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Copyright © 1999, MCB UP Limited
I think, therefore I am?
I think, therefore I am?
It is quite fitting that the theme of our last issue in this millennium is "lasers". Having been first proposed by Albert Einstein in 1917 and first realised by Theodore Maiman in 1960, it is not a subject that would have received a mention 100 years ago let alone 1,000. Yet they now impact on our everyday lives (e.g. compact disks) and I am probably not risking too much by predicting that the future will see a great many new applications, some being developments of existing systems while others have yet to be thought of.
One particularly good application for lasers is in environmental monitoring, and while the laser may be considered a pretty useful gift for one millennium to pass on to another, the legacy of several hundred years of pollution could well be the issue that condemns us in the eyes of our descendants. Still, at least we have given them the means to measure the damage.
What then would we hope to receive from the next millennium?
Biometrics (the science of people recognition) looks set to deliver a big impact. At the moment, if we need to prove we are who we say we are, we need to produce various combinations of passports, ID cards, plastic cards and to recall one of a multitude of personal identification numbers (PINs). For computer access to sensitive material or even just our Internet service provider we further need to remember unique combinations of code words and numbers. Business trading and bank accounts also have their own identities which need to be recalled to allow transactions to take place.
All of the above has only become necessary since we stopped going along to the local market with a clutch of chickens under one arm in order to barter for our needs. Technology has given us the ability to perform actions at a distance but has lost the security implied by personal attendance.
The year 1984 is history but I still look forward to the time when we have a single, unique computer recognisable identity and I see this as a form of liberation and security, rather than the next phase in the battle with Big Brother which we all lost long ago anyway.
For our industries I would wish for a 3D X-ray type imaging system. Not necessarily using X-rays, but some means of determining the internal and external dimensions and composite structure of the objects being viewed. The medical profession already has something similar in the form of computerised axial tomography (CAT) scanners which use a fine beam of X-rays to scan our bodies and build up a detailed 3D picture of the horrors within. Such a system, coupled to sophisticated defect identification software, could be a big help in the search for ever-improved quality of manufacture. It would need to be several orders of magnitude faster and cheaper than current CAT systems but these scale factors are in line with what we have come to expect from technological developments.
One sensor that I hope we do not create is a replacement for our own sensory systems. Virtual reality can be tremendously useful but the prospect of having the ability and desire to live in a virtual world is frightening. Both for the sake of the increasingly abandoned real world and for the sake of our evolution within the virtual.
René Descartes may have a hard time in the twenty-first century but let us hope he wins through.