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December 15, 2010

On the Future of Computing

This is a guest post by Robert Stern, Web Developer at Reenhanced and the winner of the Chrome OS competition. Robert says he's interested in the future and science fiction and one his favorite books is "Accelerando", by Charles Stross. "I've been following your blog for awhile and it's amazing how far Google has come from its humble start as a search engine. This is especially true if you think about the other search engines that existed when Google first launched. There are now millions of people with phones running an operating system released by Google. Soon there could be millions of laptops and TVs running their software as well. It's very exciting to see where they will go next."

Thanks to everyone who participated in this contest. It was really difficult to find a winner because there were so many interesting essays.

Today we carry around devices that are as powerful as our desktops were ten years ago. We have bandwidth that would have been unobtainable to most individuals. These trends show no signs of slowing.

Five years out, wireless connection speed will exceed broadband. Many families will cease having home internet, similar to how many families no longer have home telephones. More and more is already being done through mobile devices instead of desktop computers. The majority of purchases will begin to be completed through mobile devices, beginning to supplant cash and credit cards.

Cell phones and other mobile computing devices will become more powerful due to the increase in bandwidth, utilizing the CPUs and GPUs of machines in the cloud. Storage will be nearly limitless and extremely redundant. Upgrading to new devices will only require signing in; your existing data and preferences will be restored from the cloud.

Ten years out, sensors and processors will be built into most products and even roads. More importantly, they will be linked together, providing massive amounts of data. This data will allow for extremely accurate traffic analysis, home electricity conservation, and even assist in getting ready for work or school in the morning.

Computation will be nearly effortless. It'll be even easier to access knowledge and trivia. Computing through glasses will finally be more feasible, as technology improves enough to fit displays in normal sunglasses. New input methods will allow individuals to search and access vast amounts of information at all times. They will be able to instantly compare prices, allow for nearly instantaneous translation between spoken languages, real time subtitling, and instantly look up movies or music by simply a line or scene.

Twenty years out, computing will cease to be something separate and discrete. It will be integrated in everything. Video displays will be built into contacts. Input will be far more discrete and possibly sublingual or even using an advanced form of EEG. The internet will be a literal extension of your brain.

Self driving cars will have begun to become common. Computing power will be spread across the entire planet. Wireless will be everywhere and speeds that we could only imagine today and holograms will allow for 3D video communication.

The aspects of the future of computing can be seen today. Chrome OS stores its data in the cloud. If you upgrade your machine, your data and preferences come with you. Android is similar.

Through cloud virtualization, we have already begun to see netbooks and other dumb terminals play games and access programs that would never run on their hardware alone. Google has created and tested self-driving cars and their navigation and traffic analysis products will only improve with time. Voice transcription has reach incredible accuracy, as has language translation.

These incredible accomplishments and the current technology in development show that things that would have been considered science fiction ten years ago, are now coming into use. All of this and the existence of companies like Google, Amazon, and Apple, competing with one another and redefining the definition of computing, points towards a great future for technology.


  1. Congratulations on your win. However, this is kind of scary at the same time.

  2. You do realize that there are people on our planet who haven't heard about electricity? :-)

  3. Wow, I don't know if this essay fooled you or not, but this is not about the future. Everything described here is already available in the present. This person literally took projects that companies in Silicon Valley are currently working on and assumed that they will be ubiquitous 10-20 years from now. Redundant clouds utilizing CPU and GPU? Check. New input methods for search through mobile devices? Check. 3D video communication? Check. If this essay were written nine years ago, the author might have said satellite telecommunications services (data and calling, not GPS) would displace terrestrial networks and be ubiquitous ten years from now, because that just happened to be the hot technology of the day. However, the majority of those companies (SkyTerra, TerreStar, Inmarsat) have struggled and folded into each other because a market for their services does not exist. Sorry Robert, but you lack creativity. Read some better science fiction. Isaac Asimov predicted the majority of ideas that you are mentioning - and that was nearly 50 years ago.

  4. Apparently these guys haven't seen Idiocracy:

  5. Pardon me if I scatter a grain or two of salt here. I've been hearing the equivalent of this for the nearly 50 years I've been in the technology business. What ends up happening is often quite different from what develops. In the process of pursuing one goal, countless new ideas pop up and are deemed better than the original goal. Flying cars have been just around the corner for 80 years and are still not in mass production, but we do have VTOL aircraft arising from the same dynamic. Look at how much NASA research has contributed to things totally unconnected with space exploration, for example.

    I do believe the Cloud will ultimately contain most of our data and mobile services grow. However, I can't get mobile reception everywhere in the country or even in my basement - a phone works. I currently keep a lot of my data online, but I will also always keep it local. I'm both a programmer and a writer, so I take backup seriously.

    There is a minimal size limit to devices as long as fingers are involved, and speech recognition only impresses those who don't know better - as a linguist, I can tell your it's far from ready for prime time.

  6. @George Ivanov. Schadenfreude?

    @Robert Dailey. Who are "these guys" and what are you talking about? I looked at the IMDB link, and, unfortunately, I'm still unable to read your mind (I guess I'm either too dumbed down to understand what you're getting at or mind reading is still a few years out).

    @Robert Stern. Congrats, buddy, even if I am incredibly jealous! When I read your essay, I was reminded of this article, by Jason Perlow, about IBM's nanophotonics replacing conventional CPUs and how computing will explode over the next ten years.

    @steelewee. How do you feel about the technology forecasts presented in the article I linked to in this comment?

  7. @steeleweed. My apologies for leaving out the "d," there. I just caught it.

  8. lolZ! 1984!

    and this sh*t has been posted on a hacker news blog. poor world!

  9. I would argue that this will not happen, as companies will not adopt a single standard for communication between devices. Furthermore, everything they do develop will be patented, preventing other companies from even attempting something similar.

  10. What are your thoughts on Jaron Lainer and his talk about the glorification of the technological singularity? Constantly moving faster towards what? Algorithms directing all of our attention. I'm excited by it, but also feeling a negative buzz from the info overload already.

  11. Really nice article.I can visualize the future through this.Should have added also on genome sequencing,gaming etc things also.

  12. A lot of this is already mentioned in Donald Norman's "The design of Future Things". And it presents a scary picture..

  13. Sorry, not an impressive essay. This isn't the future of computing. Everything you mentioned is just a rehash of scientific american articles that add 'but it will be common!'.

    Why do you say 'video will be in Sunglass!' And in the next paragraph say, "video will be in contacts!" There are already research groups embedding LEDs in contacts. 'Data and preferences' already follow you for almost all operating systems (Mac and Linux have done it for a few decades?). Your terminology for wireless vs broadband is incorrect. Broadband just implies dividing some bandwidth into smaller channels. That's also done in all wireless networking. But even to just take that 'wired', that is probably still an incorrect statement. An all optical network, including the networking hardware, will push bandwidth and speed way beyond current standards. You're going to have a tough time making that wireless because of the line-of-sight requirement (e.g. modulating internet into background light from LED bulbs, already being researched).


  14. Honestly, a poor choice for a winning essay. This my opinion lies mostly in the lack of vision or any substantial future scenario. It must appear all the more ironic that the author accredits this visionary sense to strategic management in today's corporate layout. Fact is that most innovation is being done in small-scale companies like the one he himself is working in. The large companies simply buy them up and commercialise. That's nothing bad, just not such a "visionary" part. Check out Microsoft.
    Thus, I cannot help but to conclude that the author was acknowledged for fan service.

    My take: How about writing about how the limited options and preedited features of netbooks, tablets, and smartphones rather inhibit than expand our creativity? How everywhere's auto-complete and templates pushes the pazy people into premade patterns that actually cripple their innovation, at least in terms of their language and design? Huxley ahoy!
    But then, I guess such a critical concern does not win over a netbook - even though I actually appreciate that Google sticks to a keyboard. That allows for some real typing - maybe even a nice essay on the way.