Saturday, 5 October 2013

Living in the future

By now, it's probably pretty banal to observe how awesome it is to live in the future, what with self-driving cars, and working exoskeletons, and all that jazz, but I'm going to write a post about it anyway. It's partly inspired by Steve Landsburg's posts on progress

I went to Barcleona last weekend. This would have been impossible for anyone at all before about 1950, and impossible for anyone who wasn't a lot richer than me before (I'm guessing here) about 1990. So that was awesome. What was even more awesome (in a sci-fi sort of way) was how much of the process of going all the way to Barcelona (that's just over 1000 miles each way, if anyone's counting) could be done without my having to interact with another human being.

I booked my tickets online at the Ryanair website. This was entirely computerised, and I'm pretty sure Ryanair would have charged me extra if I wanted to talk to another human at any point in the process. Jessica also booked the accommodation we stayed in online (AirBnB), although that did involve picking up the key from the person whose flat it was.

I then set off for Barcelona with the only information about how I was going to be meet up with Jess being that she was at a conference at the World Trade Centre in Barcelona. That was it. I didn't arrange where to meet, or bother finding out where the WTC was, because I knew that I could figure all of those things out when I got there, with the awesome personal computer that I carry in my pocket everywhere I go. So that was nice.

I bought my train ticket from a real person, in order to get the half price tickets for going to Prestwick Airport, but obviously that's a process that has been automated. I bought some food from Tesco on the way to the train station - again, no need for human interaction. I did have to give my boarding card to a human being, but I'm pretty sure this is mostly anachronistic. Then when I got Barcelona, I bought my train ticket from a machine, went into the city centre, and got walking directions to the World Trade Centre from Google once I got off the train.

Think about just how much more difficult this would have been if we were restricted to 1986 technology. Firstly, we wouldn't have been able to afford to fly to Barcelona. Secondly, we would not have been able to find anywhere similar to stay, as AirBnB didn't exist. Thirdly, I'd have had to make sure to go to a bookshop somewhere (probably in the UK) in order to buy a map, so that I could get off at the right train station in Barcelona to be able to find the World Trade Centre. We'd have to had to carefully arrange a meeting place in advance, and that meeting place would have had to be more specific than "near the World Trade Centre", which would have been quite restrictive for one of us, as I didn't have a very accurate model of how long it was going to take from the plane landing to me being in Barcelona centre.

In fact, this would have been enormously more difficult even if we were restricted to the technology available in 2006. In 2006, we couldn't have used phone navigation, AirBnB or possibly even been able to afford to use our phones abroad. We couldn't have relied on communicating by email using the WiFi networks that exist basically everywhere, and we couldn't have leveraged those WiFi networks with Viber, or Skype (I don't think it was working on mobile phones by then - it was only 2 years into the iPhone existing).

Anyway, I just like to rhapsodise about the awesomeness of technology, and avoid worrying about the fact that it appears to be making humans obsolete, so