A glimpse of the future…

By | January 2, 2017
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Sorry – this email should have gone out on Monday as usual – but for some reason it didn’t.  Hopefully this time it’ll send properly!

Happy New Year
I hope 2017 will be a great year for you and yours.

I often find the new year is a time when I’m likely to be sitting back and musing on things. So instead of a “here’s how to do this” type newsletter, today you’re getting some thoughts on computers, tablets and other technology and how it’d developing – what might be coming over the next year.

It still should be useful, though, as some of the changes happening at the moment are likely to affect everyone and I’m sure most people won’t be prepared for it.

So what’s coming over the next year – and in fact after that?
Well, you don’t have to be mystic Meg to say that devices like tablets will get faster, more powerful and lighter. But my prediction is for most people, that in itself won’t make much difference – you just won’t particularly notice the extra speed.

What you might notice is more people not even using a tablet or a phone – because they have a “smart watch” or even some kind of device built into glasses. I don’t think these will become very common this year, but they’ll be more common than they have been.

And I suspect a lot of people will get “home assistant” devices like the Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa Echo. Again, I don’t think everyone will have one, but I think they’ll start to become more popular.

These are gadgets that sit in your lounge (or wherever you put them) and you can say “OK Google, play some Christmas music” or “Alexa, I want to watch the next episode of the Man in the High Castle” – and it’ll turn the music on or turn the TV on and start playing the right programme.

But you can tell it far more than that. Tell it to wake you at 7 tomorrow morning because you need to get up or ask it a question like “Alexa, who starred in the film a White Christmas?”

It’s clever stuff but Google and Amazon want to take it even further – if you had the right lights in your house and the right heating, you could say “Alexa, turn the lights on in the kitchen” or “OK Google, turn the heating up a degree, I’m cold”.

That’s all stuff it could do now, if you had the right kit. But in the future I’m sure it’ll be possible to link it in to (say) your coffee machine, so you could say “Alexa, make a me a strong Latte” and wait five minutes before popping out the the kitchen to take it from the machine. Or tell it “OK Google, wake me up at 7am tomorrow, turn the heating on 20 minutes before and have a hot cup of tea waiting for me.”

Not that it’d do too well with the heating in my lounge unless it’s good at chopping kindling and lighting a fire – but even for rural types, it could remotely measure how much oil is left in your heating oil tank and remind you when it gets low… and ask if you’d like it to order some more.

Of course, whether you want to bother with stuff like this is another question. At work, I’ve always avoided machines that make tea quickly because I think half the good ideas we have come when two people are stood chatting waiting for the kettle to boil.

What about other devices? Well, I saw the other day about a development of a new type of TV that’s only as thick as a credit card. The idea is you stick it to your wall.

Now apparently when my Dad was little my Grandad once told him that one day when you wanted a TV you’d buy a sheet of it, cut it to size and put it on the wall. It’s not far off that – though this one you can’t cut (and personally, given my clumsiness with scissors I’d rather not cut it to size – I’m not good at straight edges). But you can stick it to the wall like a poster.

And more and more devices are being developed that can connect to the internet. They call it “the internet of things” – where fridges and the like are connected so your fridge knows you’re getting low on milk and can remind you – or just order some more.

It might all sound fanciful but then 20 years ago who’d have thought I’d be walking around with a device in my pocket that can store all my music, play films and TV, call people anywhere in the world, where I can find information on almost any topic instantly on the internet, take photos, record videos and do dozens of other things – all in one small device!

But all this (at the moment) is for the proper techies – the “first adopters” as they’re called. What about more normal people?

I suspect over the next year there’ll be even more ordinary people using services like Facebook and so on to keep in touch – and they’ll add more features to make it work how you want it.

So people will tend to share photos and updates on Facebook like now – but more and more people will use Facebook (or Skype or one of the others) to make phone calls and send text messages.

You can do this now – but I think it’ll become more common over the year.

My other big prediction is that privacy will become ever bigger news. Imagine all the information all these gadgets will gather about people who use them. I’m not sure how bothered I am that a device might know how I like to take my coffee – but it’ll no doubt be collecting lots of other information as well.

And if anyone manages to hack those systems, who knows what could happen. Aside from hackers who are just doing it for fun deciding to put 8 spoons of sugar in everyone’s coffee… what about someone hacking into the home assistant devices of as many big company bosses as they could – listening in to what’s said in the house… and then using it for insider trading based on knowing in advance what a company is about to do. You might not be worried if you aren’t a big company boss! But I’m sure there’ll be other privacy issues to worry about.

And even before everyone’s using all these new devices, I think people will become more and more concerned about privacy as they realise what it means and what information different organisations have… or could get. So people will want to be more aware of what’s happening – and what of the stories you hear in the news are actually true!

I want to end on a cheerful note, so I should say that I still believe that the biggest advantage of all this technology will continue to be that it makes it easier to keep in touch with friends and family a long way away. I hear so many stories from customers or being able to see photos of their newly born grandchildren or video calling their sons or daughters around the world and so on – and that will continue too.

And you can rest assured that though none of us know for sure exactly what’s coming, we’ll be here to explain it all from a sensible point of view, so you’ve got someone who can explain what it means but who won’t say “You need to get all the latest stuff” like most techies seem to!

13 thoughts on “A glimpse of the future…

  1. Frederick Jane

    What a “Stare” at the past; In 1958 I worked on my first computer an Elliot 405 a monster of Electronics with 3000 Thermionic valves which consumed 35 Kilowatts and had to be installed in a large air conditioned room. Today I am reading Tims’ helpful book Android Tablets, One Step at a Time. At 91 I am trying to keep up with what’s going on in computing and you dump an E mail on me on the future of the “Internet of things” No wonder my psychiatrist has told me that I am suffering an acute attack of anxious obsolescence. Tell your Dad to move over. Fred Jane.

    1. Tim Post author

      It’s amazing, really when you compare the big room-sized computers with a modern tablet or phone – and realise just how much more powerful the small devices are. Apparently the transistors on the chips now are to small to see even with a microscope – and comparing that with a valve is another world – and yet it all works on much the same principles.
      And don’t worry – I’m wary of the internet of things for now – clever stuff, to be sure, but I want to see how it works out before getting too enthusiatic!

  2. Eric Amies

    Thinking about your “stick it on the wall TV” made me think of my first TV. Which I built in 1948/49 from ex wartime surplus. The core was an ex RAF display unit belonging to an airborne navigation system called “GE£”. Which used a 5 or 6″ green CRT and which was nearly 18″ long. With receiver and power supply it occupied most of a standard tea trolley.

    Skills learned as a RAF Radar Mechanic & Tech Officer came in handy.

    The first picture I got on it was the 1949 Boat race. But the time bases were not properly set up so I actually had 4 roughly credit card sized pictures in a 2 x 2 arrangement

    1. Tim Post author

      It’s certainly changed a lot – but I find it really interesting looking back at the way these things used to work. People talk about how fast things change now (and they do, of course), but the change then was incredible, too. Going from no TVs to using a big CRT is a huge step – and I’ve always been amazed at them being able to make colour TV work using a CRT – it has to be so precisely set up.
      It’s the same with computers – going from the “Bombe” at Bletchley park with all it’s mechanical parts to relays to valves, then transistors and then chips – to me it’s as impressive as the developments going on now with phones and the like.

  3. Graham Thorley

    Another interesting and thought provoking article. For an 86 year old this takes some “taking in” but you put all in such a good way that I actually understand it! Great, many thanks.

    1. Tim Post author

      Thanks for the kind words – it’s always nice to know I’m succeeding in making it all a bit clearer!

  4. Winifred Sherry

    Dear Tim
    My seventy _six year old partner has been talking to another woman called Alexa for most of the holidays. Should I be worried?

  5. Deanna

    My first job in 1959 was as a Clerk in Rovex/Triang in Margate, There was a huge room with a card sorting machine, I had to sort out orders and file them away. Now orders would be instantly processed on a tablet, BUT no job for me !!!!

  6. anthony mills

    my first encounter with a computerised system was on starting work with a bank, but as a cashier had little use of it. the tills were subsequently computerised and were breaking down fairly regularly so I learnt a little of the jargon from the engineer who travelled all over the south of England fixing these things. It was something over twenty years before I acquired my laptop and in the five years of ownership have progressed to the point that if I have a problem I can now ‘sort it’. But there are still enormous areas of its potential usage which I do not need or indeed understand and as things progress and my needs remain static I can see that the ‘twain will never meet’ Retired and content with what I have sums it up. Change is not always welcome!

    1. Tim Post author

      Yes, one of the things I keep saying (and many techies seem to not realise) is that you only need to know the bits you want to use – you don’t need to know about every new bit. Fair enough, it’s worth hearing about new things, so you can decide whether they’re for you or not, but everyone doesn’t have to use every last new feature, despite what the experts seems to always think.

  7. Janet

    Reading these reminds me of being in the Admiralty and shown over the computer room – after making sure we had no dust on our shoes or clothing. It was a big room full of large machines, but it was impressed on us that no computer could think. So every programme had to be minutely detailed to ensure than none of the mental leaps we all make when deducing the next step were overlooked as the tiniest omission would stop the whole roomful in its tracks.

    A few years later the firm I was working for obtained a second-hand computer which was used for calculations. Unfortunately nobody noticed for some time that the tail of the figure nine was missing. Six months’ data all had to be done again by hand. I still like a paper backup of everything!

    1. Tim Post author

      Phew – six months’ work all done again – that must have been frustrating, to say the least.
      Funnily enough I’ve just been reading Alan Sugar’s (of Amstrad fame) autobiography. In his early days, he was working in a statistics organisation and they suddenly realised that for the last month or so the punched cards had been put in upsidedown, so all the data was wrong – they had to start again and do it all over as well!
      It’s definitely true that a small mistake can make the whole thing go wrong!


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