will computation and communication change our everyday lives, again?"
The actual day to day things that we do have been changed drastically
for many people in the world over the last twenty years by the arrival
of personal computers. We spend hours each day in front of a screen,
typing. This was not the norm twenty years ago (although a few of us
did it even then), and no one had access to the vast stores of information
that are available to us on our laps now. We no longer ask for reprints
or go to the library, but instead download pdf versions of papers that
interest us. We no longer need to go to reference works but instead
retrieve them directly on our PCs. The number of people that we correspond
with has increased dramatically granted, the medium has changed
too. And chatting on the phone to people on the other side of the world
is no longer expensive or an event it is just as common and cheap
as calling someone a hundred miles away. Our interaction with media
is changing too it is becoming more and more pull rather than
push, even for TV and radio entertainment we choose when and
where we want to receive it, and how we will store it.
Surprisingly, neither the book, nor the movie, nor the documentary are
dead. There are more of them, in fact, although the method of delivery
is slowly changing. We have increased our number of options rather than
supplanted the old ones.
Moore's law and the increase of telecommunications infrastructure are
both continuing. What new options should we expect, and how will they
change the way we work? What will be the next "web", as unimagined
by most educated people today as our current one was in 1988? And what
will be the impact of the new methods of delivery we can expect to be
developed in the next 20 years?
Already tens of thousands of people have cochlear implants with direct
electronic to neural connections to restore their hearing. Multiple
groups are working on retinal implants, either into the eyeball, or
interfacing to V1 at the back of the head; again to replace lost capabilities
such as those resulting from macular degeneration. A few quadraplegics
have direct neural connections to computer interfaces so that they can
control a mouse and even type. As progress is made with these silicon/neural
interfaces, pushed along by clinical pressures to cure those who are
impaired, we can expect more and more "plastic surgery" applications.
A direct neural typing interface first perhaps, and later data going
the other way directly from the network into our brains. There are considerable
challenges to be met in understanding neural "coding" to do
this, but the clinical imperative is pushing this work along.
How will we all be in the world then, 20 years from now say, when we
all have direct wireless connections to the Internet of that time with
information services as yet unimaginable? How will our grandchildren's
interaction with information change the way they work and think, in
the same way that instant messaging and vast numbers of web pages have
changed the way our children in elementary and high school operate today?
Brooks is Director of the MIT Artificial Intelligence
Laboratory, and Fujitsu Professor of Computer Science. He is also Chairman
and Chief Technical Officer of IS Robotics,