Saturday, August 14, 2010

Amazing Computer Technology of the Future (Circa 1978)

From the 1978 textbook Computer Essentials for Business, some predictions about future uses of computers in society:

Let's see how author Donald H. Sanders did with his prognostication, reading approximate dates from his barchart...

Paperless Government by 1995 -- We're actually making some progress in the heavy-hitting areas like taxes and vehicle registration, but we certainly weren't there by 1995, and aren't nearly there yet.

Government managers have terminals in their homes linked to work computers by 1993 - I don't know if this happened, but it has become commonplace today for all kinds of workers, though perhaps not in the way Sanders envisioned.

Provide information and service to the public in a few minutes' time by 1995 - The World Wide Web went public just in time to make this a reality on schedule.

Help medical scientists develop replacement parts for the human body by 2005 -- "Help" is a bit of a weasel word here, but while we aren't growing organs yet, there's no doubt that CAD software and biochemical simulations have assisted with the development of replacement joints, new skin grafting techniques, experimental lattice-based organ construction, and many other bodily-assistance technologies in recent years.

Electronic mail for government agencies by 1983, and for public and general use by 1988 -- Check!

Have terminal in home for public use and for Government service by 1993 -- A few years late, perhaps, but most people have a PC and use it as a terminal as far as the Web is concerned.  Sanders' perspective was likely much more mainframe-centric, as he did not foresee the emergence of powerful personal computers; he likely envisioned text-based terminal displays, rather than the rich media of the modern Web.  But this did happen.

Use computer robots to do office work by 2003 -- I don't think this came to pass quite as the author expected; we don't think of our automated task handlers as "robots," a term we still reserve for anthropomorphic sentient machines.  But we routinely use such tools to handle mundane filing, organizing, and data-mining tasks, and much of what people used to do by hand, like, say, buying auto insurance or airbrushing unwanted specks out of a photo, is now largely automated, with humans stepping in only when decision-making is required.

Actually... Hmmm.  Not bad, Mr. Sanders.  Not bad at all!

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