In the next decade, most electronic devices will become connected to the World Wide Web by high-bandwidth fiber optics. When you are on the move, computers built into your clothing will be able to link with navigational satellite systems to tell you your precise location and enable you to download information on local services.I can't begin to express how disturbing such a future sounds to me (mostly because it took so long to type I have to go to the gym now), nor how chilling the tone of such alarming predictions has become. It makes me want to buy acreage in Montana or Greece and raise goats and vegetables.
Invisible sensors embedded in public space, from parking ramps to art galleries, will recognize and respond to your presence. These areas, called "intelligent environments," will be able to provide information according to your needs and preferences, such as showing the way to a parking space or directing you to an artwork that particularly interests you. The technology may also be used to sell products: as you pass by a digital billboard, the display might change automatically to show items tailored to your own lifestyle.
Sensors will play a central role in the development of "affective computing." This technology will enable computers to gauge your moods and respond to them. Cars will be able to detect when you are stressed or angry and slow down automatically to reduce the risk of accidents. Chairs will know when you are bored, tired, or frustrated and shift their position to make you feel more relaxed or alert. Phones will be able to register whether you are happy or sad while you are speaking and create emotions or color feedback patters to communicate this to the person on the other end of the line.
Computer technologies will bring new benefits, and past obstacles will disappear. For example, instant translation technology will allow you to speak English into your cell phone and be heard in Japanese by the person you are calling in Tokyo. On the other hand, with our cell phones and computers constantly communicating with one another, satellites surveying our positions from space, and sensors monitoring us on the ground, privacy may become impossible. Some people fear that this problem outweighs the benefits that better communications will bring. But the information age is here to stay, and it will continue to make the world feel like a smaller place, and to be one in which everyone takes part in the free exchange of ideas and information.
Cool Stuff, or maybe not so cool
A book at the library caught my eye: Cool Stuff and How It Works (by Woodford, Collins, Witchalls, Morgan, Flint). Flipping through it, I learned the rudiments of how iPods, pet translators, MRIs, fire suits, Tholos pods, and bionic feet work. Then I ran across the following exposition on pages 44-45. Imagine this being read in a futuristic, soothing, omnicultural, everything-is-going-exactly-as-we-planned kind of voice: