Saturday, October 24, 2015

We are living in the future – let’s enjoy - October 23, 2015

I glanced over at my son playing on our gaming PC. He was speaking into his headset, talking to other players. They were from all over the world of various ages and backgrounds.

I was struck yet again with a sense: we live in the future.

The video games are not the only trigger for me. I have a new app on my phone, FlightRadar 24, which amazes me.

It shows all airplanes overhead. Select one and it tells you its type, airline, flight number, origin, destination and route. If a plane declares an emergency, it alerts me if I want to follow its story.

What’s really cool is if I aim my phone at a plane overhead, it identifies it for me.

All this is done using a database of aircraft under Air Traffic Control, but also the GPS sensor in my phone telling it where it is, plus the other sensors that tell the software where the phone is pointing to and how it is oriented.

There are also devices like Microsoft’s Kenect 2 for the XBox. It has a series of cameras and microphones that could almost be living in the future. It recognizes who is watching TV at a given moment. And it understands hand and arm gestures.

And who isn’t amazed by their smartphones. We carry a powerful computer hooked up to the knowledge of the world, in our pockets.

The iPhone 6 runs 3.36 billion instructions per second. The computer in Apollo 11 did 43 instructions per second. That is 43 instructions per second.

If you watched the original Star Trek, you recognize the communicator as the predecessor of the cell phone.

Encyclopedia Galactica, the fictional encyclopedia of all knowledge of the galaxy, that Asimov first wrote about and most of heard about in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, begat Wikipedia.

Much of the futuristic devices that give me the We-Live-In-the-Future vibe were all first imagined in science fiction.

Author Neil Gaiman, a writer of sci-fi books and Doctor Who episodes, was a speaker at China’s first government sanctioned sci-fi convention in 2007. He had the opportunity to ask a government official why they had finally chosen to encourage science fiction after years of discouraging its reading.

The official explained China builds wonderful devices like the iPhone and other complex devices for consumers, medicine and other purposes. No other country can make such detailed, tiny and complex devices.

What China cannot do, said the official, is invent the products that are changing the world.

China sent a delegation to the U.S. and spoke with innovators at Apple, Google and Microsoft. The one constant these forward-thinking people had in common was they read science-fiction when young.

Gaiman said, “Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.”

Hopefully parents encourage their children to read for pleasure and let their children read whatever draws their interest.

Back when parents struggled with letting their children buy a game console, in the early Nintendo days, one friend grudgingly gave in.

He subscribed to the Nintendo magazine and he decided over time it was worth buying the game console.

Find what you child wants to read, and make it available.

Encourage your children to at least sample science fiction. It won’t be for everyone, but don’t be like China and consider it meaningless fantasy of worlds that do not exist.

The worlds your children read about may become a world they want to help build by becoming an engineer, programmer, game designer or in another high-tech profession.

While not as spectacular as the NFL Google hires more engineers every year then the NFL hires players.

Teachers, doctors and social workers can change the world. Starry-eyed dreamers of faraway planets and the explorers seeking them out can as well.

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