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?

 

 

My timeline is collapsing.

Yesterday’s New York Times headline read, nay, screamed:

Cyberattacks Put Russian Fingers on the Switch at Power Plants, U.S. Says  (NYT, 3/15/18)

… And blew my fictional timeline to bits.

The first Joe Mayfield/Louise Napolitani novel, Fatal Score, turned on the idea that a good technological development (gene sequencing and analysis) is borrowed to shore up a socio-political problem (rising health care cost).  And, of course, in a thriller, the good idea is twisted to evil purpose.  It also seemed to me, back when I started writing in 2012, that the next front in international confrontation was going to be cyberwar.

It looks like I was right about the cyberwar part … but terribly wrong in timing.  I set the first draft of Fatal Score in 2050.  I have since pulled the date back to 2026, though the date is only mentioned once in passing.  I figured trimming 24 years off the calendar would be adequate.  To cut further, would put the first novel right in our laps.  Well, here it sits, uncomfortably.

The third novel, tentatively titled Fail Deadly, needs to be set in about 2030 … except it’s about Russian oligarchs hacking into the power grid.

The NYT article notes,

“The Trump administration accused Russia on Thursday of engineering a series of cyberattacks that targeted American and European nuclear power plants and water and electric systems, and could have sabotaged or shut power plants off at will.

United States officials and private security firms saw the attacks as a signal by Moscow that it could disrupt the West’s critical facilities in the event of a conflict.

They said the strikes accelerated in late 2015, at the same time the Russian interference in the American election was underway. The attackers had compromised some operators in North America and Europe by spring 2017, after President Trump was inaugurated.”

 

So much for 2050… maybe so much for … yikes! … tomorrow.