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The shape of things to come

Although the future of technology looks bright, it could be scary too.

brunch Updated: Apr 21, 2012 16:41 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times

Last week I wrote about the inevitability of the driverless automated car and despite the seduction of such technology, there were pros and cons. The reaction was explosive and the debate swung both ways – how amazing it would be and yet how such advanced future technology could be a double-edged sword. But far larger than the debate on driverless cars was a brand new one. We stand on the threshold of advancement that is unprecedented. There will be more breakthrough technologies in the next 10 years than since the dawn of civilisation. Yet, this is both a celebratory and a cautionary tale. The future is all about magical yet scary technology. Here are three examples.

Seeing the Future (Literally)
Google’s Sergey Brin walked into a charity dinner with the future wrapped around his head. Project Glass is a piece of eyewear that has neither the bulk of virtual reality helmets nor the ridiculousness of amalgamated reality headwear.

Ultra-small automated robots will be programmed to do one thing only with efficiency, precision and speed

This is unobtrusive tech that adds a new dimension to having information all around you with zero effort. It adds a screen to your field of view without derailing your normal day-to-day life.

Why It’s Amazing: Imagine walking down a road and a virtual overlay map giving you directions, clicking pictures by blinking your eye (the movie Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol had an amazing scene with that), looking up information on a wine as you sit for dinner, sending off an email on your evening run, playing a game of ‘words with friends’ right in the middle of a meeting, looking at an empty room and seeing it fill up with virtual furniture – and all of this without a single device being held up in your hand.

In fact, the power of Project Glass is just that – everything that you can do with a smartphone or Tablet – without ever touching one or holding one up to your eyes.

Why It’s Scary: The list is endless. Between information overload, health hazards of a screen so close to your eye, the serious dangers of being ‘always on’ to the fact that the human brain isn’t trained for such extreme levels of multitasking.

Imagine running down the street for a taxi and getting hit by pictures appearing in front of your eyes that completely disorient you and make your turn the wrong way onto oncoming traffic.

Both you and your Project Glass will be a small smear on the windshield of a big bus!

The giving away of virtual information in real time can be trickier than you realise

The Small Gods
Nano Technology. For years and years this is the one phrase that always seems to get people very excited. Ultra-small automated robots that will be programmed to do one thing and one thing only with efficiency, precision and speed. And finally the nano dream is turning into a gigantic reality.

Why It’s Amazing: These nanobot armies can be sent into a human body to fight cancer cells, repair a damaged heart and stitch the insides without any external surgery required. These bots can be put inside machines on a factory floor to check wear and tear inside a machine and pull the plug if something isn’t going right. Imagine the possibilities inside an aircraft, a car engine, a computer or even your washing machine. Nanobots could make this world perfect.

Why It’s Scary: The very reasons they can do good is also the reason they could create chaos and disorder on an unprecedented scale. Imagine nanobots that could be equipped with cameras and unleashed to spy. You wouldn’t even know they were around, and your whole life and every private moment could be photographed, recorded and broadcast. Imagine nanobots being used as weapons of mass destruction – invading armies in huge numbers and affecting vital organs.

Augmented Reality
We’ve already seen great examples of this and it can truly be a great tool and utility. To be able to take the reality of the world around us and superimpose a layer of virtual information on top of it is one of the greatest breakthroughs of recent times.

Why It’s Amazing: Point a camera down a road and a virtual map appears with clearly labelled buildings, street names and arrows to point you to your destinations; hold your phone up to a person’s face to instantly identify that person and throw up their Twitter and Facebook profiles, play a game where you steer a real toy helicopter with your mobile phone and your screen shows the helicopter entering a virtual battlefield with guns and smoke and fire, point your Tablet at a movie poster and get immediate reviews and a chance to buy tickets right there.

Why It’s Scary: Reverse the situation. How is augmented reality working? It is taking the information of where you are and feeding you information of what you need. But in this process you are letting out visual information about yourself in real time. Where you are, what you’re doing, what your next step is and what you’re going to do with the information you’ve been given. In a world that is already abusing your personal information at ugly levels and building a huge database of your life, this could literally be the last nail in the coffin for privacy.

For years technology has been used for both good and evil. It’s only the scale that is changing now. If the next 10 years will give us technology like we’ve never seen, it may also throw up challenges that human civilisation has never faced before. Technology is a strange beast; it comes bearing great gifts with one hand but may just stab you in the back with the other.

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3. Follow Rajiv on
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From HT Brunch, April 22

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First Published: Apr 21, 2012 14:55 IST