by November 29, 2000 0 comments

The end of a year is a good time to look ahead and wonder
what the future will be like. Whether it will be like the year that went by, or
will changes be wrought to the way things currently are?

Unfortunately, technology is an area where even the wildest
of predictions can turn out to be extremely short sighted, as many stalwarts
have found to their own peril. History is full of quotes about the future of
technology that the present makes those who made them look silly. So, I shall
resist the temptation to make predictions, and instead point to a potent
combination of technologies that can drastically change the way our lives are
lead.

There are four areas whose eventual convergence can open up
exciting possibilities like the ones we have never witnessed before. The
interesting fact is that none of them is new. Their potential has also been
known for some time; it is only recently that it has started to get realized.
The full impact of the convergence that I am talking about may be a while away.
But we can start to see it happen in the next couple of years.

Enough of mystery. Which are the four areas I am talking
about? The four in my list are robotics, nanotechnology, wireless broadband, and
biometrics. Of these, wireless broadband and biometrics are already hot areas,
and products are already available or are on the verge of becoming available.
Robotics has always been more of science fiction than reality. But this year, a
number of working products, ranging all the way from robotic pets that can learn
on the job to robots that can design other robots have become a reality.
Nanotechnology, the method of miniaturizing everything from motors to robots to
microscopic scale, is still in its infancy, and is the least developed of the
four.

Imagine what seemingly impossible to achieve products and
conveniences these four can combine to produce. Maybe, miniaturized products
that will not even be seen, that will learn as they go along, that will not need
wired connects, and that will be made to work by your touch, or perhaps even
your thought. Your cellphone, for example, may not remain that bulky instrument
weighing down your pocket, needing to be recharged every couple of days. It may
well be a micro device implanted somewhere under your skin, directly sending
voices into your inner ear and video to your retina, and never needing to be
recharged.

As I said before, many of these technologies individually
exist. The cellphone already exists, and wireless broadband is almost here.
Miniature projection systems also exist. Miniature, almost microscopic, storage
systems are also being developed. The pace maker immediately comes to mind as an
example of a device implanted in the human body. The difference is that a device
like the one we are talking about will not need the complex procedure involved
as in the implant of a pace maker. All it will need is to be placed under the
skin, somewhere near the ear, or even in the ear itself.

So what needs to be developed is the complex mechanics of
connecting up the earpiece and the video screen. What we then need is the
devices to be further miniaturized (that is where nanotechnology comes in), made
biometric capable, and functions to be combined.

That, given the state of affairs today, looks more like
normal evolution that should take just a couple of years, than any revolutionary
new technology that needs to be developed from scratch.

Krishna Kumar

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