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What Will We Take For Granted Tomorrow?

By Tim Mitchell,

Today we have a guest editorial from Tim Mitchell.

Recently I caught a snippet of a comedian making light of some of the relatively recent technological advances we take for granted. He points out that in his short lifetime we've gone from corded, rotary telephones to everyday communications devices that literally get routed to and from space. Coast-to-coast trips that used to be measured in days can now be covered in the time it takes to watch a couple of movies. And yet despite having been witnesses to this transformation, many of us simply take these things for granted - we get irritated if we can reach someone immediately by cell phone, and air travelers often turn into angry mobs when their flights are delayed. A more recent example of this was the brief glitch in Twitter that caused everyone's followers to disappear. A technology nobody had heard of just three years ago suddenly doesn't work as expected, and it's as if the fresh water supply has been shut off.

I'll admit to being as guilty as anyone for taking these things for granted. But at the same time, I can't help but wonder what advances will occur in the next 10-20 years that will, eventually, become blase. When will the day come when we talk about when people used to die from heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, in much the same way that we refer to smallpox and tuberculosis now? How long before advances in transportation bring an end to urban gridlock, relegating the phrase Road Rage to something we talk about in "remember when" stories? In my lifetime, will I see the day when a developing hurricane won't even make the news, because we have developed the technology to interrupt its destructive cycle?

Closer to topic, one must wonder how our roles as technologists will evolve. Though it feels like we're many years away from these things, I envision such things as self-healing and/or self-replacing hardware components; code that is truly device- and platform-agnostic; DBMS systems that would dynamically build, drop, and optimize indexes on the fly; or perhaps even portable, universal, and effective identity authentication. There have been steps taken toward all of these things, and, while they have not been realized yet, those of us with an understanding of technology know that it's just a matter of time before challenges such as these are overcome. More importantly, for those of us who make a living on today's cutting edge technology, it's hard to imagine what kinds of problems we'll be freed up to solve, once many of the difficult tasks of today become just a memory, absorbed in a whirlwind of automation and intelligent software.

So the question is not if these things will come to pass, but rather, how long will it be before we take them for granted?

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