Synopsis : We are dazzled by the speed of technology these days but it seems that new technologies are coming up to replace the present with no end in site. It is almost unbelievable that now you can talk to anyone anywhere free on Skype or send or receive messages, photos and documents also for free . The speed at which the technological world is changing lives everywhere is nothing short of wonderful. But does it serve all the humanity or are we leaving behind the poor and and the uneducated ? Do we often consider the dark side of the technology?
There was a time when I remember that we used to memorize the multiplication table so that we could do mental arithmetic that required that kind of memory. We had to instantly recall how much was 17 time 5. We used to write the numbers on a slate with a chalk and do the numbers. Even in high school it was the same story .Without memory you could not pass the math exam. You had to remember the formula and how to solve them.
Then came the calculators that were electronic but the digits lit up in green color and cost about 20 dollars which was a huge sum in those days but it was with pride we showed our simple calculator to our friends who marveled at its design and how instantly it showed the result of any calculation. This was a huge improvement over Facit machine that had a handle on its side that you had to pull down each time you punched the numbers.
This was followed by the scientific calculators that could do statistical and many types of scientific calculations in an instant that put the slide rule into dustbin. I never mastered the slide rule anyway but people were using slide rule even in NASA calculating how much fuel the rockets had. The Chinese never gave up their abacus and claim that they can calculate complex arithmetic on it in seconds but it can only do plus or minus or simple math.
The technology was coming and changing the way people did their daily chores. I remember going on a study tour and saw for the first time a big room full of machines in Delhi that they called a computer. It was made in Russia and could do lots of things at a pretty good speed but it seemed so big, noisy and needed air conditioning because it generated heat and had to be cooled down. It was very expensive but was given to India as a gift. This was the year 1962.
No one really knew what a computer was and what it was supposed to do .The personal computers were not invented yet and no one knew what a micro chip was let alone what it was supposed to do. The Germans developed the enigma machine which was a very complex code making machine that had millions of combinations and permutations but a stolen machine was brought to England where a team of math wizards took a long time to break the code to learn the secret of the German communication during the war. The machine they built occupied a whole room that had mechanical parts and gears that turned and spit out a single letter or number after churning and turning forever so it took time to decode the cipher.
May be the Russian computer was also like that but we don’t know because no one knew what was inside those huge machines and how they functioned. At this time came the transistor which was a major breakthrough in electronic technology that sent all the vacuum tubes in radios to dustbin forever. Those tubes became the obsolete technology overnight and people got transistor radios instead. It did not need to warm up like those glass tubes.
Imagine how many thousands of lives could have been saved during the last war if they had this technology to communicate with the troops in the front line. Their radios were primitive and with very limited range so often the commanders could not reach their troops only a few kilometers away. But in 1993 I had a two way radio in Sudan where I could use it to communicate with my staff 600 or 800 kms away easily and often could listen to people talking to Kenya from Sudan. It was smaller than a book in size. The transistor made radios smaller, more compact and could be put in a pocket and taken anywhere. Then came the radio cassette players that put the reel type tape recorders out of business. The cassette itself was marvelous, small and could play music for an hour. There was no need of threading the tape anymore. Just slide the cassette in, press a button and record anything or play music.
At its heel came Sony walkman. You could now listen to music in full Dolby stereo using your headphones and keep the gadget in your pocket. The stereo itself was a novelty in our community when I brought my first stereo from Algeria. It was made in France and the speakers were from Holland and the sound was so good that people stopped on the road in front of our house to listen. That was the year 1973. No one had TV yet. We played long playing records called LPs on the record player that played LPs one after the other in a stack and turned at 33 rpm. But no one knew what was coming and how it will change the music industry forever.
Then came the compact disc or CD which was a marvel because no one could believe that such a small disc could store hours of music that was crystal clear. Philips invented it but I am sure even they did not foresee how it would change the world the way it did.
There was an English scientist who figured out how to make a cell phone that ran on a battery and could send and receive signals wirelessly so the primitive cell phone was born that looked like a big papaya or a gourd but the technology was born that would revolutionize the communication industry that would have a great impact on people’s lives worldwide. With new smaller microchips , the cell phones started getting smaller, flatter and more and more powerful each year until it started to look like a credit card that would fit into your pocket. The battery technology improved by leaps and became thin but stored a lot of power and best of all could be recharged. The incredibly sharp color screen of high resolution became touch sensitive and you could scroll up or down with your finger tips to read news, send e mail, see someone on skype, write on facebook or send sms messages to any one anywhere anytime or just use it as a phone.
The old fashioned CRT type TV that was only black and white now started to come in color but satellites were not yet in the sky . That would change with Yuri Gagarin in the 1960s that would bring in the new era of worldwide communication technology and the TVs started receiving signals from satellites that could now beam a program to any TV anywhere through a dish and a small receiver. Now for the first time in our human history we could see and hear what is happening in other countries in real time. Then the TV technology exploded on us and all of a sudden the CRT box type TV became obsolete and flat jet black TV with dazzling color called High Definition TV with 1080 pixels came that was like the space age TV. It became very thin and screen was now curved with no limit to size followed by 3D TV that needed special goggles to watch.
But before this happened , let me go back to 1984 when Intel 286 computer was the latest in our office that used big floppy discs that were very limited in storage capacity and the hard disc could only keep 20 MB of data. We learned to do a few things like using Word and Lotus and few other programs that were primitive compared to what they evolved into later. Then came 386 and the more advanced computers kept on coming year after year with greater storage capacity and smaller discs. It now stored data on a compact disc where you could store data, photos, music and all sorts of things. Then came VCD, DVD and Blue Ray discs that could now store movies and videos. I sent to my brother a CD that had 70 movies in it or about 140 hours of watching time just in one CD. He could not believe it and showed it to his friends who had never seen anything like it.
The hand held video recorders that used tapes now started using small discs to store data digitally. Then they got rid of the discs and started using a small device called flash drive that stores immense amount data on a very small drive that looks like a candy. I have one that stores 16 GB of data on it but I have heard of flash drives that store 32 GB now. Students wear their flash drive in a chain around their neck and carry their theses in it.
But the computer technology kept on improving at a dizzying speed and programmers kept making new programs that were better and faster and could do more things than before. Not too long ago I thought a 100 GB hard disc was huge but now they have 1 TB of space in a hard disc and probably will go much higher than that in the near future. Our daughter brought an external drive where she stored hundreds of movies in high resolution that I plugged into our HD TV to watch movies.
What has brought about the revolution in computers is the internet and how it has spread globally in a relatively short period of time and has changed the way we write, communicate, listen to music, download music, share files, share anything, read anything, find anything for sale or put up ad for anything for sale. We can use skype to see the person anywhere in the world and talk in real time and pay nothing. All you need is a monthly plan of cable TV and computer connection in one package and you have 24 hour internet connection and 50 channel TV programs that come to your home via satellite for a fixed fee.
The powerful search engines brought knowledge to anyone who could type .It seems there is no limit to the amount of knowledge on any subject stored by these search engines like google which has become a part of the lingo. You can read any news paper in the world in any language, can translate any language into another superfast, you can play video games with someone online in another country, you can look for a friend or soul mate on line so dating services are booming.
Google now offers instant translation from any language to any language so you can write in English and the google will translate it to a language of your choice in seconds. This way you can communicate with a person not knowing his language at all. It is really wonderful and awesome.
The era of computers has opened up the education in a way that was not possible a short time ago. Now people in remote areas can learn lessons on line using a camera to see the instructor or learn to play musical instruments from a teacher sitting in another part of the world. The possibilities are limitless.
The advent of digital technology made the 35 mm cameras obsolete. Now a digital camera can take very high resolution photos in color and store 5000 photos in a memory card smaller than a postage stamp and can recall any photo instantly and send it over the internet to any part of the world in seconds. I feel sorry for the Kodachrome and Ektachrome film makers because no one buys them and it has completely disappeared from stores. If you have a color printer at home, you can print your digital photos anytime in dazzling colors. The printers now come with scan/print/photocopy features all in one package.
The smart phones now look like they are from the science fiction. They are thin, small and have The incredibly sharp color screen of high resolution became touch sensitive and you could scroll up or down with your finger tips to read news, send e mail, see someone on skype, write on facebook or send sms messages to anyone anywhere anytime or just use it as a phone. It can do many things a desktop PC can all wirelessly. Phones now come with GPS that shows where you are anywhere in the world. I have a Galaxy pad that has incredibly high resolution aerial photos of any part of the world that I can zoom to see in great details. I can see the village in Mali where we built our round house and see the house and the street in Phnom Penh where our daughter lives in great detail or the house in Philadelphia where our son lives.
The electronic e book reader like Kindle is nothing short of wonderful. I have one that stores 1000 books and can download wirelessly any book a book seller has to offer in any part of the world. You don’t have to go to a bookstore anymore. You can also download millions of e books from the internet for free. Once I downloaded Mein Kamph by Adolf Hitler for free when the bookstore in Canberra wanted 70 dollars for it.
The free blog sites in the internet have made everyone a writer of sorts. I have many sites where I regularly publish what I write that are read by thousands in different countries.
I used to go to the telegraph office to send a message that they typed often misspelling the content and was costly. This was replaced by telex that was typed on a ribbon and fed through a machine. Then came Facsimile machine that could take a written or typed page and transmit its content to any part of the world but that too became obsolete when the internet came and sending messages, photos or documents became very easy and fast. You can now chat in real time with anyone anytime anywhere in the world, send him music or photos or videos. The e mail has put the post office out of business in many countries. The phone companies must be cursing. They became the big time losers because people can talk on Skype for free. There are many other such services that are also free.
But what has become standard in automotive technology was unheard of a few years ago. Now the cars have numerous microchips that monitor all functions of the car, control the temperature inside and out and control the brakes that do not lock up but break at 20 times per second. The cars have microchips that control the fuel, the ignition and even monitor the tire pressure or when the air bags need inflating.
The gasoline or diesel burning cars have become better cars for sure but better and more efficient cars are on their way already that threatens to make the gas or diesel automobiles obsolete in the near future and will have all electric powered vehicles that are silent, super efficient and pack up to 1000 HP under the hood. They are totally wired to the internet and are a marvel of electronic wizardry that is hard to believe. They can be recharged in a short time and the range is increasing with every new model. One car claims it can run 640 kms on a single charge and promises better range in the future. They are expensive right now like all new technology but the prices keep on dropping every year as the competition kicks in. If one day all vehicles will be electric then just imagine its impact on reducing global warming. It can happen in the next thirty years or so.
So I have seen this explosion of technology in every sphere imaginable in every industry that has brought tremendous changes in how we live, enjoy music, communicate, do banking, pay for things, transfer money from one place or a country to another, get medical treatment in modern hospitals where the doctors use innovative technology to diagnose your problems etc. People in many countries are moving toward a cash less society where people use smart cards to pay for anything and receive their salaries directly into their account that shows up on the smart phone.
In India the Government now pays directly into the account of a person who needs to be paid cutting out the middleman. I have seen all these new technologies in my life time that my father did not know anything about but I also know that someday our grandchildren will laugh at us and say Grandpa , are you still using those things that are obsolete now?
The danger of new technology:
But all technologies have a darker side to it as well. The new technology has given the governments unlimited power to snoop on your phone conversation, read your e mails, and take surveillance photos through thousands of cameras everywhere of private citizens who go about their normal routine business. It gives them power to know what you write in Twitter or any blog or in any social media like facebook, instagram, linkedin or other numerous sites . They can read your e mails read your keystrokes, know your IP address and your passwords. They know where you live and what you do all without your knowledge and they generate massive data base on millions and billions of people. Through your credit card use they know what you pay for, where and when. They know the details of your personal life that you would rather keep private but now nothing is private anymore.
They have people sitting at computers doing nothing but snooping on people whole day just in the name of national security and watch 24 hours a day any person of interest but they also have computers that are totally automated that read millions of e mails everyday to find anything that may be of interest to the government. Granted most ordinary people have nothing to hide but they get snooped on just the same. Whistle blowers like Assange and Snowden have leaked data and e mails that prove the wrong doings of the government that snoops on ordinary people so they are being vilified and called all kinds of names. The whistle blowers are being punished for exposing the wrong doings of the NSA in the United States.
Then there are thousands of people with time to kill on their hands who think of nothing except how to make mischief through the internet. They make spyware disguised as something else and send it to you that can harm your computer, infect your mailing list and do many bad things. They can steal your data, your sensitive information and sell it to other bad people. This is the hazard of new technology which has the possibility of abuse if the data are wrongly used. In totalitarian countries they keep tab on political dissenters, activists and journalists even if they have legitimate reasons to dissent. But the surveillance and snooping goes on worldwide and no one is spared.
There is a story I would like to tell here. There was this Japanese computer expert who was actually an American hired by the CIA and sent to China to snoop on sensitive defense related matters so he went to the office of the most senior Chinese Defense minister to install sophisticated computers there and also maintained them if there were any technical problems to solve. He was an expert in these matters. It was all very legal and above board on the surface. So one day he brought a big bouquet of roses and chocolates to the personal secretary of the minister. She was a plain looking woman who never had anyone give her roses and chocolates so she was very impressed.
Then he invited her to have dinner with her in expensive restaurants and wined and dined her to her simple heart because she never had a boy friend and no one showering so much attention on her so eventually she ended up sleeping with this Japanese American IT expert.
Then one day he showed up in her office and saw her listening to music in her computer while the minister was away so he asked what type of music she liked. She answered that she liked Jazz among other things so the next time he brought her a Jazz CD and told her that it is his only copy of rare Jazz music so she can copy it and return the CD to him which she gladly did.
This CD has a secret program that installed itself in the hard disc of the computer of the secretary that she never knew anything about. She trusted this fellow after all the chocolates, roses and fine dining. This secret program turned on the computer at midnight when the office was closed and copied all that was recorded that day like the minutes of secret defense meetings etc. and sent it automatically to a bakery in a small town USA which was a front for the CIA. From there it went to Langley where the Chinese script was deciphered to read what was in those transmissions.
It went on for some time until one night a janitor who cleaned the offices in the Ministry late at night heard the computer turn on by itself with a light blinking which he thought was unusual so he reported it to his supervisor who in turn reported it to others. Soon other computer experts came and examined the hard drive and after interrogating the secretary found that it had a malware installed. The Japanese American expert had disappeared in the mean time but the poor secretary was not so lucky. She was taken away and never heard from again. It sounds like a typical Ludlum novel and probably is but this sort of thing goes on as a routine.
In our college days there was the scandal of Profumo and Kristeen Keeler in UK if you remember. It was the same sort of thing but less sophisticated because there were no computers those days although roses and chocolates were plentiful and fine dining was just a hop away. This story highlights the danger of technology in the wrong hands. The Mataharis and their honey trap is not fiction.
We now live in the age of instant access to data base, to communication, instant movement of money around the globe and e commerce but with it comes the challenges posed by such technology that can threaten your bank account, your livelihood, your credit ratings and your personal life in a way that was not possible a few years ago. We benefit from the technology but it comes with a hefty price tag.
The future :
The technology has not stopped improving and innovating so we do not know in which direction the world will go twenty years from now. May be the technologies will be more wearable and smaller like a watch that will serve as your computer as well as your health monitor. May be your clothes will generate power from light and power all these gadgets you will keep in your pockets. May be your watch will project a 3D image of someone in the air while you talk to him across the globe, may be your shoes will generate power that will keep your pace maker in sync. The days of self driving cars and trucks are here already so the robotics is taking over in factories and other places. There are robotic surgeons that can do complicated surgeries and soon there may be robotic planes, trains, ships and even submarines. We know that the drone technology has taken off in a big way and they are testing drones to deliver goods directly to your homes.
3D shapers can make parts of any shape and design. Some call them printers but they do not print anything. So what will the future bring? What new technology will be so revolutionary that it will change our lives again? We don’t know. Who knows where we will go in twenty or thirty years? Can you guess?
Note : My blogs and biography are also published in the links given below.