“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.4 tonnes.”
—Popular Mechanics, 1949
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
—Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp.
The two quotes show us how unpredictable the future is and that we probably have no idea what is in store for us in terms of the size, power, capabilities, etc of computers in, say, 50 years from now. However, let us try and imagine how computer technology is likely to shape up in about 15 years. Let us try and be as creative as possible to paint a possible future scenario, perhaps based on our wish lists, needs and fantasies.
Computers with an emotion chip could find their way into everyday things used by us. For example, your mirror could sense that you are in a bad mood, communicate this to your best friend and request her to give you a call to comfort you.
Your personal network
In the future, it is expected that a strong personal network will evolve. Mostly, the personal network will comprise one or more computing devices in communication with one another with the help of various permanent and transient communication links. One or more devices would be very high-end laptops—the basic portal through which you, as a user, will access the network. Once disconnected from the personal network, this portal will work just like a standalone device.
The speed of wireless Internet would be so high that actual computing and data processing will not be on your personal device, but on a far off, more powerful machine connected via the Cloud. Such a technology will enable you to process data at lighting speeds. For example, you could be researching the way proteins take certain shapes, called folds, and how that relates to what proteins do.
This problem that typically takes months at present will be completed in just a few seconds. Problems could range from breaking codes to searching data sets and even extend to the creation of new materials.
Now, close your eyes, step into the time machine and take yourself to the 2030s. Your personal network has notified the navigation computer in your car about your departure time and destination, today morning. Just as you are backing out of the driveway, the navigation computer is informed of a traffic jam, and it informs you of an alternate route, estimates your new arrival time, notifies your office staff of your situation and reschedules your early meetings.
You are now driving to work. However, you are also able to do various tasks such as read the newspaper, talk on the mobile phone with your business associate in Mumbai, or use your laptop—just as safely and conveniently as train or bus commuters do. A combination of expressway sensors, global-positioning systems and in-car computers are actually doing the driving for you on limited-access roadways. Your car PC provides door-to-door driving instructions and routes you around accident sites. It even finds restaurants and books hotels on vacations for you.
You arrive at your office and settle down at your desk, your personal network links with your wife’s personal network to get her arrival schedule (she is away on a business trip to Kolkata) and to make a dinner reservation at your favourite restaurant. As you prepare to leave work, your personal network replicates the information that you need to take home, synchronises calendars and learns that your wife’s flight is about half-an-hour late. It reschedules the dinner reservation and also notifies your car.
Tomorrow’s personal networks will be as invisible to you as, say, the networks that work quietly in the back-end to provide the Internet to residences. And generally, the networks will require little intervention during operation.
In a traditional PC, the CPU, memory and I/O devices are linked via one or more buses, that is, paths in circuits that provide the communications link, making it feasible for the different components of the PC to share data. In the personal network, the network itself is actually the bus. Network architecture allows data flow in any and all directions, with individual computers fully aware of the network and its constituents.
Like the members of a cricket team interacting with each other during play, member devices in the network will often work together. Just as players come to play individually, each network device will operate some of the time without linking to other devices in the network. Some of these individual devices within the personal network will be dedicated to you, their owner, whereas, others will be shared with other users, via their personal networks.
Similarly, primary means for you to access the personal network will be a portable computing device resembling a high-end laptop that will be dedicated to you. Other parts of the network can include computing devices embedded in your home, in your appliances or in your car. It is inevitable that your family members will have their own personal networks and, hence, some of these individual devices could be part of multiple personal networks.