rodney_a_brooks's picture
Panasonic Professor of Robotics (emeritus); Former Director, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (1997-2007); Founder, CTO, Robust.AI; Author, Flesh and Machines
How 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?