“Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.” –Albert Camus, Notebooks 1935-1942
It’s rather amusing (ironic? appropriate?) that fingers have gone from the single most primitive tool in our arsenal, used for throwing rocks and picking berries, to the way that we navigate Windows 8. The steps in between these two instances in our technological evolution are uncountable—unless we built a computer to tell us, but I doubt it would come up with a reference more coherent than 42.
“Humans and their clever fingers…” I’ve read too many books, because I cannot, for the life of me, remember what I’m quoting. It’s fascinating, though, to think about how our agility and mobility, combined with our innovative genius (as a species), has made civilization as striking and powerful as it is now. From creating something as humble as a knitted garment (and as a knitter, I can tell you it’s not the easiest skill to master), to something as magnificent as the Taj Mahal, to the microchip (someone created a functioning computer that fits in an Altoids tin—seriously), people have discovered how to manipulate substance to create a gloriously complex reality.
Now, stay with me here. Between the 1940’s and the 1960’s, it was a fascinating time in science fiction—after the “pulps” of the 1920’s and 30’s, science fiction reinvented itself as a genre. There were authors that you could take seriously, like Isaac Asimov, Ursula Le Guin, Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and Frank Herbert. These people were creating universes with this very advanced concept of technology—sometimes it was based on their knowledge of reality—Heinlein in particular, wrote a lot of hard science into his novels—sometimes it was based on their dreams of what reality could be. Heinlein thought up screen savers and keyless entry for cars. Cell phones and iPads were modeled after gadgets from Star Trek. Asimov and Clark are both conceptual fathers of Artificial Intelligence, which is happening.
I’m waiting for the day that I get to have J.A.R.V.I.S. running my house, and can call up images and start designing files just like Tony Stark. Nor is it very far off—according to Loc, my IT guru, Leap, a virtual touch screen interface for computers, is currently available for pre-order. Isn’t that what Tony Stark does? Picks up a file and tosses it into a holographic trash can?
Things are changing more and more rapidly—my grandmother tells me about how she was working on computers that were the size of an entire room (I have absolutely no context for this—it seems as fantastical as a Spinning Jenny). And yet, here we are—back at having our fingers becoming our way of interacting with our technology on a direct level in a way that we haven’t seen since the abacus.
Personally, I find navigating Windows 8 with a mouse or a touch-mouse to be an epic pain, compared to using a touch-screen. Windows 8 is now the only operating system that you can purchase on a new PC…how quickly are we going to be phasing out technology that’s outdated? How quickly are we going to integrate with our new technologies? More importantly, will our technology ever overtake us? (Alright, yes, I’m a sci-fi nut, those are the kinds of questions we ask!) Rather, how is this exponentially evolving technology going to change the way that we interact with the world?
Microsoft recently published a video that is their concept of what the world might look like in 2019. It’s fascinating, and really not as futuristic as it might have seemed, even five years ago. What do you make of our future?