetics at Reading University believes that "the near future will conjure up machines that can out-think us and which have the potential to control our human destiny. Unless progress is halted now, which is extremely unlikely, then before long it will be intelligent machines running the show and not humans."


Susan Greenfield of Oxford University believes the problems are insurmountable for being able to download people's memories of events - such as a day at the beach - so that others can have the same experience virtually. To truly download the experience you would need to download all the context - the whole life history and everything biochemically about your state at the time.


Susan Greenfield has also suggested in her book "Tomorrow's People" that future homes will have a single "real room", stripped bare of gadgets and virtual reality where people can escape and relax away from technology.


Nanotechnology aims to create machines small enough, for example, to be injected into the bloodstream. Scientists at a Royal Society Workshop on nanotechnology, stated "the construction of self-replicating 'nanorobots', which feature in some science fiction accounts of nanotechnology, is likely to be physically impossible."


Derek McAuley, Director of Intel Research in Cambridge believes that computers will continue to shrink and soon computers as powerful as today's will be the size of specks of dust and will be scattered around the natural environment: computing really everywhere, silently sensing and communicating.


"By 2020 nanotechnology will enable us to create almost any physical product we want from inexpensive materials, using information processes", according to Ray Kurzweil in stark contrast to the Royal Society scientists.


Warren East, chief executive of world-famous chip company ARM, believes in the near future mobile phones will become more like wallets and replace things like credit cards. They will use biometric security based on your fingerprint or iris not typing in PINs.


Michael Dyakonov of the University of Montpellier has claimed that Quantum Computing will never be a practical reality. It is the idea of using the esoteric physics surrounding the quantum effects that happen at scales smaller than atoms as the basis of computation. If it could be done it would provide a form of computer almost unimaginably more powerful than current computers.

2005-6...cs4fn predictions

"Customised movies: in the same way you can customise your mobile phone today to your mood with wallpaper and ring tones, in the future you will be able to construct a movie to exactly fit your mood, with an artificial intelligence 'director' using a range of plot options, computer graphics and synthespians (computer generated actors)" - Peter

"Flu bugs will suddenly seem tame...people will start to have computer implants in their bodies connected to the internet leading to computer viruses that really will mess people up. A whole new profession of cyborg doctors will emerge needing people with skills in computer science, biology and medicine. Don't forget to take your weekly upgrade of e-flu jabs." - Paul

"Electronic drugs: as our understanding of the human brain improves computer controlled surface mounted devices will be used to measure brain activity and stimulate or pacify parts of the brain so allowing treatment of a range of neurological conditions" - Peter

"Smart clothes: micro computers, wireless internet connections and sensor nets will be incorporated into clothing, allowing the wearer to have constant online information, health monitoring, travel information and entertainment and even possibly allowing the reconfiguring of the clothing material colour and texture through a network of micro-piezoelectric actuators." - Peter