green computer keyboard

2015-16 Term 2 Week 8: Learning Journal – UoPeople

This is the very last of my learning journals from last term, and just in time too. Tomorrow I’m already due for an LJ on Term 3 of this year! This journal I talk about the importance of being conscientious as computer science students. No one can predict the future, but we know that what ever technologies come out in the remaining decades of this century are going to be unfathomable. It’s probably a good idea that we try to steer technology towards good, meaningful goals. Perhaps encourage a healthier, happier, kinder human race? Us computer science students are the ones who are going to help shape this future, so we should be aware of the implications of our decisions.

Here’s my learning journal:

Other than completing the discussion assignment, I’ve actually taken a break from school for the last couple of days. I still did a bit of research, took a brief look at the non-graded assignment, and have been learning about programming/computers. But I needed to spend as little time off school for a few days, to sort of reboot my brain. Sometimes I find when you are focused too much on one thing, you can become blind. It helps to take a step back and focus on other things for a while.

With the exam coming up, I felt it especially important to give my brain a break so I can perform to the best of my ability when I write it at the end of this week. So what did I do?

Well, I caught up in some stuff I’ve been wanting to do, like reading. I’ve been reading, Dealers of Lightning for basically a year now, because I got 3/4 of the way through, and then got accepted into UoPeople, and was so focused on this, that the book got shelved and forgotten until now.

It’s a fantastic read by the way, it’s about how Xerox’s PARC had an immense role in the creation of the personal desktop computer. The author interviewed all of the major players at PARC and tells the whole story starting from PARC’s creation and eventually ending the story off in the late 80’s when the PC market was really in full momentum.

I find the book fascinating because it tells the story of how people invented technologies from the ground up, like the Ethernet cable, wireless communication between computers, integrated circuits, the concept of the Laptop, the mouse, GUI’s, monitors, and a massive array of other sophisticated technologies; I/O devices, networking devices, chips, and compilers – the list goes on.

It’s so easy to take the current state of computers for granted, but it’s important to appreciate what had to be done to get us here. It’s also important to understand our position in the timeline of computational devices. This is still a relatively new field, and like the pioneers of the PC revolution, we are here to potentially create the next big change in computation. What we call a computer today, may one day be nothing more than a relic. Those who helped create what the PC is today, had to come up with all of these ideas from scratch, and there is nothing preventing us here today, from creating the next mode for computing in an entirely new way that’s never been imagined.

I think quantum computing, and the research in chemical/biological computers is fascinating, but it’s barely the beginning. One day, all objects around you, even dust will be computational devices; organic, electrical or mechanical – it won’t matter how. All particles of a significant size will have basic I/O and will be able to communicate over a higher realized internet. Imagine computers built from particles which are themselves computers. Imagine a master view of the world, where all resources, weather patterns, diseases, people, animals, plants, etc, etc, all data are represented.

I see a world where literally everything is a computer of sorts, even us – if we’re not to discover one day that we already are computational machines. Biological upgrades will be possible, giving us heightened senses, and extra senses. Imagine being able to perceive the rest of the light spectrum; gamma waves, radio waves, ultra violet, micro, infrared, etc, etc, and being able to control which spectrum is being perceived with thought alone – we already have software that accepts brainwave patterns as input and we can tie that input into a controller. Just watch this video:

If such a thing called a room temperature super-conductor exists, it’s most likely an engineered material created by man-programmed particles. If we ever invent that, then we will be levitating objects and flying with our minds – like magic, but only it will simply be a complex network of particles manipulating magnetic waves according to a pattern of thoughts that are calibrated to match the effects of moving something (even yourself) with your mind.

As we consider the age that is soon to dawn us, the complete mapping of the human brain, we will see that “thought reading” will be possible by connecting to a data base that associates thought patterns to images, sounds and words. It will be possible to format these thoughts into files that can be streamed to other brains to be perceived as real experiences. One day, I believe you will be able to simply send somebody an experience you had instead of having to find a way to describe something in words alone.

Some of these ideas are my “original” thoughts, but I’m not the only one to think of such crazy worlds. I’m only extrapolating what we currently know about the universe, and subscribing to Ray Kurzweil‘s belief that Moore’s Law is connected to everything, not just integrated circuits.

It’s a little overwhelming to think about the ramifications of future technologies. Like how do we prevent people from hacking other people? Stealing memories, manipulating experiences, infecting people with a whole new age of viruses. If an experience can be downloaded, then what happens when people get addicted to these experiences, like people get addicted to present day drugs. How do we manage all of the data that will be available when everything is finally connected in a “supernet” of information, and how do we decide how much of that data is publicly available, and how do we decide who controls that data? What role will politics play in a future dominated by machines? And even scarier yet, what will be classified as “human” when we have merged with the machines around us, creating a, hard to distinguish, difference between man and machine?

For better of for worse, I think all of these insane – widely out there – ideas are possible, as spooky as they may be. It’s perhaps a realm of mad scientists and crack pots, but it’s a realm that students studying computer science should be aware of. We are the ones who will be shaping the future of this odd little bubble we call reality, and we need to understand the larger picture, and long term ramifications of our decisions. Are humans ready for the next big tech revolution? Because we (computer scientists, app developers, programmers, even IT professionals) are going to be the ones who create it.

As I rest my human hands upon this relatively advanced machine, I can’t help but think about how primitive it still is compared to what the machines of tomorrow will be capable of. I also can’t hep but think how it and I will be merged as one organism, or how drastically different that world will be, and weather or not it will be perceived as “good”.

While pondering these thoughts it becomes evident that the business of technology needs a fundamental shift in the problems it tries to solve. We are so focused on developing the next “killer app” or helping businesses manage customers, and accounting, and helping people make investing decisions, or find the fastest route between point A and B. Technology is largely focused on making life of the privileged easier, but not making the world better for all. If technology doesn’t shift towards solving the problems that matter, like world hunger, limited access to clean water, the depletion of resources, drug addiction, poverty, crime, and many, many others – we will one day end up in a world far to advanced for us to handle.

The goal of technology should be to create better, happier, more conscious humans, who care for each other, the planet, and the cosmos. Each new app, new hardware device, and research project continues to shape the direction and intentions behind the evolution of computers. Without the large picture in mind, and the awareness that computers will one day too, be biological like us, (and most likely far superior), we may accidentally influence the creation of a world that will become our demise, and if the machines we create are advanced beyond our control, perhaps the demise of some other civilization many million years into the future.

So, like I had to do for this course, it’s sometimes valuable to take a step back, so as to not become blind to other ideas, or shut off to alternative understandings of a subject or situation. I hope that the following generations of computer scientists can appreciate these ideas, and move into the industry, carefully considering the impact of the technologies they develop. It’s inevitable that technology will continue to advance beyond our current understanding of what is possible, but what is not inevitable, is the state of human consciousness when we reach such a point.

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