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What will the office of the future look like?

Paperless or Wallpapered?

The phrase “office of the future” dates back to the 1940s.  It used to refer to the paperless office (and anyone who works in an office these days can tell you how that one turned out).  This article from 1975 makes for an interesting read, balancing optimism with realism in such a way as to actually get pretty close to the truth.

Pake says that in 1995 his office will be completely different; there will be a TV-display terminal with keyboard sitting on his desk. “I’ll be able to call up documents from my files on the screen, or by pressing a button,” he says. “I can get my mail or any messages. I don’t know how much hard copy [printed paper] I’ll want in this world.”

 The question that amused me was this, though: “Can desk-top terminals be made “friendly” enough so that executives will use them?”.  A good question indeed!

Missing in Action or confusingly omnipresent?

Some people are suggesting that it won’t exist at all – everyone will work from home.  I don’t think that will catch on.  Sure, a lot of people will be more mobile, but humans are social creatures.  If we all stayed at home and only interacted through the internet I for one would go stir crazy!

And some people’s offices travel with them wherever they go – a bunch of fully staffed offices are already scattered around the world, ready to be hired by the hour, day, week, or year.

Another vision

So if we go to the office, will it be the same as it is now?  Better technology is pretty much a given.  Personalised lighting and temperature control, computers which actually work at a decent speed (unlike the ones in my office, which suck).  Some people, however, are suggesting that offices will be slightly… greener.

Roots instead of foundations, walls covered in pipes of algae which absorb any nasties from the building (and then get recycled into bio fuel), canteens serving food grown on the walls and roof.  Apparently the possibilities are endless.  Will the office of the future be not just carbon-neutral, but actually generate power?

 

Japanese phone users will soon have the option to have their conversations translated as they talk, using the new app from NTT Docomo, one of the country’s mobile networks.  The app provides a translation, both written and spoken, after a short pause.

They aren’t the only ones working on this, either.  France’s Alcatel-Lucent is developing a version for landlines (more tricky because of the lower sound quality), and their ultimate aim is to be able to do conference calls with many people, in many different languages, with each person hearing the conversation in their own language.  They even have a project to make a synthetic voice that sounds like your real one.

This is beginning to sound like an episode of Star Trek.  All we need now is for it to be able to analyse new languages and learn them on the fly, and we’ll be set to go!

Some people are not holding their breath, though.

“These kind of real-time technologies have been ‘two to three years away’ for the past decade,” said Benedict Evans, technology expert at Enders Analysis.

 It does bring to mind another question, though.  Language learning, so we are told, helps to stave off the effect of Alzheimer’s.  If we invent technologies which eliminate the need to learn new languages, are we contributing to the declining health of the human species?

In addition to that, there is the consideration that speaking to someone in their own language can be seen as a sign of respect.  One which would be lost if everyone had access to Universal Translators.

What do you think?  Is the ability to communicate with anyone more important than the effort involved to do so?

How hard is it to mine an asteroid?

Planetary Resources is a company that intends to try, and this article at the New Scientist asks some questions about how they might go about it and what problems they might encounter.

Problem 1: The technology for most of this hasn’t been invented yet.

Solution: Lots of money, lots of time, and lots of people working on the problem.

Problem 2: Bringing the asteroid closer to Earth to make it more economically feasible.  Problems with this include overcoming the Sun’s gravitational control, getting the parking trajectory right (assuming they’re going to park it around the Earth), not hitting anything with it.

Solution: Er… lots of money, lots of time, and lots of people working on the problem?

Problem 3: Not floating off into space when you try to dig your shovel into the asteroid.  A problem due to very low gravity and lots of spinning!

Solution: Bolt everything down.  Including the people.  And find a way to mine an entire asteroid from one location.  This sounds like it’s going to involve, you guessed it, lots of money, time, and people working on the problem.

It’s going to take some time to be in a position where we can actively mine asteroids, I think.  It’s also going to involve an awful lot of very intelligent people.  Far from the “space grunt” image that many science fiction novels portray for asteroid miners.

Artemis Junior is the name of the latest “small step” in the direction of a permanent lunar base.  It’s a new lunar rover designed by scientists at NASA and currently being tested in a Hawaiian volcano.

The rover is designed to prospect for water, ice, and other fun and useful things.  Water is one of the things that would make a lunar base possible – we need it to drink, to split apart to make oxygen, to make hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel, and more.   And on the moon, there isn’t much hope of a quick resupply when stocks get low.

Previous lunar missions have shown that there is probably water around the poles, so that is where Artemis will probably be sent once the design is perfected.

I for one am interested in the volume of stories that you could come up with for a lunar base – there’s sabotage, of course, and aliens, but also psychological dramas about low numbers of people trapped in a confined space together for long periods of time, and the possibility of some disaster befalling Earth or the team’s contact with it, leaving them stranded and the last hope for all mankind.

What other ideas can you think of?

The Author

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something martial artist who runs two Brownie packs and works full time. She somehow still finds time to write.

Her favourite genres are near-future and alternate world science fiction and fantasy.

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