The following essay was submitted by Jeff Berger from University of Wisconsin Oshkosh as part of the Future of Technology Scholarship competition.
Thunder rolled through the sticky summer air, perking the heads of multi-colored finches resting in a birch tree. An elderly man raised his head from his book, to survey the skies. He sat upon a comfortable chair on the second story balcony overlooking his yard, and began to fiddle with the watch-like device on his wrist. Silver light emanated briefly from the E-Sight lenses in his eyes and a moment later a soothing voice began to play in his mind.
“Analysis indicates the formation of a C-Class electric cell. Winds remain current at 6mph with estimated gusts reaching 13mph. Precipitation will occur in approximately 8 minutes and 13 seconds, lasting approximately 26 minutes and 31 seconds.
There will be approximately 3.7 strikes of lightning within city limits. Current chance of power outage or related incident is 6%. It is advised to stay indoors for the next 34 minutes and 15 seconds.
For more detailed information please refer to the nearest datacenter and access the national meteorological uplink service for public schemas. Thank you for using WeatherLight.”
With a sigh, the elderly man folded the corner of the current page he was reading and snapped the book shut with a gentle thud. He retreated inside to find his grandson looming over the new iBook. He appeared to be doing homework, completing a basic multiplication table for his math class. It amazed the old man every time he saw it. It was the deforestation crisis of 2032 that fueled the creation of that remarkable device, and to a greater extent, propelled the government into a paperless society reformation.
He glanced at his own iBook on the end table beside him. When not in use it appeared to be a transparent glass-like book containing the telltale gleam of nanotech within. When you loaded a book schema, it would simply transform, looking no different than the book he held in his hand. It took on an opaque print-textured quality, words faded onto pages, and any personal notes taken with the stylus were saved to the schema and loaded with the book each time.
It might not give the sound of paper rubbing together as the pages turned, and it might not have that dusty book smell he loved, but it was essentially a world library of information and textbooks all in one device. There was no denying the good it had done, but he would lament his books all the same. He set the hardcover text down on the end table and slid the glass door to the balcony closed.
As it clicked shut, an internal environment control panel appeared within the glass of the door. The house was running a recent version of Microsoft’s environmental operating system: Hearth. They developed this EOS for the home consumer to manage and install Living House technology. In this case, the windows and doors were created with Google Glass technology, offering the ability to customize the internal aesthetic and lighting of the home. The elderly man navigated to the seasonal selections, tapped autumn, and tapped a thumbnail of a forest.
Within a moment the outside world began to vanish, replaced by a stunning scene of forestry, ablaze with the reds and oranges of changing leaves. Rabbits could be seen hopping peacefully, and squirrels were running around wildly. Occasionally a doe or other creature would move gracefully through the trees and out of sight. It was a soothing scene, easy on the eyes, and the elderly man took a seat in the recliner, facing the scene playing on the Google Glass.
No sooner had he sat down than that soothing voice from earlier pronounced aloud “vital signs appear normal, no signs of distress. Blood sugar levels are within the acceptable range. Dehydration levels are at 10%. One glass of water is recommended within the next two hours. Would you like to schedule a reminder?”
“No, thank you” the man said, seeming to sink further into his chair. He turned to look at his grandchild who had ceased studying and began to play a game on the television. “Wake me up if you need anything. I’m just going to take a little nap, okay?” His voice cut out with a yawn, and his body settled into the familiar grooves of the recliner. After a moment it began to produce a quiet hum and he felt a familiar weariness enter his mind. Of all the developments of the past 80 years of his life, he was most thankful for this. The advancements responsible for the modern synergy between brain and technology were based off of the therapy he was about to receive.
It was a medical innovation developed to treat Alzheimer’s disease and forms of dementia. It required the patient to receive an organic biometric implant (OBI) which was able to interface and communicate between the brain and electroencephalographic technologies (EEG). Media coverage blew up around it, touting the advent of the “Obi-Wan Kenobi” age and bringing with it a slew of “Is the force with you?” type campaign ads and marketing.
At that time though, there was nothing flashy about it. The World Health Organization developed a chair for patients to sleep in which would interface with the electronic frequencies of the body and provide “dream therapy.” By sparking memory and propelling the dreaming mind into a state of over activity, it began to rehabilitate the capacity for healthy cognition while awake. The process showed a successful decline in memory loss and an increase in periods of clarity for those who suffering Alzheimer’s.
This proved to be a very effective short term bandage, but it was a bandage none the less. Patients needed to undergo at least one hour of therapy every six hours of being awake, turning it into quasi-cure that was available for those who could afford it. Over the next couple decades, OBI chips were refined, improved, and eventually introduced into the consumer market. The grandfather marveled at it all as he drifted to sleep. Body modification technology, OBI controlled technology, hydro-magnetized engines, and computerized contact lenses; there was no end in sight.
He awoke with a bit of a start, a momentary lapse of confusion until the fog began to clear. He blinked his eyes and yawned, he remembered where he was, who he was, what he was. It hurt to know that he was always an hour or two away from forgetting it all, but he thanked god for every day he woke up able to remember the face of his son and grandchild. He rose from the recliner and stretched, making his way to the kitchen table. There was a light blinking on a small dome shape in the very center, and as he drew near a holographic image of his son sprang to life.
“Hey dad,” a tall and kindly look man said “Thanks for watching the kid today, we were both pretty hungry so we decided to head across the street for a bite to eat. Come and join us if you wake up soon.”
The old man poured himself a glass of water and sat for a moment to drink. “News” he said toward the dome and rectangular box appeared in the air displaying the top three headlines for March 28th 2040: “Filibustering Stalls Congressional Hearing”, “U.S. Fossil Fuel Initiative Successfully Reaches 60% in Cutbacks”, and “Olympic Athlete Tested Positive for Illegal Bio-Enhancements”. He rose from his seat with disinterest and the screen vanished. Setting an empty glass on the table, he slipped on some comfortable shoes, and set out on his way to the diner to meet his son and grandson for supper. The simple act of remembrance struck a pain of elation in his chest as he stepped outside, entering a world of humid air and dodging muddy pools of water from the recent shower.
“I wonder when they are going to invent rainless rain” he sighed to himself, trying to avoid a soggy shoe as he crossed the street. He vanished behind a retro style “hinged-door” just as the sun began to emerge from the clouds once more…
A fundamental change in human experience is only ever an idea away. I believe in a future of hope and optimism where technology betters us, aids us, and improves the quality of our lives and the environment in which we live. Though we may fail at creating something that fundamentally changes our existence, every attempt at responsibly using technology to improve the quality of life makes the world into a better place. That is the future I believe in.