Most people think that technology is a linear process. It starts off along one avenue, and then it takes one step at a time, gradually improving. As a result, we expect that in the future, we’ll have better phones and plusher cars. This is the way how we live now.
How We Live Now
But is this how technological progress actually works? When one looks back over the last few decades, one begins to realize that technology doesn’t go in a straight line at all. It progresses in leaps and bounds. And most of what ends up happening is entirely unexpected. Here’ are three technologies that unexpectedly changed our lives.
The Digital Camera
Back in 1975, Steven Sasson showed off Kodak’s and the world’s first digital camera. It was a big ugly gadget, about the size of a coffee machine. And when Sasson showed it to executives at the company, they laughed. How on Earth could something so unwieldy ever take off and make money?
True, at the time, the potential of digital cameras wasn’t obvious. But over the years, circuits got smaller and processes more refined. Forty years later Sasson’s first prototype had evolved into modern DSLRs, like the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 IV.
Digital cameras went on to change the world. Citizens became journalists. Everybody turned into an archivist, with a massive trail of photographic information. And we all started sharing photos that would once have been destined for an unloved family photo album.
Built on top of the digital camera is the entire edifice of digital media. Before digital media, we had no idea what celebs looked like without their makeup, or who hated who on social media. But thanks to the ubiquity of information, it’s impossible for the elite to keep their shortcomings under wraps.
At the same time, digital media allowed our perception of reality to be dramatically altered. Photoshop was once just another Adobe product. Not it’s a bona fide verb in the English language. To “photoshop” something means to change its appearance.
Finally, digital media has changed how we consume music and movies. No longer do we go to the store and buy a CD or hire a movie. We just download them with a click of a button. And the industries themselves aren’t too happy about it.
At the moment, we’re in a Golden Age of artificial intelligence. AI is used from everything from face recognition to telling us the quickest route to work. In the future, we’ll no doubt laugh at how limited AI is today. But there’s no deny that it’s already making its presence felt.
Take the airline industry, for instance. Most people think that pilots are in control of aircraft. But the truth is that modern aircraft are now primarily piloted by software. Sure, pilots are there to take over should something go wrong. But 8 million flights a year are now guided and flown by AI systems.
In the future, we’ll have chatbots on our phones. They’ll be like Siri, except they’ll act more like people than computers. Perhaps that will be the biggest change of all.