It appears that the US Supreme Court has come down with a ruling concerning online file-sharing and who is to have control and that many billions of dollars. Do not you feel a swell of confidence in the fact that a decision on the highest of high-tech questions has been made by nine people who have no clue as to the reality of the Internet or indeed understand computers at all?
They're not even plugged in well enough to understand how totally lost they are in a computer-driven world. The very technology they are trying to make rulings on has fundamentally changed the decision making process.
Consider the way major decisions might be made in the future. Today we have elected representatives that plot the course of the nation and try to convince us to pay for it. If they decide that a war is in the best interest of the country, they do whatever it takes, legal or not, moral or not, ethical or not to get us to approve because WE have to supply the money. In a 'Netocracy everyone would have the opportunity to decide whether he wants to fight with somebody and if not he will cast a negative vote. If enough voters think the war is a bad idea, NO WAR! What a concept, people making up their own minds about whether their homeland becomes embroiled in an international conflict. Also, if a majority of a nation's people want to fight a war but not enough want to pay for it, you still can not have a war.
Reflect upon the many laws supported by special interests for their own narrow purposes, usually to force others to accept regulation of other popular activities. The drug war depends on funding supported by politicians who think they are serving the will of their constituents. So too with restrictions on private property, money, access to information, etc. The average person will not support spending money on this kind of regulation unless he is directly affected, which almost certainly puts him in a minority. Minorities get legislation passed by unjustifying politicians to do their bidding. If politicians can not control or at least influence their constituents, they lose power.
There will need to be some advances in computer technology before all of this can come about. Most people think the highest use of computers is the huge mainframes that are run by large corporations, scientists and government agencies to manipulate vast amounts of data and control megalithic organizations. That's not the case.
The ultimate use of the computer will be as an extension of the individual human mind. An electronic mentor who will always be at hand to answer your questions and help with your homework. The average person has no pressing need for most of the information that exists in the world. It is mostly too complex, too obscure or too abstract to keep in our minds because most of us have not the time available to analyze and employ it. It's unusual for your average Joe to have a need to calculate orbital velocities or South American rain patterns or the tensile strength of Ponderosa pine lumber. But we have all had those times when we really needed a piece of unusual information to help in a project or just to satisfy curiosity. Mainframe computers tied together with other mainframes and having unbelievably large mass storage devices at their disposal will be the repository of all the worlds accumulated knowledge and will regurgitate it on demand to our personal data terminal. There we will be able to combine it with other bits and pieces to resolve whatever problem we're working on at the time. The Internet is the first step in this process.
I see three major advances that need to occur before this dream can be realized:
1. Perfection of voice recognition techniques. We have to free ourselves from the keyboard.
2. Development of a thin, flat portable monitoring screen. Something you can fold up and stick in your pocket.
3. Monolithic (solid) mass storage. The current mass storage devices, hard, floppy and optical disk drives or magnetic tapes are electro-mechanical and so extremely slow when compared to the electronic speed of solid-state devices. They are fragile and prone to wear out which targets against rough usage unless they are specially designed and hardened, ie, heavy and bulky.
All of these are under active research and development.
Power supplies will have to be smaller, lighter and longer lasting as well but I see that as evolutionary rather than revolutionary. When these things happen, anyone will be able to walk around with the accumulated knowledge of all the world's libraries, universities and TV talk show hosts in their pocket, ready to provide whatever information is needed in an instant. If you do not think that will fundamentally change the world, think about this; our educational system is supposed to be about teaching people how to find information, correlate it, manipulate it and combine it with other information to reach a conclusion. With this kind of power in your own hands the current education system becomes obsolese. All you have to do is want to know something and know how to access it, the computer will do the rest.
Today we depend on news gatherers to tell us what's going on in the world. The infrastructure needed to support them is very expensive and because only large, powerful organizations can afford the cost their influence is immense.
Instead, picture a world where you could talk to a living person at the scene of any event in the world, without reporter or anchor or editor as an intermediate. Bang go the radio and TV networks, wire services, magazines and newspapers. Tie this technology in with evolved virtual reality and you could go almost anywhere and see almost anything from where you happen to be at any given time. Certainly it would not have all the impact and atmosphere of actually being there but we have become quite used to drama, comedy, education and sports on television. We have travelogues, how-to programs and a whole panoply of activities we partake of at a distance that our ancestors could only be involved in if they were on site and had the money to pay.
The computer, whether we like it or not, has made real changes to the way we think, act, interact and deal with our problems. There is no going back. We could never survive without out technology and allowing ignorant, if well meaning, politicians or jurists to make or interpret laws regarding subjects on which they are clueless is not going to be pretty. Hopefully, we'll survive.
© 2005 Charles Stone, Jr.