|MadSci Network: Computer Science|
One of the neat things about science fiction is that you don't really need to predict the future, nor do you need to come up with the most likely scenario for the future and use that as the background for your novel. You can make your own set of assumptions regarding technology breakthroughs and how society and people will respond to them. So, as I attempt to give my best guesses and provide some reasoning for those guesses, feel free to either accept what I come up with - or reject it, and come up with a new set of assumptions that will make your science fiction novel exciting and thought provoking based on the what-ifs it posits! The quantum computer was proposed by the physicist, Richard Feynman, in 1982. The quantum computer is different from a digital computer in that a quantum bit , Qbit, can represent a range of values between 0 and 1 : (previous Mad Scientist Answer: What is a qbit when we talk about quantum computers...) Engineers and scientist are great at pursuing challenges and breakthough achievements that seem impossible. Yes, I think that a quantum computer will be demonstrated well before 2040. In fact, there is already a claim that a quantum computer (just two quantum bits) has been demonstrated: EE Times Techsearch article. The question is - will the quantum computer grow beyond a laboratory curiosity, beyond being the subject of several published articles? Will it become useful, will it become a widespread product used by a large number of people? In order for the quantum computer to grow beyond laboratory curiosity, it will have to reach a reasonable cost, it will have to successfully compete against other technologies, or have a desirable application that other technologies cannot address. So far, theoretical studies indicate that a quantum computer could excel at factoring large numbers. This is important - but probably not a sufficiently major application advantage to supplant other computer technologies. The quantum computer will most likely be competing against the evolution of the digital computers we have today. That's quite heavy competition. Digital computers have been increasing in speed phenomenally (over 1 GHz computers? How can we get data in fast enough to feed the beasts?). People now seem to need 30 Gigabytes of hard drive. That's enough room to store about 60 complete sets of encyclopedias. Frankly, it will be hard for another technology to overtake the evolution of computers at this point - the rate of progress is so great, the learning curve is so steep, it is hard to compete against. But, what allows the computers to evolve is the improvement in semiconductor processing technology. The computer is made up of integrated circuits, interconnected transistors that are made using semiconductor processing technology. The key to the evolution is the shrinking of the transistors and the interconnects. In 1980, the typical geometry of a transistor (the gate length) was about 3 to 5 microns. Now, that gate length is typically about .18 microns, moving quickly towards .13 microns. The smallest transistor made in a lab is about 50 nanometer in gate length. Since the density of atoms in silicon is about 50 atoms per cubic nanometer, an electron moving across this 50 nanometer gate length is only going to encounter a few hundred silicon atoms. This is getting into the realm where quantum mechanics dominate, and where the electron is and whether it will proceed is subject to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and other concepts of quantum mechanics. In other words...by, 2040, the straightforward evolution of semiconductor processing could arguably make the normal computers effectively "quantum computers". Here are links for more information on quantum computers: * Fun Physics * IBM Quantum Computation * Quantum Computing Links * Scientific American - Quantum Computing with Molecules * Quantum Computing and Shor's Algorithm * Tutorials and FAQ's On to your second question : how far do you think computers will have penetrated our daily life? I believe that, in the past 10 years, computers have penetrated our daily life to an amazing extent. A large number of people in industrialized countries - perhaps even a majority of us - use computers in their job. A large number of people surf the web, chat, listen to music, watch videos, or play games on the computer as activities and entertainment outside work. Well before 2040, the challenge may well be to find parts of our lives that are not penetrated by computers. Alternatively, we may find ways to accept the computers and make them enhance virtually all aspects to our lives. I can imagine us having computers that we can comfortably wear while we are exercising, running, so we can keep up with things, explore, learn new things, or be entertained while jogging. The current status of these are called "wearable computing": M I T Wearable Computing Web page So, perhaps computers will be an accepted part of our daily lives and activities, to the point where we take them for granted. It will be just like wearing glasses and shoes, just like using pens and paper at work - all of which were major technological advances at some point in human history, but are considered normal, nothing to get excited about, today. There will be some advancement in our interfaces to computers. Most likely, the outputs will be refinements of existing approaches today, where we use our own senses. Perhaps we will wear something like glasses or contact lens which include a small display that we can look into and see a larger, virtual display (the magic of optics - you can see virtual images that are much larger than the actual image..you can look in a small opening and see something that looks as large as a stadium). We may wear earpieces or something that touches our jaws that allow us to hear. By contrast, the input devices will be more than refinements. Frankly, typing inputs into a computer is just a clunky way to input data and ask for information. Certainly, the first innovation - already happening - will be voice recognition, where you can ask the computer for what you want. Nonetheless, this is still slow - we talk at a very slow rate, even slower than we type...well, at least for many people, perhaps not all... Eventually, we will have ways to enter information directly by thought. This will enable what I call Virtual Telepathy and Virtual Telekinesis. We will wear something like caps that enable sensors to capture our thoughts, process them, and determine what information we want, what we would like to say and to whom, what things we would like to have happen...and will try to supply that information, transmit our thoughts to that person, and try to do what we would like to have happen. I would be glad to elaborate on this concept with you...I am gathering information on the possibility of Virtual Telepathy and Virtual Telekinesis now, determining what technological breakthroughs are needed, and what research labs are currently working towards those technological breakthroughts. On your third question, nanoengines. Yes, we will have nanoengines by that point. Depending on your definition, we pretty much have nanoengines now. Cornell engineers claim they had a nanoengine working for 40 minutes: Scientific American - molecular motor The question is, what will we use nanoengines for? Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I love science fiction, and would be glad to brainstorm some more about the future of technology. Best regards, Eric Maass
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