Advanced technologies will give us excellent data on future disasters. As we plunge headlong toward a time of population-driven crises, struggling to put band-aids on climate change, pollution, and other results of the population explosion, I see rapid development of new technologies that may not slow the disasters but will provide much better information on them and may connect us each far more intimately to them. Information technology may not save us, but it will make us much more aware of the details.
Information technology advancement will continue at full speed. While I don’t expect nuclear reactors the size of washing machines to save the day, or huge fusion power stations to make all other power sources obsolete, I have a more mundane question, the answer to which may change the way we view the world more than anything before: “Where are the stereo video goggles for my smart phone?” This technology is close enough to reality that we could have them now, and I expect that disaster relief workers of the future, for example, will put such technologies to good use as they work to mitigate increasingly severe natural disasters. I fully expect my smart phone to take the place of my laptop, too, but stereo goggles are the key item that will make that happen.
As weather disasters increase in severity and frequency, we will each be more and more connected to them. We are moving toward a lifestyle with greatly reduced energy requirements and green energy sources (though far too slowly). As a result of human energy use, the icecaps and glaciers are melting more rapidly and the oceans could rise more quickly than expected in the coming decades. Scientists have calculated that, if all the polar ice melted, oceans could rise as much as two hundred feet, though it could take centuries, but I think a more modest increase of perhaps two or three feet is more likely in this century. Still, that would inundate most of Florida South of Orlando and a large proportion of many of the most populous cities around the world (not to mention large parts of areas like Bangladesh). As ocean storms wash over and destroy coastal cities, disaster workers will be on the scene wearing stereo video goggles wirelessly connected to the internet. Not only will they see map data overlaid on the scene before them, showing them where the streets and buildings used to be, but the goggles will include stereo cameras and microphones that will let us see and hear the effects of the disasters as if we were in the middle of them. Workers will also be able to use voice commands to operate their smart phone-computers, which will be designed into their clothing or be clipped to their clothes, recharging through a combination of absorbed light and physical motion.
Some hope for a technological rescue. Friends of mine have suggested that small nuclear reactors are under development, possibly as small as an ordinary clothes washing machine or refrigerator, but I have my doubts. First, I question if this is feasible. Secondly I wonder if the problem of nuclear waste disposal wouldn’t be greatly increased by such a system, with the possibility that radioactivity would be spread across the landscape – a much worse situation than we have with the current reactors. Thirdly I wonder if the big energy companies wouldn’t act to prevent the development of such a compact power generation system, as it could break their monopoly on our energy supplies. So I have my doubts about future energy technologies, but the stereo goggles are different. They have been made before, and could soon be introduced to the public again, this time in a more sophisticated, light weight design that will take the computer display market by storm. While this won’t solve our problems, the enhanced collaboration it will enable could play a part in the invention of ideas that will.
Imagine the potential for virtual reality. The best selling novel, “Snow Crash”, first published in 1984 and still in print, describes the existence of a complete virtual world, in which people can travel and interact even to the point of establishing home and jobs there, all made possible by stereo video goggles. Properly executed, such goggles could provide true 3D images more realistic than anything we’ve seen before. With the ability to be variably transparent, the wearer could see the world with informative overlays from his or her computer, and this could be greatly enhanced by the inclusion of stereo cameras in the goggles, which could allow anyone to see what the wearer sees, potentially in real time. This would also allow software to identify what the user sees for them (see Android apps Layar and Google Goggles, for example) and take true 3D pictures as needed. The inclusion of stereo earphones would allow full video, movies, and television programs to be viewed, and stereo microphones would not only allow full multimedia recording but also voice commands from the wearer to control the computer driving the displays. So not just virtual reality, but a potentially much more effective mix of reality and virtual reality could be achieved.
Many possibilities will be opened up to us when stereo display goggles are available. Personally I can’t wait. I have watched this technology evolve from an idea in science fiction books to the primitive glasses with flip-down screens that were available almost twenty years ago, but never caught on. Now we need such a display system more than ever as our smart phones increasingly take over daily computing tasks. They are limited by their displays, keyboards, etc. now, but the technology is already here to revolutionize their use, with stereo display goggles a key piece of the puzzle. I am looking forward to having such devices, and see nothing to stop their creation, so … when can I have some?
So where are my new computer goggles? Hopefully manufacturers somewhere are preparing such designs as I write this, but please ask them, as I will. It will be very interesting to see how computing evolves, and I can see such goggles being a powerful tool we will need to help manage the challenges of the next handful of decades.
As always, I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading — Tim