Tomorrow's Computers Benefit All

Computerworld's 35th anniversary raises the obvious question about what the next three and a half decades have in store for IT. But to fully grasp what lies ahead, you need to keep in mind the relative pace of change that's driven by technology, and our capacity to understand those changes.

Imagine that we took a person who lived 2,000 years ago and transported him in time to 1800. How would that person find life and civilization? Not too different. Yes, he might need to adjust to certain changes, but overall he would fit in. He would be able to exist as part of that society.

Now imagine that we took a person of a mere 200 years ago and brought him forward into our day. I dare say that person would be overwhelmed in almost every aspect of our day and age. From telecommunications to entertainment, from the Internet to transportation, life would be foreign, alien and beyond any of the mythologies of that person's day.

In my view, the greatest changes have occurred over the past 35 years. We live in an age of instant access and communication, an age when anyone can use a cheap PC and Internet access to get the answer in seconds to any question that has a factual answer or every opinion on any question that can be answered with an opinion.

The next 35 years will be even more amazing. Technology moves unfettered by individuals, governments and legislation. Like water, it seeks its own level and can be channeled for good or evil and bring greatness or despair. Moore's Law continues unabated with each generation of better computing performance, bringing new innovation, new challenges and opportunities for growth. The result will be that in 35 years, the machines we have created are likely to match the human brain in terms of capacity and perhaps even capability. Networked globally, these computers will be able to help us overcome many of the problems we face as a society.

We have shrunk the global world. We have broken the barriers that can divide us, thanks to the technology that permits us to speak anywhere to anyone in the world at any time and share information and ideas instantly. In the future, we will further refine the notion of access to information and retrieval. We will learn to share the sum of our knowledge and use it to achieve what we cannot yet imagine today.

The one thing that is certain is that whatever we project for the next 35 years, it will be wrong. Ma Bell never envisioned a world where every home (much less every person) would have a telephone. The founder of IBM thought there might be a worldwide market for perhaps five computers. We will be proved wrong as well. Our children and grandchildren will shape the future.

And like our person transported to the future, it will be interesting to see how we as a generation fit in a future 35 years hence. I personally look forward to watching Computerworld chronicle the journey.

Michael Gartenberg is research director at the Client Access and TechnologiesGroup of Jupiter Research in New York. Contact him at michael.gartenberg@mindspring.com.

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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