It’s amazing how far technology has enabled mankind to progress. Just a century ago, people were wondering whether powered flight was possible. Now we’ve got spacecraft exploring the furthest reaches of the solar system.
Of late, much of the technological progress we’ve seen in the world has been digital. Steve Jobs introduced us to the home computer in the 1980s, and by the 1990s, most affluent families had one. The only problem with those early computers was that they couldn’t do much. Not only were they slow, but they weren’t connected to the Internet, something that wouldn’t really kick off until the mid to late 1990s.
Once computers got hooked together, the sky was the limit. You could do everything online, from browse music videos to calculate DIM weight. But as the internet has grown, its turned into a different animal. It’s no longer just a network of computers; it’s more something that humans themselves are hooked up to.
This has gotten futurists thinking. With each advance in technology, humanity comes closer and closer to merging with machines. First, we had family computers in home offices that required a modem and a lot of patience with service providers like AOL to get onto the web. Now there are supercomputers in our pockets which are constantly online. Then there is the fact that people are way more hooked on the internet today than they ever were in the past. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, people used the internet only when they were going to do something, like order an ebook or download music. Now, though, the internet is an ever-present companion we consult every time we have a burning question. “Google” has been turned from a noun into a verb.
So the question is what comes after the internet? With the advances in artificial intelligence, there’s a good chance that the web will disappear - at least from our perspective. Google is already working on artificial intelligence that can respond to queries people type into its search bar, trawling through millions of pages on the internet to find the ones that answer the questions best. But now that AI is becoming mainstream, many other companies are looking at ways to use it to fundamentally change the way we interface with the net. At CES in January, LG introduced a load of new fridges that used a kind of quasi-AI system to figure out whether their owners needed to go grocery shopping. Instead of requiring the owner to interact with the internet, the system just automatically ordered new food from local grocers to be delivered based on its assessment of what was running low. It was an example of how companies are trying to make the internet “just do stuff” without having to go through the rigmarole of actually typing stuff in.
Perhaps the best example of the shape of things to come is Echo, the home robot from Amazon. It’s an internet connected device, but unlike other devices, it’s able to use AI to parse all the information on the internet and give its owner the precise data they are looking for. You won’t “go on” the internet: it’ll be on all the time.