Sunday, July 15, 2012

"Imagining Tomorrow's Computers Today"

ScienceNOW's Jop de Vrieze has published an interesting interview (July 15, 2012) with Brian David Johnson, "principal engineer and futurist" at Intel, the world's largest chip manufacturer, about how people will interact with computers in the near future. Not surprisingly, the interview is upbeat, with a focus on how Intel can anticipate what people will want from more-advanced computers. Here's the passage I find most suggestive about ethical issues.
Q: You study the interaction between humans and computers. What do you foresee to the next ten, fifteen years?
B.D.J: Looking at the past, technology has been about command and control. In the future it will be about relationships. Our technologies will get to know us and we'll become more tightly connected. That has an impact on what we do productivity-wise, but even more it connects us to the things and people we love. Siri, the personal assistant built into your iPhone, is an early example of that. You literally talk with your phone and it can talk back to you. 
Q: In what way does the development of chips play a role in this?
B.D.J: As we move closer to 2020, the size of computational chips is becoming so small that it is approaching zero. This means we could literally turn anything into a computer. Your tea glass, the table, you name it. There is a switch coming, where we do not have to ask: “Can we turn that into a computer,” but we know we can and we wonder: Is there a use to do it? That is what we have the social scientists for. We do not study markets, we study people.
"In the future [technology] will be about relationships." The computers in our every possession, including tables, beds, and clothing, will be an extension of ourselves and will know us well. As will anyone who has access to the personal, "private" data stored and transmitted by our computerized objects.

Intel doesn't study markets; it studies people and their interactions with computers. Is Intel interested at all in the interactions of people, corporations, and governments, with other people's computers?

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director