Is The Technology Revolution Dead?

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If you were born pre 1965 you've lived through an extraordinary time in technology creation.  In the early 1980s we suddenly had cable television (yes before that rural Americans used cable to get network channels).  Suddenly there were all these new channels.  A few years later came the pager.  Now someone could immediately let you know they needed to talk to you.  Of course you still had to fumble for change and find an unoccupied phone booth.

 

A couple of years later came the widespread use of car phones.  Car phones had been around for a number of years before but were very unreliable and outrageously expensive to use.  By the mid to late 80s that all changed.  By the early 1990s car phones morphed into cell phones.  Now making and taking calls could be from anywhere (that had a sufficient signal).  The first cell phones were bulky, usually carried in a bag and still expensive to use.  But by the late 1990s cell phones were much smaller and had become cheaper than using a land line.

 

Also in the early 1990s was the new thing at the time called "AOL" (the name Internet started a few years later).  I remember first hearing about it at a party in 1994 while still living in Maryland.  Someone asked me if I was "AOL"?  I had to get a geek friend explain the concept of a "page."

 

Over the next 15 years we got the Ipod, smart phones and tablets and GPS.  The Internet became much more user friendly with far more capabilities.

 

Since then we seem to have fallen into a technology divot.  While there have been new models of Iphones and tablets the differences are becoming minimal.  There seems to be very little differential between the Iphone 6 I had and the Iphone 8 I got a few months back.  I saw an article yesterday in which tech gurus were critical of all of the hype around the Iphone X.

 

For now things like driverless cars seem decades away like the talk of mobile communication appeared in the 1960s.  Remember when the original Star Trek essentially had what now is a cell phone in the show (forgot what they called it).  I recall my 4th grade teacher telling us one day we would all have that kind of device.

 

Some might say we have as much technology as we can use or need.  Still, I wonder what hasn't been thought of?  Also, what about virtual realities on a large scale and time travel.  Something I was watching on YouTube a few weeks back said that time travel will one day be a reality and that the technology is slowly falling in place.  I think about going back to the late 1940s (no desire to go back to a day in which there was no indoor plumbing).  Or the day JFK was elected.

 

The reasons for this deficit appear to be numerous.  Shifting resources towards consolidation, stock buy backs and dividend payments, no new visionaries like Steve Jobs turning dreams into realities, changes in personal economics and technology overload, etc.  Maybe one day we will be beamed up and down the galaxy a la Star Trek but for now its like that pipe dream of mobile communication circa 1968 when I was in 4th grade.

Comments

Skip Stein Added Dec 28, 2017 - 11:18am
Nice recap, young fella!  Boy you missed SO much of the early Tech Revolution.  You forgot, before car phones there was (and still is) CB Radio and the craze that was everywhere back in the late 70's & early 80's.
 
Some of us old farts remember the 8 inch b/w TV screens and the nightly sign off about 10pm.  Then there were COLOR movies and eventually COLOR TV; who would have thunk it?
 
I started out in IT/Computers in the late 60's when you could actually SIT INSIDE one to repair it and massive spinning tape drives were the primary  storage medium.  Disk drive (the size of your washing machine) would hold less than your internal cell phone storage and computer 'memory' was measured in K or 1024 bytes/characters.
 
Computers were programmed in COBOL, which most have no clue about today.  A language that you could actually READ and understand.  Of course there was the 'machine language' (Assembler/ALC) that many of us used for more complex tasks but documentation was the rule not the exception and if your program EVER failed you were a smuck.  Those programs were bullet-proof with extensive line-by-line testing so they would NOT fail; although in rare cases some did. Not like the CTL-ALT-DEL crap we see today with the crap software that runs most systems and is constantly being hacked, failing or causing disasters.
 
People today take for granted (as do I) the amazing progress that tech has provided.  It is just the BEGINNING and will continue to grow exponentially into the future; a future that NO ONE can predict.  BUT we MUST get better at the construct of code, making it more open/viable and FailSafe.
 
You mention Star Trek and many, even most, of the tech described is now available or soon will be; even the 'tri-corder' is almost here and is available in limited use connected to your cell phone.
 
No my friend, you missed a lot of history and no one can, or should even try, to predict the future of tech.  No one truly knows.
 
Then there is the recently discoveries of our Ancient Past proving history and archeology so dead wrong, there will be much to learn as this exploration into our past reveals just how ancients built things that we can't attempt today!
Stone-Eater Friedli Added Dec 29, 2017 - 5:09am
George
 
I was born 1958 and I followed all that closely. And now, at almost 60, I've found out that I don't need most of the crap technology sells us. I use public transport, have a PC for communication and an electric guitar.
 
And if I wasn't an "independent news" junkie and had no connections to Africa (private and business) I'd even shred my PC :-)
opher goodwin Added Dec 29, 2017 - 5:26am
George - it was so much easier when there was less choice. More excitement too. You had to wait for stuff. Some stuff was rare. The anticipation and thrill of discovery was all the greater. We savoured it.
Now there are 4 million channels of crap. Everything is available at the press of a button. Everything is cheapened.
Stone-Eater Friedli Added Dec 29, 2017 - 6:01am
Oph
 
My words !
 
Doug Plumb Added Dec 29, 2017 - 6:59am
Big, very cool stuff is going on in personal transportation. Check out "flying monohulls" on YouTube. The first passenger drone has been invented in China. There are hoverboards and one wheeled vehicles.
  Then there is AI, which will meet a singularity where machines get agency. Right now they do well everything humans do well but do not possess agency.
  There is the data revolution and engineering is changing from being calculus based to being linear algebra based. When someone finds a quick and easy way to compute eigenvalues of large matrices, things will really change quickly in terms of big data. The equations of the 20th century are the algebraic / DE state equations that do controls and big data.
  I hope to sue the banks, win, and build a flying monohull.
Bill Kamps Added Dec 29, 2017 - 7:08am
I guess it all depends on how one looks. 
 
You could have asked the same question in 1950.  The answer would have been both yes and no.
 
The first half of the 20th Century gave us, planes, cars, phones, electricity, vaccines, what did the second half give us by comparison? just computers.  Hardly on the same scale.
 
Lots of things are going on, but the scale is smaller.  That has been the case for better part of 75 years.
George N Romey Added Dec 29, 2017 - 8:07am
Yes there was lots going on before 1980 including the pc revolution in offices. I had a boss in 1984 that claimed workers used computers to goof off. Well before the Internet days.
Autumn Cote Added Dec 29, 2017 - 8:20am
Please note, the more personal responses you offer the more likely your articles remain popular and commented upon.  Also, the more likely I promote your work to a larger audience.  As always, many thanks for your participation with Writer Beat!
Chris Crawford Added Dec 29, 2017 - 11:19am
Mr. Romey, my own impression is that the slowdown you note is a temporary phenomenon arising from the maturation of the most popular technologies, such as cellphones. 
 
Every technology undergoes dramatic improvement in its early years and then its progress slows down. It follows an asymptotic curve towards the best possible implementation. Automobiles and airplanes are good examples. Cellphones have now climbed well up their curve. 
 
As always, the biggest changes will come from developments whose value is not immediately obvious. My own personal candidates for "most exciting new technologies" are:
 
1. Speech recognition. We've been moving slowly along this curve. There are profound problems to deal with here, because the fullness of natural language is well beyond the reach of current technology. Nevertheless, I am very impressed with the progress we have made so far. Consider that the vast majority of our interactions with the world are linguistic: we TALK. But with computers we use these silly devices, keyboard and mouse, that are so clumsy. Right now, shouldn't I be able to simply dictate this comment and then edit it vocally? Why should technology be so difficult to use? To watch television I have THREE remote devices with more than a hundred different buttons between them. That's absurd! I should be able to simply say, "TV, let's watch an old Star Trek rerun, one with Harvey Mudd." Speech recognition will revolutionize the use of computers.
 
2. Materials science. This is one of the quietest revolutions underway, because its effects are not immediately obvious to most people. But consider how useless your smart phone would be if the glass on the front were too stiff to permit you to control it by touch, or if it were easily broken? That combination of firmness, unscratchability, and softness is truly astounding. And these improvements are showing up everywhere.
 
3. DNA editing. This technology is still blasting off, and is already revolutionizing just about everything in the life sciences and medicine. 
 
I could go on at great length about other technologies, but I'll stop here.
Bill H. Added Dec 29, 2017 - 12:03pm
I still have my Imsai 8080 computer that I built back in early 1976. It is now sporting a much faster Z-80 CPU card, a M58725P 64K RAM card, Vector Graphics PROM card, 20 MB disk drive and controller, and a multi-I/O (serial/parallel) board.
I still use it to monitor weather instruments and store daily data, as it has for almost 40 years. It did once sustain some major damage due to a close-proximity lightning strike that took out about 30% of the integrated circuits and made troubleshooting in the normal way impossible. I had to take each board over to a friend's house and troubleshoot them on his still-functioning Altair 8800 to get the system running again. I have since installed opto-isolators on all of the external I/O inputs to avoid this from happening again.
This was back when computers were fun and challenging, and we were able to control them, rather than having them control us.
Katharine Otto Added Dec 29, 2017 - 12:24pm
George,
I think the technology revolution has peaked, just as all anti-bacterials were anti-climactic after penicillin.  We may be entering a phase of technology maturation, when we learn how to fully use our equipment.
 
But technology for its own sake, like money for its own sake, is valueless.  How we apply our technology will be important.  Such as, how much gene manipulation is ethical?  I read of a novel in which children were raised for their body parts, like kidneys and livers.  Where is our technology taking us?
 
Do you want to be on the highways with self-driving cars and trucks?  Do people realize electric cars will increase demands on the power grid and generate monopolistic profits for utilities like Southern Company?  I digress, but only to suggest some directions technology is going may be dangerous and environmentally unsound.
 
Fracking.
 
 
Chris Crawford Added Dec 29, 2017 - 12:51pm
"I still have my target="_blank">Imsai 8080 computer that I built back in early 1976."
My God, that's absolutely astounding! I still have my old KIM-1, but it's a year or so younger than your machine.
 
Ms. Otto writes:
"Do you want to be on the highways with self-driving cars and trucks?"
Definitely! Their safety records are ALREADY superior to those of the American public.
 
"Do people realize electric cars will increase demands on the power grid and generate monopolistic profits for utilities like Southern Company?"
What's wrong with a company being profitable when it supplies a desired good or service? And aren't you aware of the fact that electric utilities are regulated by the state governments?
 
Yes, technology always has its backfires. That's why we must engage in thorough political dialogue regarding its consequences. But it's not intrinsically dangerous.
Jeff Jackson Added Dec 29, 2017 - 1:50pm
Nice article George. The one thing that you can say is that the rate of change- how quickly things are invented and adopted, is gaining speed. We are already on Internet 2.0 the "Internet of Things." I believe that things will change even faster in the future.
Bill H. Added Dec 29, 2017 - 4:06pm
 
Chris - saw your wargaming computer and some other stuff.
Good stuff!
Cheers!
Chris Crawford Added Dec 29, 2017 - 5:26pm
Bill, those were the days... I *still* have much of the 6502 instruction set in my head...
Bill H. Added Dec 29, 2017 - 6:07pm
As I remember, the 6502 and 6800 had about the same instruction set?
I also built an Altair 680 that used a 6800. I still have my Don Lancaster TV Typewriter Cookbook, RTL Cookbook, TTL Cookbook, and CMOS Cookbook. I still find it fun to whip up circuits, and have been spending much time repairing tube Hi Fi and guitar amps since I retired. In fact, I got so busy repairing tube guitar amps last year, I had to ask my existing customers to stop referring business to me.
Chris Crawford Added Dec 29, 2017 - 6:10pm
The 6502 was built by some renegade Motorola engineers who left to build their own design. They maintained the fundamental design philosophy of the 6800: clean and simple. But their instruction set was not an echo of the 6800s. 
 
I too build the occasional circuit, although nowadays I build them on top of Arduino systems. Let the software handle the messy stuff and just provide the I/O for it.
opher goodwin Added Dec 29, 2017 - 6:48pm
The biggest technological changes are still in the pipeline. When they finally liberate the technology around DNA and proteins there will be a quantum leap. We will merge man and machine. We will produce food, medicines, computers and change the world.
Biology is the next big thing - genetics and biochemistry.
Jeffry Gilbert Added Dec 31, 2017 - 12:12am
You're right George. We're still riding around the world on subsonic aircraft, driving automobiles that are unsafe at any speed, television is unwatchable, radio is shit, the phones you mentioned are shit, everything competing for your dollar, pound, euro or Baht is utter shit. 
 
The common denominator is neo-liberal economic policy. 
 
The most pernicious of extraction industries ever devised.
Chris Crawford Added Dec 31, 2017 - 12:17am
What a feculent worldview you have, Mr. Gilbert!
Jeffry Gilbert Added Dec 31, 2017 - 12:46am
What a feculent worldview you have
 
Perhaps, perhaps not. Certainly several magnitudes better than the exceptionalist mantra you spew. 
 
Mr. Gilbert
 
That's Captain Gilbert to the likes of you.
 
A. Jones Added Dec 31, 2017 - 4:29am
Everything is available at the press of a button. Everything is cheapened.
 
Hypocrite.
 
You self-published over 40 digital books on Amazon.com for a fraction of what it would have cost you in time and money before the Internet and the digital revolution. It's unlikely you would have typed out 40 science fiction novels on an old Remington, using carbon paper for copies, and a little bottle of White-Out for corrections. It's also unlikely that anyone else would have published them. So you, as much as anyone else, rely on the new hi-tech, and exploit it to your advantage.
 
Everything is cheapened.
 
Better: "Everything is cheaper."
 
That is, everything exacts a lower cost to people in time, money, and effort. And that's always a good thing.
 
If you're going to complain that technology has made it possible for people to acquire things they want at lower cost to themselves in terms of time, money, and effort, you should start at the beginning of technology: start with the wheel.
Eric Reports Added Jan 13, 2018 - 4:17pm
It would be better to see the future, then revisit the past.

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