One of the great perks of my job is that I get to see the future before most of the world, and across a wide variety of domains. Many of the things I see arguably are ‘expected’ advances in the given field, but quite often they’re revolutionary ideas that I can’t wait for us to make public and get in front of muggles.
Clearly I have a serious affection for technology generally — as I think most adults of my generation do — but I think my hyper-admiration is informed greatly by my experiences with technological progress over the last 35 years.
Outside of numbers and work I tend to have a pretty weak memory, but can remember very clearly a few seminal “computer/tech geek” moments in my life. For example, I can recall vividly:
- The first time I saw SEGA’s Hologram Time Traveler arcade game.
- The first time I sent and received email (~1993); I quite literally freaked out when I realized that the person on the other end had read my message and replied to me, nearly instantaneously. Something about that interaction really clicked in my brain, and left a lasting impression.
- The first time I installed Linux as the main OS on my personal machine and devoted a good chunk of my life at the time to hacking on it. I was utterly enamored with the shell/CLI.
- The first time I saw the graphics of the SNES.
- The first time I downloaded an MP3 file (1997?), played it, and realized this tiny, 4MB file contained an entire song.
- The day I installed a 3Dfx Banshee video card with 6MB of RAM, and played Turok: The Dinosaur Hunter.
- The first time I programmed in assembly, and then in various higher-level languages.
- The first day I spent building stuff with trueSpace 3D; I just couldn’t believe I was able to model all of these real-life things, and then render them, and then even make them move. It just blew me away.
- The first time a robot “understood” what I said, and responded accordingly (it was at EPCOT in the early 90s).
- The first time I strapped an Oculus Rift to my head.
Each of these moments (and surely a thousand others) had a profound impact on me, and helped me to see the power and promise of technology, namely that anything was possible. Giving some thought to these, I began wondering what sorts of things might engender in today’s kids this same sense of awe and possibility, and frankly, came up pretty short.
My gut and anecdotes tell me it’s much more difficult now to have an idea or a new technology rise to the level of excitement and wonder I felt when experiencing those things described above. Most hardware upgrades are incremental any more, and damn near anything is possible in software (+hardware), and at younger and younger ages kids are realizing this.
The last few years I’ve been fond of saying that there really is no such thing as science fiction any more. It seems to me the term will soon become an anachronism harkening back to a time when humans (or our robot heirs) couldn’t bring every idea to fruition. It’s an incredibly powerful thing to believe — nay, know — that anything is possible, and kids these days have almost nothing telling them otherwise.