Monday, May 24, 2004

Future Gazing

Sitting in a hotel room in Las Vegas I was watching as the new monorail was meandering along its track. It was like I had stepped into a science fiction movie watching as the trains went through stations, and then took off toward the strip on their journey into our future.

Due to the high gas prices, President Bush has announced that the time has come to make the push into hydrogen based automobiles. Now I’m not going to argue the points on whether or not this can become a reality, but Kennedy wanted the U.S.A. to land on the moon, and by gummy we did it!

So what is our future going to be like? Let me take you through it from my perspective on what is coming up for all of us.

First of all, seeing the monorail in Las Vegas, and now I see there will be one traveling the length of Seattle, this could mark a whole new direction in public transportation.

How many times have we watched a futuristic movie and saw monorail type trains running throughout a city? The time has come my friend, just head to Las Vegas and check it out for yourself. If you think this is just a fluke, you might want to head over to the Monorail Societies website and read up on just how cool monorails really are.

There are other monorail projects in the planning stages as well. There is talk of a Maglev monorail from Las Vegas to Anaheim, CA and another MaLev project to go around Southern, CA.

So we have monorail public transports and soon hydrogen fuel cell based cars. What’s next?

Have you seen the car commercial where the car actually recognizes you as the owner and unlocks for you and starts without a key? Imagine this technology also implanted in your home as well. No when you drive home your house will “see” your car coming and raise the garage door for you. Then, as you get out it will sense it is truly you getting out of your car and unlock the house door, turn on the lights (if needed), perhaps turn on your music selection and raise the temperature to the comfort level you enjoy.

This same technology will be used when accessing your computer. As you sit down in front of your computer, the computer boots up and logs you in to your account without you ever having to touch the keyboard. You can see that we will become much more interactive with our surroundings then ever before.

Let’s look at movies at home. We are getting real close to streaming movies through the Internet, and in fact I see a company doing close to this now by streaming movies to a box connected to your entertainment center. So far you are limited to the number of movies you can choose from, but soon I’ll bet whatever movie you want will be able to be ordered instantly without having to worry about a return late fee.

Let’s not stop with movies. How about being able to watch your favorite television show anytime you want? If staying up late on Sunday nights to catch Alias is tough for you, just watch it on Monday afternoon instead. With the latest in digital video recorders you can practically do this already. The only hurdle is that currently you have to choose what you want to record an when. Soon this won’t be an issue either. Just turn on the T.V. and order last nights Alias and there it is!

Computer programs will begin heading in this direction as well. No longer will you need to spend $650 for Microsoft’s latest must have program. If you want to write something in Microsoft Word, just turn on your computer (which they will all have high-speed connections) and open up MS Word. You will immediately be working in Word without having to actually have Word on your computer. Most programs will be offered as web-based applications. You may have to pay a few cents each time you login, but it beats the heck out of $650 when you only write letters to Mom.

Speaking of Mom, are you ready to make a phone call and see who you’re talking to? This is on the fast track to reality as well. There are already several kinds of these devices in the market; we’re just waiting for a standard to take hold. Does anyone recall the scene in “Demolition Man” where Sylvester Stallone answers the phone in the future, and it’s a naked girl on the other end. It was a wrong number, but this gives you a taste for things you will have to be aware of in the future.

While we’re discussing phones, let’s cover the phones we have all learned to hate, the cell phone. It wasn’t too long ago we were using bag phones and carrying around ones that were like a small brick. Now we’re flipping open communicators like Captain Kirk and doing things with them that the Federation would have drooled over in Kirk’s day. Or was Captain Kirk just in an alternate universe that technologically advanced slower then we are? Perhaps that’s a topic for another article.

Many people have ditched their home phones completely and now only have one phone, their cell. Makes sense, and all of these bills need to be compensated for somehow. The unfortunate side effect of cool gadgets is not only do they all cost a lot, but each one wants you to pay a monthly fee. At least they’re getting them all integrated better so you can surf the web, check your e-mail, take pictures, talk on the phone, and oh yes, tell time all on the same device. I’m guessing that soon these devices will move to the watch or perhaps a wearable device similar to the Star Trek comm badges.

Home automation is making strides into our lives as well. We now have timers on everything, and clocks and watches that set themselves. I know that one day you will plug an appliance into your home for power, and in to the network as well. Everything in your home will be net-ready. This will give us things like refrigerators and pantries you can query from work to check what you need from the store. Your phone will page you if a door or window at your house has been opened. The walls of your home will be able to change color at your whim, or even display entire scenes if you so choose.

Games are sneaking into your lives with many people not even aware of what they are capable of. There is a whole movement in online gaming to real worlds that never go dark. They are literally alternate realities where characters are born, live and die all in an alternate world that at times seem just as real as our own. Oh sure, these games are still just games, but I predict that in the near future many people will become so entranced with these alternate realities that some will never want to leave their alter ego’s.

You think that games are not your cup of tea, but all of this virtual reality (VR) technology will spill over into everything. Universities will use VR to train students cheaper and in more realistic environments. Something like surgery comes to mind. Or hey, it might allow a surgeon to operate on a patient in a hospital equipped with a virtual operating table on the other side of the world!

Okay, enough crystal ball gazing for tonight. What do you think? Am I close, or do you see even further into your crystal ball then I do in mine? Granted my predictions are all just stretching current technology to the inevitable conclusions. It’s always fun to take a guess at where we’re heading with technology. Can’t wait to be a part of it!

I think it was Dr. Nicholas Negroponte, Founder & Director of the MIT Media Lab, who wrote this poem.

"In the past, shoes could stink.
In the present, shoes can blink.
In the future, shoes will think."

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