The Future of Society
“We are engaged in a revolution; a
technological revolution. We have commenced
an era where computers, databases, and the
internet handle tasks formally completed by
the human hand and mind. We live in and at our
computers. We do not have to leave the comfort
of our own computer station any longer.
Everything imaginable can be found on the
internet; from research, to shopping, to business
transactions, to love.
It is not us that makes technology obsolete, it is
our technology which is making us obsolete.
We are the computers, the computers are us.”
The Future of Society
Think of your life before the answering machine, the ATM, e-mail.
Think of your grandparents' lives before the television and the
airplane. Think of your great-grandparents' lives before the
telephone. All told, the shift will be that substantial. Machines
will recognize our faces and our fingerprints. They will watch
out for swimmers in distress, for radioactivity- and germ-
laden terrorists, for red-light runners and highway speeders,
for diabetics and heart patients.
Imagine devices that monitor the breathing rhythms of infants in
cribs, watch toddlers at day care, and track children as they go
to and from school; that can keep an eye on our home supply
of orange juice and let us know when the milk is sour.
Machines might watch our calorie intake and burn-off,
monitor air quality in our homes, and look out for mice and
Envision sensors as large as walls and as small as molecules in
your bloodstream sending quiet signals to nearby computers,
which will process and relay information to you, your doctor,
your lawyer, your grocer, your building manager, your car
mechanic, your local fire or police department. As time and
technology march on, less and less will escape the attention of
sophisticated machines. They'll have us covered.
Who controls who?
“We shape our buildings and
afterwards they shape us.” www.hasekamp.net/thailand/thailand1.jpg
What was the role of
(information) technology in Sept 11 th?
What is he talking about?
“We have one here at Cambridge;
there is one in Manchester and there
ought to be one in Scotland as well
but that is about all.”
Douglas Hartree 1947 quoted in The Dream Machine p 8.
Growth in technology….
Manchester Mark I
DEC 2060 – Early 1980‟s
DEC 2060 with 1
million 36-bit words of
PDP-11 front end,
RP06 176 MB disk, 2
RP07 498MB disks.
Running TOPS-20 with
20, and MS (a mail
Moore's law (rule of thumb) - processor power
doubles every 2 years
List of Intel Processors
Number of Computers in TCD
Since 1980 (Estimated)
Number of Computers
1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005
Computers in Towson in 2008
How many computers will there be in Towson when you
How powerful will they be: processor, memory, etc.
What will the situation be in 2018?
The future of technology….
“Early in the next millennium your right and left cuff links
or earrings may communicate with each other by low
orbiting earth satellites and have more computing power
than your present PC. Your telephone won’t ring
indiscriminately; it will receive, sort, and perhaps respond
to your incoming calls like a well trained English butler”.
[Being Digital. N. Negroponte, 1995.]
The Home of The Future
Changing Places/House_n The MIT Home of the Future
Consortium - architecture.mit.edu/house_n/
Welcome to the Broadband Home of the Future Wired
Magazine article January 2004
“I was born human. But it was an accident of fate – a
condition merely of time and place. I believe it’s
something we have the power to change…..”
“Impact Of IT Upon Society
Good Things Bad Things
The Information Society Communications
A day in the life…..
Many examples in the press
and media of home and work
in the future…..
Technology & Society
“NAIVE MODEL” OF TECHNOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT
Set of feasible WORK
2 Things to Note
Pervasive != Important
Rate of change
Rate of Change
The first steam powered cotton mill in the US dated from
1847 - sixty three years after its adoption in Britain.
The first electronic computers were developed in the mid
Fifty years later we have………..
Not All Pervasive Technologies Are “Important”
Zip fasteners and matchsticks are clearly not all that
The automobile, radio and TV, electricity and printing
have greater claims to importance.
Why is this?
What does history tell us?
Technology has always had a huge
influence upon the development of society.
Some Previous Technologies
& Social Change
settled life, villages.
Output increased faster than labor input.
Work centralized in factory units.
Land declined as the chief source of wealth.
Train network, printing press, sanitation, mechanical
clocks, the telescope etc. etc.
See “The Victorian Internet” for a
very interesting discussion.
Commerce – stock exchange
The .com phenomenon
News reporting – Crimean
"It brings the worlds together. It joins the
sundered hemispheres. It unites distant
nations, making them feel that they are
members of one great family".
The Case of the Automobile
Originally promoted as a clean mode of private transport.
Today society is strongly dependent upon the private car
with accompanying, pollution and traffic jams.
Deaths due to accidents
400-500 each holiday weekend in the USA. (Kling)
Helped give rise to suburbia and the decline of urban
The road infrastructure requires huge on going public
Dependence upon oil.
1970‟s oil crisis, the Gulf War (I) and (II), …..
Technology May Not Be Neutral
Often With Technology Society Gets More Than It
A Variety of Views
Dawn of a new age….
“Within a few short decades, society
rearranges itself - its worldview, its basic values,
its social and political structures, its arts, its key
institutions. Fifty years later there is a new world.
And the people born then cannot even imagine the
world in which their grandparents lived and into
which their own parents were born.”
Peter Drucker. Post Capitalist Society, 1993.
The change from atoms to bits is irrevocable and unstoppable. P4
Computing is not about computers any more it is about living. P6.
Early in the next millennium your right and left cuff links or earrings may
communicate with each other by low orbiting earth satellites and have more
computing power than your present PC. Your telephone won‟t ring
indiscriminately; it will receive, sort, and perhaps respond to your incoming
calls like a well trained English butler. P6.
On-demand information will dominate digital life. We will ask explicitly and
implicitly for what we want, when we want it. P169.
The information superhighway is more than a short cut to
every book in the Library of Congress. It is creating a
totally new, global social fabric. P183.
[Being Digital. N. Negroponte, 1995.]
Chris Evans‟ View (1980)
In the home in the short term future (early 1980s) there will be
“speaking bathroom scales, freezers which remind you to restock
them, cookers which tell how the meat is coming along, telephones
that tell you how many people have rung in your
absence……thermometers which advice you what to wear before you
“The first practical shift will be reflected in a cut in the working week
to an average of 30 hours, a retirement option at fifty five or even
fifty, and annual vacations of at least six weeks”. (p95)
[Evans C., The Mighty Micro, Cornet, 1979]
Technology for Technology‟s Sake?
“...so with a hundred other „modern improvements‟
..... our inventions are wont to be pretty toys which
distract our attention from serious things.
They are but an improved means to an unimproved
“Walden” by Henry Thoreau 1818-1862
The Seductive Equation of Technological Progress with
“Social Revolutions are based on changes in ways of life, not
just changes in equipment…..”
“No law seems more certain than this one: the next generation of computers will
be better than the last. Yet no law conceals a more socially devastating lie.”
[Netfuture, #1, Dec, 1995]
“I recently heard an industry pundit say, "As voice recognition technology gets more sophisticated, we can expect
computers to become more user-friendly.“ Self-evidently true? Let's consider. Perhaps the most conspicuous
application of voice recognition today is in telephone answering systems. The idea, of course, is that better listening
skills will enable the software to deal more flexibly with your and my needs. The notorious klunkiness of the current
answering systems will yield to friendlier capabilities.
In a sense, this is true. When I call a business in the future, the options will be more numerous, and I'll be able to negotiate
those options with voice commands more
complex than "yes" and "no." But this is to ignore an obvious fact about the new capabilities: their reach will be
extended. Where earlier software eventually routed you to a human operator, the
"friendlier" version will replace the operator with a software agent who will attempt to conduct a crude conversation with
So the earlier frustrations will simply be repeated -- but at a much more critical level. Where once you finally reached a
live person, now you will reach a machine. And if you thought the number-punching phase was irritating, wait until
you have to communicate the heart of your business to a computer with erratic hearing, a doubtful vocabulary of 400
words, and the compassion of a granite monolith!
The technical opportunity to become friendlier, in other words, is also an opportunity to become unfriendly at a more
decisive level. This is the prevailing law of technological development, underlying nearly every claim of progress. “
[Netfuture, #1, Dec, 1995, http://www.netfuture.org/1995/Dec1495_1.html#3]
Digital Age Nonsense
I sometimes wonder whether the folks at the M.I.T. Media Lab are pulling our legs. Are they stand-up
comedians in disguise? It seems that a lot of energy at the prestigious lab (which claims to be
"inventing the future") is going into the redesign of the American kitchen. For example, one project
involves training a glass counter top to assemble the ingredients for making fudge by reading
electronic tags on jars of mini-marshmallows and chocolate chips, then coordinating their
quantities with a recipe on a computer and directing a microwave oven to cook it.
Dr. Andrew Lippman, associate director of the Media Lab, says that "my dream tablecloth would
actually move the things on the table. You throw the silver down on it, and it sets the table."
One waits in vain for the punch line. These people actually seem to be serious. And the millions of
dollars they consume look all too much like serious money. Then there are the corporate sponsors,
falling all over themselves to throw yet more money at these projects.
Nowadays this kind of adolescent silliness is commonly given the halo of a rationale that has become
[Netfuture, #87, March 30, 1999, http://www.netfuture.org/1999/Mar3099_87.html#2c]
Views of/on Technologists
“Computer Science … is the systematic study of
algorithms….” [ACM task force quoted in Kling p33].
“A man trained in computer science alone is by any
definition an uneducated man” – [C. Holland, The Idea of
“Whether or not it draws upon new scientific research,
technology is a branch of moral philosophy, not of
science”, [Kling, p33].
The Information Society is a Global Society
Charles Handy - Globalisation
In the large
“Today we are faced with the complexity of the global
community. Decision makers have to operate beyond the
traditional limits of national boundaries and regulations,
beyond the conventions of a particular culture.”
In the small
“Life is now horribly confusing. We are mixing up home and
work, and work is no longer secure.”
The role of (Digital) Technology in all this change,
globalisation, information society, employment, views of
humanity etc. etc.
The role of Engineers in all this…..
The role of Education in all this…..