Computers Everywhere: What It Means for Our Lives and Careers

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Computers Everywhere: What It Means for Our Lives and Careers

In 1949, Popular Mechanics predicted, "Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons."  This forecast, of course, was technically accurate — it just missed the mark by being far too conservative.  Considering that the iPhone 5 weighs less than four ounces, the experts at Popular Mechanics failed to foresee that computers would weigh 12,000 times less than their best estimate.

Over the ensuing decades, computers have increasingly become smaller and lighter — as well as faster, cheaper, and easier-to-use.  From mainframes to minicomputers to desktop PCs to laptops to smartphones, the evolution of computing technology has marched forward at a relentless pace, and there is no chance that it will come to a screeching halt any time soon.

Just as computers moved from data centers to desktops to laps to pockets, the next frontier in computing will bring them increasingly closer to our everyday lives; in fact, they will become embedded in all the devices we use and nearly every object that surrounds us.

This is the vision of the "Internet of Things"1 — a vision in which we won't just plug into technology once in a while, but instead will be constantly immersed in a digital universe of seamless connections to everyone and everything.

In their book Trillions: Thriving in the Emerging Information Ecology,2 Peter Lucas and his co-authors point out that the world now produces 10 billion microprocessors per year, and that number is continually increasing.  Only a small fraction of those processors are used to make desktops, laptops, tablets, and cell phones.  The vast majority are embedded in everyday products like washing machines, microwave ovens, vacuum cleaners, and wristwatches.

The reason is that it is far cheaper to manufacture an appliance in which all of the information is in software, which is easy to duplicate and basically free once the first unit is created, compared to a mechanical knob on a washing machine, which is costly and complicated to make and install. 

While economics drove the redesign of countless products, there is a benefit that has not yet been exploited.  The processors in these products allow users to communicate with them more easily, but we are just beginning to see the potential for what the world will be like when all of the products can also communicate with each other.

Until now, according to Lucas, we've been at a stage of the connectivity revolution that is equivalent to the time when people began to use PCs to replace typewriters and calculators, but lacked an efficient way to connect them...

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