David Kirkpatrick, senior editor of Fortune magazine says:
In a short piece I wrote as part of a broader look at the future last September, I speculated that in the future we would feel that everything in life had become like an open-book test. "Any kind of information is available anytime you want it," I wrote. "Simply speak a question, or even think it. You will always be connected wirelessly to the network, and an answer will return from a vast, collectively-produced data matrix. Google queries will seem quaint."
At the time, I thought I was being a little wild, but less than a year later such talk is almost routine in the futurist camp. Chris Taylor at Business 2.0 this week published "Surfing the Web with Nothing but Brainwaves." Taylor explains that already quadriplegics can play videogames, control robotic arms, and turn a TV on and off, using only their minds. They are connected to a computer with an implant that reads electrical patterns in the brain.
Kirkpatrick wrote the above to introduce an article by Peter Schwartz and Rita Koselka in the current issue of Fortune on quantum computing, which begins:
She awakes early on the morning of April 10, 2030, in the capable hands of her suburban Chicago apartment. All night, microscopic sensors in her bedside tables have monitored her breathing, heart rate, and brain activity.
The tiny blood sample she gave her bathroom sink last night has been analyzed for free radicals and precancerous cells; the appropriate preventative drugs will be delivered to her hotel in Atlanta this evening. It's an expensive service, but as a gene therapist, Sharon Oja knows it's worth it.
She steps into the shower. The tiles inside detect her presence and start displaying the day's top headlines. The manned mission to Mars is going to launch ahead of schedule. U.S. military drones have destroyed another terrorist training camp using smart dust. A top Manhattan banker has been found guilty of fraud and sentenced to 10 years of low tech.
And today is the 20th anniversary of the very first quantum computer.
Sharon laughs. It is her 24th birthday, and she has little idea what the world was like before the qubits - the smallest pieces of quantum information - took over.
It's a fascinating and amusing piece. You should read the whole thing.
But you know what? It's too conservative. Heck, the authors even admit it.
Science fiction, right? Sure - just like satellites, moon shots, and the original microprocessor once were. To scientists on the quantum computing frontier, this scenario is conservative.
"The age of computing has not even begun," says Stan Williams, a research scientist at Hewlett-Packard. "What we have today are tiny toys not much better than an abacus. The challenge is to approach the fundamental laws of physics as closely as we can."
And now I'll make my prediction.
Today we're beginning to see maintream media coverage of "futuristic" ideas like quantum computing; not many years ago, we started seeing stories about "science fiction made real" through genetic engineering and biotechnology. Next on the horizon will be general awareness of the seemingly fantastic implications of nanofactory technology. That kind of high-profile coverage may still be two or three years away, but it's coming soon.