Our near future will be a complex, exciting, but also frightening place.
It will present us with many anxious choices and unforeseen
consequences. Our every decision today and for the next twenty years
will represent a bet we will be placing against our better natures.
Whatever the outcomes of those bets, the consequences are likely to be
Too Many Secrets It used to be that locks and safes were enough to protect secrets and that the only ones seriously worried about them were spies, generals, and presidents. Not anymore. ...The computer has led us to this impasse, but the computer isn't the problem. The problem is secrecy.
Infinite In All Directions Today's computers pay almost no attention to the enormous quantities of information we continually broadcast to them and to each other. The software bridging the abyss between what computers are and what we would like them to be is still very shaky, and terribly incomplete. But it's getting better.
The Power of Ideas Over the past fifty years, printing, paper, and transportation costs rose while their electronic counterparts: computing, electronic memory, and telecommunication costs, roughly halved every two years. Now the two cost curves have crossed and it's cheaper to make and distribute electronic books than it is to print paper ones. The only thing holding electronic books back now is the lak of cheap, sturdy, portable, high-definition electronic displays. But that will change within a decade. So after five hundred years of business as usual, publishing is about to change, and change drastically.
Only Connect We're all caught in a huge yet invisible web of connections, each of us made more powerful by the uniformity and collectivism of shared life. Food, fuel, jobs, money, artifacts, lifestyles, information---all are shared. Computer networks are but the latest strand in that web. But eventually they may become the most binding of all.
The Bloody Crystal Of the ten ships and over a hundred aircraft lost by both sides in the Falklands War, flying robots destroyed more than half. Smart weapons like the Exocet have a better than nine in ten kill ratio against unwary foes. And they're cheap. War is quickly becoming a game only machines can play.
The Life You Save Discomfort with computers often reduces to a simple and brutal question of money. And rightly so. Suppose, for instance, somebody invents a device tomorrow that answers the phone and takes dictation. Let's say it costs twenty thousand dollars and only does about 70 percent of what an employee does. You might think it obvious that such a machine won't change anything---it's too expensive and does a far worse job than a person. But you'd be wrong.
The Machine Stumbles As computer software and hardware gets more complex, it gets harder to find all the problems in a system before it's used. And in war, people can get killed because of flawed software. Unfortunately, some of our biggest systems are now too complex for us to completely predict their behavior. Nothing is more certain than death, taxes, and mistakes.
A Creation Unknown Thanks to advanced computer technology our world is getting ready to change drastically. Once again, life, that endless dance to adapt to the universe and to itself, is about to change all the rules. It's gathering itself for a great leap in intelligence. The consequences for our species are likely to be extreme.