During his recent Australian seminar series, Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, mentioned that within four decades, computers are likely to exhibit conscious thought.
Hollywood has tended to persuade us this is a bad thing. Think 2001: A Space Odyssey (ironically, made four decades ago), with the maniacal computer saying “hello” to Dave…or I, Robot where Will Smith needed to save us (again).
But fear not, says Woz
“Computer programs cannot yet innovate, because they have not lived a human life,” says Woz. He spoke of the need to appreciate music and art before being able to create it.
However, computers – albeit in smartphone form – are set to become our closest friends. They will “know us better than any human – what jokes I like, what things I need help with.”
From our favourite restaurants to the names of our family members, smartphones are already capturing this information for us. Think Siri, but on a much more intimate scale.
Computer as teacher
Classrooms will shift towards self-paced learning, where students can take modules and interface with their device directly to learn. He spoke of what he perceives as the today’s stifling education paradigm, “where everyone reads Chapter One on Monday, and if a student falls behind, there’s no time to go back, there’s no room for creativity”; and how he believes this will give way to a much more interactive, imaginative and engaging experience.
Open wide, iPhone
But education won’t be the only revolution. Woz believes we are on the verge of a telemedicine age, where our handhold smart devices will communicate directly with our doctors. Medical tools will evolve as nano-technology takes off.
Work is already underway on a nano device that patients can simply point into their mouth, which will detect levels of bacteria and even conduct diabetes readings. The information is then transmitted back to your doctor. Certainly makes those wooden tongue depressor sticks seem positively prehistoric!
Woz notes that his iPhone already shares many of the ‘senses’ unique to humans – touch, hearing (microphones), seeing (cameras), ability to detect motion the way our inner ear can, and thanks to GPS it always knows exactly where it is – unlike some humans after a big weekend!
Woz jokes that the next sense could be smell – and ponders if one day your phone may tell you that your breath smells of garlic!
The future is smart
Smart devices can already detect our handwriting and turn it into typed text; convert our voice instructions into commands, and recommend where we can buy a good pizza oven. If Woz is correct, they will continue to become extensions of ourselves.
But is this necessarily a good thing?
Will handwriting become a forgotten art form, and go the way of calligraphy and quills?
Will we reach a time where real books, where you can crease the page to mark your place, become antiques, like vinyl records today?
Will teachers and doctors become IT specialists? And who will need a stand-up comedian when your phone can tell you all the jokes you need!
Progress is inevitable, but choosing how much that progress integrates into our lives is still the realm of those with conscious thought – at least for the next forty years.
This blog is part of a series on the recent iiNet WOZ Live event in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne.