Projecting the future (everyday technology)

In the last post, I covered the two major ideas that underlie my three, going on four, novels.  I would love to have readers’ thinking on future technology (and, if you want to get into the hard stuff, social relations).

Here are some of the projections I made about everyday technology/living:

A 128-megabyte disk drive, late ’70’s

e-pad: Personal computers are becoming more and more portable.  So it was easy to envision the e-pad (no lawsuits here!), a handheld device that does computation, audio, video and so on.  Also, in Fatal Score, I assume a 3 terabyte storage device the size of a bouillon cube. I had pretty good history to go on there. Moore’s Law, which posits a doubling of computing capacity every 18 months (sometimes two years) gets me there.  After all, a 128 mb of a high-tech disk drive in the

My stick drive

early ’80’s was the size of a small refrigerator.  I just bought a 64 gigabyte stick drive (500 times the capacity of that ’80’s disk drive) for $14.95 to back up Fatal Score audio files. The three-terabyte bouillon cube in Fatal Score (23,000 times the capacity of the ’80’s disk drive) was a linear projection of Moore’s Law. (I did set the story a bit farther in the future in its original version.  Then along came the 2016 election, Russian hacking and social media attacks, and … I pulled back.)

Partially self-driving cars?  Sure, we’re already seeing the first inklings. I forecasted that we will see use of autopilot on big, well-defined roads.  So, in Fatal Score, Joe can turn on autopilot going north out of New Orleans on Highway 61, but he’s got to turn it off on the dirt roads around Panacea.  Perhaps the slowest-developing of the various technologies influencing (invading?) our lives is the vaunted Artificial Intelligence, which can now project that we’re interested in shoes … wait for it! … if we search the web for shoes.  I think it’ll take longer than the decade between now and Fatal Score go to full autodrive.

Bluetooth implants:  They enter my fiction in Skins and Bone (book 2), when the Wall Street hot shots are using them.  Joe gets one by partway through Skins. It is removed (painfully) in Fail Deadly (book 3).  The evolution of technology makes implanting make sense to me. Go to any mall (please, before Amazon wipes them out) and check out how many people have earphones in as they walk around.  How much more convenient to have the audio delivered directly to your ear through your mastoid bone.

Solar power: The plot of Fail Deadly (book 3) turns on solar power.  When I began outlining the story, solar power was not efficient enough to be truly cost competitive with traditional coal/gas/nuclear power.  Something to do with the Shockley–Queisser limit.  But there’s an often-repeated pattern in technology development that drives efficiency up (and cost down) once the science is established.  That is happening faster than I expected … the SQ Limit is being overcome by layering of transistor junctions, more efficient impedance-matching and so on. I’d better get #3 published before solar takes over!

Trains (and transportation in general): So far, I’m missing on this one.  In 2011, I projected that USA would copy Europe and (particularly) China in rapid development of rail and light-rail. I thought air travel would decline.  In my lifetime, it has fallen from exciting to necessary to grubby, and I projected that it would follow the cost curve down to disgusting. In all the books, Joe and Weezy usually ride trains or use autocars (self-driving Ubers) in cities. Instead, New York’s century-old subway system is crumbling, as is much of our infrastructure (though that’s hard for me to square with the many road construction projects in the Twin Cities).

Drones:  They are ubiquitous, though usable only by license, except for the government. Seems obvious to me that something with so much potential for danger and capability to invade private spaces will eventually be regulated.  But I guess I’m a logical optimist on that subject, given our experience to date on regulating firearms. 

So, what do you project?

 

 

Projecting the future

The end of a year and the beginning of a new one is a time to reflect on things you got right and got wrong in the last year.  (Which presumably leads to New Year’s Resolutions with that capital R.)

One of the challenges of writing in the future is getting technology right.  As Mark Twain observed in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Merlin’s predictions always seemed to be true, as long as they were made about events far enough away as to be impossible to observe.  My challenge is that I’m writing about at time less than a decade in the future. Since I was making the fundamental projections underlying Fatal Score’s plot in 2011, it’s probably fair to review them now.  To be fair, I originally set Fatal Score in 2040. Fortunately, I never mentioned a date, so it was easy to pull back to 2026 as the technology moved faster than I thought.  (The year is never mentioned in any of the books, and matters only to set days of the week.)

The two major assumptions were CyberWar I and HealthScore. I’ll cover these in this post, and the smaller, more obvious ones in the next post.

  • CyberWar I was the impetus for the national firewall I called the IAC, or ‘Yak’ in common parlance.  The jury’s out on that one, but I think we’re in the early stages of a major confrontation. Listen to any sensible security expert (Malcolm Nance, for instance).  
  • HealthScore: Back in 2011, when the rocky rollout of Obamacare was in process, a major concern was long-term inflation of medical care costs, multiplied by an aging population, would bankrupt us.  In a cynical mood, I assumed the government would act by shrugging off responsibility to a system similar to credit scoring.  So the current FICO score for credit became HealthScore for the twenty most serious genetically-related diseases (many cancers, ALS, MS, etc.).  I assumed their genetic behavior would be fairly well understood by the time of the story.  The optimist in me says that Obamacare, like Social Security and Medicare, has become so integrated into national expectations that it will somehow continue.  The realist says Obamacare doesn’t do much for healthcare costs, the government writ large has no politically viable solution to cost control, so we may yet have rationing (my HealthScore).  I hope not.