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The intellectual revolution: how tech makes you smarter and happier

Posted by Matthew Stibbe
Picture of Matthew Stibbe
on 31 October 2013
Miscellaneous Technology

When I arrived at university in the late 1980s, I had a Mac, a laser printer, an account on CompuServe and a mobile phone. I think I had better IT equipment and better connectivity than my college.

It was an early taste of the digital, ubiquitously connected, online world we live in today. Now, I bet that every student at Pembroke has a smart phone, a laptop and a fast internet connection.

As William Gibson says: ‘the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.’

I believe that we are in the middle of another revolution that is only visible in hazy outline. I call it the intellectual revolution. Over the next 20 years, technology will augment human cognition, understanding, analysis and even our intuition, making us better versions of ourselves.

Here are my predictions and some of the present-day examples that inspire me.

Utterly ubiquitous data links

There’s already Wi-Fi on the London Underground. There’s a planetary internet. We’re on 4G but what will 20G look like? Unlimited data, anywhere without even thinking about it. Always on, always connected with no meaningful bandwidth limitations.

Personal cloud

Computing, storage and, in future, inference and analysis, will not be confined to a single device or even a local area network of devices. You’ll have dozens or hundreds of systems working for you like an entourage. They’ll be everywhere and nowhere: in data centres, in your earrings, in your pocket, in light switches, embedded in the street. Today’s smartphones, Google Glass, digital watches and public cloud applications like Amazon EC2 point the way.

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Big personal data

Sure, right now multinational companies have vast interlinked databases of information and legions of data scientists create queries and reports to mine the information to get insight. But this kind of technology, and especially smart analysis, will be available at low cost to civilians. Your personal cloud will know when you need a fresh cup of coffee before you do and it’ll know where to get the best cup.

Research assistant on every desk

Tech makes you smarter is a bold claim but almost everything that is knowable will be available instantly. Yes, this was the dream of the internet but now technology will automatically pull the information we need and assess it for accuracy and consistency before presenting in the precise format we need. Wikipedia, Wolfram Alpha and iStockPhoto are all examples of efficiently collated sets of information but they are just harbingers of what’s coming.

70 senses

Instead of the traditional six senses, technology will give us dozens. We will move through our lives in a cloud of sensors that perceive, analyse and synthesise information. There will be a sensor that will detect the smile of a loved one. Today, military and bizjet pilots get a head up display that lets them see in the dark. Soon, we’ll have glasses that do the same. And more.

The inference engine

AI is always about twenty years away but it’s a reasonable assumption that we’ll have AI-like capabilities sooner than that. In fact we already do – Google Translate is an example of something that looks like AI but is largely driven by very large volumes of data and clever algorithms. These systems will act as gatekeepers and filters on information telling you what you want and need and letting you skip what’s irrelevant.

Digital things, physical data

The boundary between the real and virtual world will blend. Physical things will have digital analogues – like present-day surgical robots. Digital things will be manifest in the real world, especially as human senses are augmented.

I’m incredibly excited about the possibilities. But to really live in the future, we need to embrace it now. We’re all geeks now. Or should be.

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