Future Retro

The Future May Be A Strange, But Familiar, Place

Future RetroIn the space battle years of the 1950s and 1960s, the magazines of the day took to looking to what the future may be like by the year 2000.  Flying cars, jetpacks, living on Mars, and various other things were put forwards as being within reach.  Here we are in 2013, and although there have been examples of the first two, and people are now putting themselves forward for the last one, those views from around 40 or so years ago seem a tad quaint to us now.

But I have lived through massive change.  My first interaction with a computer was at secondary school, where I time-shared a mainframe sited at a local university over an acoustic modem.  I then got my first computer — a Sinclair ZX80, where programs had to be loaded from audio cassettes.  My first “proper” computer, a BBC Micro, had 32kb of memory, could render 16 colors and connected to the world via a 1200/75 half-duplex modem.

30 years on, and I sit at a PC with 64GB of memory with full 32-bit color depth and am permanently connected to the internet at 24Mb/s with access to a world of information and people.

And it is still far too slow for me.

This is likely to remain the problem.  Whereas back in the late 1970s, just being able to connect to another system somewhere else on the planet seemed like the deepest magic, now it is being put forward as a basic human right, and the things we do with the internet are continually pushing it.

Uploading a picture was slow, so we did thumbnails of just selected scanned photos that were a bit blurry, but were impressive enough for people to get the idea.  Now, we take thousands of already electronic pictures on cameras with 10, 20 or even 40 million pixels — and move them directly into the cloud for storage.  The capability to download video at 640×320 pixel density and mono sound has moved to a need for full HD with surround sound.  Real-time video for video conferencing with relatives on the other side of the planet has moved from “please don’t move too much or your face smears” to “You’re looking tired, dear — the wrinkles are more pronounced.”

The future will undoubtedly bring in a lot more of this kind of activity on the internet.  4K TV and films are already on the horizon, and the internet will want to be at the forefront of this as a delivery mechanism.  The Internet of Things will increase the chattiness of the internet, and this low-level, small sized but high volume traffic will need to be adequately managed in order to allow the internet to work effectively with all the other traffic going over it.

Undoubtedly, bandwidth will continue to grow.  Today’s copper is being replaced with fiber, either to the cabinet or directly to the home.  As fiber to the home becomes more of the norm, bandwidth will have the capability to grow to the Gb/s and above levels.  In the battle to drive revenues, service providers are likely to remain wedded to the use of contended connections, though — meaning that a single connection will be shared between multiple users, resulting in a far slower actual connection.  However, in the same time periods, the average private network (which will include consumer home networks) will have gone from 1Gb/s to 10Gb/s and then on to 40Gb/s or beyond.  It is highly unlikely that wide area network speeds will catch up to any great extent with the local area network speeds.

And for the average user, this means that in 30 years’ time, they will likely be sat there still bemoaning the fact that the internet is just far too slow.

Image credit: Mark Chapman