“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Thats the well-worn observation by futurist and writer Arthur C. Clarke. Here we are in 2001, though, and its difficult to believe theres anything very magical about the tools we use to access or produce information.
Todays computers are unreliable, primitive tools when compared to the proactive technologies with human-like intelligence that deep thinkers predict will help us get our work done in the years ahead. Michael Dertouzos, the late director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technologys Laboratory for Computer Science, once compared the PCs we use today to shovels, and said that future computers will be more like electronic bulldozers that let us effortlessly push around vast amounts of information. When computers someday are able to process as much information as the human brain — a development some technologists expect by midcentury — well, then things will get interesting.
In this weeks Matrix section, we explore the future evolution of three areas of interactive technologies: software, computing devices and network security.
Software will be increasingly “componentized,” and the revolution of applications talking to each other over the Internet through industry-standard interfaces is really just beginning to take shape. The devices we use in the near future will still be recognizable as computers — those on our desktops and those we carry around with us — but as they get faster and smarter, computers will slowly be able to understand our speech and even visually recognize our body language. However, in the midst of this blooming tech-utopia, one major piece threatens to get worse: security. The chronic security breakdown isnt primarily a technological problem: Businesses and governments, experts say, will have to address data security more comprehensively than they have previously. Otherwise, the holes in the Nets infrastructure could become unmanageable, threatening to break the spell of any magic at our fingertips.