July 5th, 2006
Across the full spectrum of human endeavor, it is often hard to see what the future might be. Trend lines can be seen, and directions understood, but specific pictures of the future can be vague. However, our future shows up most clearly in the area of technology. Technology lets us see new potential. It shows us new tools that may or may not become universally useful but provides us with possibilities to expect.
There were a couple of articles recently about technology that gave me a clear view of living in the future. The first was about a new flash drive, the second about microchip research.
In the past year or two, portable flash drives have become ubiquitous. The flash drive is one of those tech items that make life easier and changes behavior. When going to a clientâ€™s office for a presentation, or when taking work home from the office, or just choosing to travel light, flash drives freed us from carrying lap-tops or burning and carrying DVDs. Just drag the presentation or work to the flash drive, put it in your pocket and away you go. Initially offering 64 and 128mbs of storage, one can now routinely buy 1 gigabyte for the same price. This means that we can now carry more storage in our pocket than was in a PC 20 years ago.
The article that made me see the future was one about the new flash drives coming on the market this month that, in addition to storage, also have basic software functionality in them so that, in a sense, one can travel with a portable computer in your pocket. Lexar, one of the leading companies in the flash drive business is coming out with a product called PowerToGo that licenses something called Creedo Personal. This enables the flash drive to become a â€œportable Windows XP ecosystemâ€. Initially available with 1 or 2 gigs of storage, this new type of flash drive allows you to carry your documents and a mini operating system wherever you go. It replicates the â€˜Startâ€™ menu and the browser used. This means that for simple computer work, you no longer need a computer when mobile. It is hard to find a home, office or hotel that does not have a computer. Just find a computer and plug in your flash drive with its own mini software and you can operate on any computer securely, without upsetting anything on the host computer and without leaving a trace.
The future image is obvious. There are computers everywhere and we all travel with our own personalized flash computer/storage device in our pocket. If airlines can put flat screen TVs in airlines seats they can put in basic computers with pop-out keyboards. Hotels can supply connected keyboards to hotel rooms that have portals for flash drives. I can just hear road warriors in the year 2010 marveling at the guy in seat 10C who is still carrying a laptop. Gee remember when we thought a laptop was the end all in mobile computing?
The other article is one that we have all become used to: the ever increasing speed and power of computing technology, only this one jumped out at me. First, grant me a minor digression. Mooreâ€™s law that computing power doubles every 18 months and is reduced in cost by half during the same period of time, has recently be questioned as perhaps a law that has run its cycle given all the speed and power breakthroughs of the last decade. Maybe we have maxed out speed, power and price in computing and that increases in power and speed would become much more incremental.
Well I guess not. According to this news story reported last month, researchers at IBM and the Georgia Institute of Technology announced they had broken the â€˜speed recordâ€™ for silicon based chips with a semiconductor that could operate 250 times faster than chips currently in use today. Not 5 times or 10 times, but 250 times! Of course it will take years for this chip to make itâ€™s way into all our cool tech gadgets, but this means that a lot of other things will happen between now and then. Slower chips will cost less, bigger chips will cost less, chips will become lighter and smaller, software creators in all fields will see new possibilities to create things given new opportunities for processing speed. It is one of those tech breakthroughs that is not only amazing, but will allow other amazing things to occur.
The flash drives and electronic calculators of 2008 will be more powerful, faster and will have more storage than the biggest main frame computer in the United States had 50 years before. Now that is a futuristic pocketful!