The recent past, present and future of computing
I do not fear computers. I fear the lack of them.
Computers, since their inception, have solved one important problem us humans have: the slow speed of calculating things. Currently, our brains can only calculate and process data so much, which puts an obvious limitation on what we can accomplish by ourselves. But as we are also a smart species, we have found a way around this block: create a machine that can add, subtract and process things much faster than us. This is the essence of early computers, however since decades have passed the shift of use has also changed from pure calculation to more challenging, even abstract, things. I will give you my thoughts about the last 20–30 years in the computer world.
Computers are incredibly fast, accurate and stupid. Humans are incredibly slow, inaccurate and brilliant. Together, they are powerful beyond imagination.
The Era of Desktops
My generation was in the middle of a computing race. We really didn’t know, breathe or were quite a part of the punchcard and mainframe era. We don’t know what it felt like putting a man on the moon with limited compute, so I will speed past that. Now, it was the era of desktop computers which essentially meant big grey boxes that you were a bit embarrassed to show at times but proud of the same if someone got curious about it, so you put them under the table or even in a closet. But the wires gave out what you were hiding, or at least the big CRT monitor taking half of your table space. The computers in this era were indeed big, clumsy and slow compared to today’s standards — it took a minute or so to connect to Internet, and downloading even one MP3 song took its time(The concept of Dial Up internet, and India is an interesting review in itself). To put it simply, everything you did with a computer took time, and the desktops from those times would feel obsolete, even ancient, if used in today’s hectic world. But that isn't the right lens to look at what happened. What really happened was that computers became accessible. The internet supercharged what we could do with these devices. Internet Cafes blew up across the cities of India, in what would be a small start to the things to come.
This era was characterized of one-way communication and static things. You mostly read papers on your computer screen, played some primitive games or perhaps did Excel calculations. You didn’t really communicate with other users, at least not to the extent of today. Things were stationary; web pages didn’t have elements like they do today, autocomplete tool for search or like buttons. Thinking about it now, all of these things from the 90s seem so basic it’s hard to understand how we got by. But since we didn’t know about anything better, it was all we could have back then. This paved the way for change, at a pace that is quite incredible if we look back at it now.
The Era of Laptops
Since the early 2000s, laptops started to rise in popularity. I remember them being expensive as hell first, I thought nobody can really afford one. It was actually the same situation with printers — a color laser printer costed a fortune and was only feasible for businesses, but in some 10 years its price was available for home users too. Anyway, already 15–20 years ago it was evident that computers were going to be smaller, faster and more mobile — and the answer to this was the laptop. Faster Internet connections were made available as well; depending on the part of the world you lived, it happened in the early 2000s or a few years later.
In essence, in the laptop era, computers started to connect more. The rise of notebooks and broadband Internet meant that people could hook up with each other much easier than before. You could now chat with your distant relatives living in another part of the country, or even the world, without paying huge long distance call or modem fees. Clearly, the world was getting ready for the next era of everything mobile and social media, but the technology required and people’s state of mind was not yet there.
The Mobile Era
Laptops were a huge step from desktops — you didn’t need to sit at home or office, embarrassed by your ugly desktop anymore. Instead, you could take the notebook with you where ever you went. But still, it was clearly a computer — a device you must use with two hands, a device you must lay on a table to use. In another words, you needed dedicated time to use the laptop, and in the world of constant motion this was not a feasible option. Thus, even smaller computers than notebooks were created: the smart phones and tablets. At the same time, fast Internet connections had reached most parts of the world, with wireless networks being cheap and widely available. Now, the computers were always with you and not only that: you could access Internet anywhere you like, thanks to the smart phone sitting in your pocket.
The current era is all about freedom. Because computers have finally made their way to smart phones, and Internet is de facto thing in every mobile phone subscription, you have all the information in the world at your fingertips. Not only you can read that information, but you can also share it and belong: social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter thrive because humans have relationships and share what they know or find amusing. In another words, computers have finally found their way to fully support the needs, desires and wants of us humans. How neat is that, is all I can say!
Are we done? Hello no.
Everybody can see that the trend to make computers smaller and faster has existed for long, and it will probably exist in the future as well. Computers have already gotten a huge role in today’s society which has made world more connected, mundane things such as shopping easier and information sharing very convenient.
What if we put the computer around us?
Virtual Reality (Virtual Environments) and Augmented Reality (Overlaid virtual information on reality) has a real potential to become a generic computing platform. Instead of using your computer, tablet or smartphone you could be using your hands, head and other body parts to interact with a world, overlaid on reality, or created, in order to achieve the tasks we want completed or to experience entertainment, as if we were there or immersed inside this entertainment.
This opens incredible opportunities on a number of fronts and could be a new horizon. If we look back into the history and evolution of the computer interface, from command line, to GUI, with the mouse, to the latest touch interface, the user interface has became more intuitive and easier to use.
Virtual and Augmented reality creates a new and even more intuitive way to interact with a computer.
In using VR/AR the controls of the computer are handled through gestures and graphics. VR/AR opens the viewing field where the concept of virtual desktop is no longer confined by the size of a physical display or in the palm of our hands. Why do I think so? I’ve been working on the technologies over the past months, and am convinced about the ability for Virtual and Augmented reality to push the boundaries of technology forward.
Virtual just got real.