The history of computers and computer technology thus far has been a long and a fascinating one, stretching back more than half a century to the first primitive computing machines. These machines were huge and complicated affairs, consisting of row upon row of vacuum tubes and wires, often encompassing several rooms to fit it all in.
As anyone who has looked at the world of computers lately can attest, the size of computers has been reduced sharply, even as the power of these machines has increased at an exponential rate. In fact, the cost of computers has come down so much that many households now own not only one, but two, three or even more, PCs.
As the world of computers and computer technology continues to evolve and change, many people, from science fiction writers and futurists to computer workers and ordinary users, have wondered what the future holds for the computer and related technologies. Many things have been pictured, from robots in the form of household servants to computers so small they can fit in a pocket. Indeed, some of these predicted inventions have already come to pass, with the introduction of PDA's and robotic vacuum cleaners.
Beyond these innovations, however, there are likely to be many, many more. One of the most important areas of research in the world of computers is that of artificial intelligence. When many people think of artificial intelligence, they may picture fully aware machines, complete with emotions, and the problems that can arise from them. Even though this remains the goal of many artificial intelligence researchers, in fact artificial intelligence technology is already in place and already serving the needs of humans everywhere.
One of the most powerful uses of artificial intelligence thus far is in the world of speech recognition. This powerful technology is already in place in call centers, banks, brokerage centers, insurance companies and other businesses throughout the world. While speech recognition is still imperfect, it has improved greatly in recent years, and in the future many routine, and even non-routine, phone calls and telephone inquiries may be handled completely without human intervention.
Robot technology has also come a long way, but it still has a long way to go. Robots in the future are unlikely to take human form, expect in a few specialized applications. Instead, robots are likely to do a great deal of work that is simply too dangerous for humans to accomplish. From spaceflight applications to search and rescue, robots are likely to continue down the learning curve they have already entered, further enhancing human lives and providing valuable services for a fraction of the cost of today's robot helpers.
Quantum computers are also likely to transform the computing experience, for both business and home users. These powerful machines are already on the drawing board, and they are likely to be introduced in the near future. The quantum computer is expected to be a giant leap forward in computing technology, with exciting implications for everything from scientific research to stock market predictions.
Nanotechnology is another important part of the future of computers, expected to have a profound impact on people around the globe. Nanotechnology is the process whereby matter is manipulated at the atomic level, providing the ability to “build” objects from their most basic parts. Like robotics and artificial intelligence, nanotechnology is already in use in many places, providing everything from stain resistant clothing to better suntan lotion. These advances in nanotechnology are likely to continue in the future, making this one of the most powerful aspects of future computing.
And if history is to be any guide, some of the most powerful advances in the world of computers and computer technology are likely to be completely unforeseen.
In the 1970s, an expert on automation, Sir Leon Bagrit, pointed out that it was a mistake to believe that computers could "think" He went on to add that there was practically no possibility that human beings would ever be "controlled by machines". Though computers are capable of learning from their mistakes and improving on their performance, I believe that they will always need detailed instructions from human beings in order to be able to operate. Whatever the future of the computers may be, they'll never lead independent lives or make decisions of their own. And they'll certainly never "rule the world." As far as I am concerned, I guess I'll always need a pencil and a rubber.