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(April 2000) [Printed in "Reality Module No.15" as part of "Freeform Futurology I."]

(A casual series of articles exploring various aspects of our evolving society)

The $20 Computer

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"Computers will be made of funky coloured plastic and will cost $20.They will fit into your pocket and be easier to use than a TV remote control."
[Unpredictables - Sep. 1999]

It is always dangerous to predict the future of Information Technology. However there are trends:

  1. An increasing use of the Internet as a storage and information sharing mechanism.

  2. A movement towards pocket-sized devices for recording and storing information.

  3. A trend towards cheaper communications charges and cheaper Internet access. (Some people predict that in a few years Internet access charges will drop to zero.)

  4. A movement towards open standards for operating-systems and data formats, to facilitate efficient information sharing.

  5. The development of wireless protocols for data transfer. (You've seen the ads about receiving email on your mobile phone.)

  6. Increasing concern about data security.

When I put these trends together I get a clearer picture. I'd call this ubiquitous distributed computing.

Increasing use will be made of pocket-sized devices - but I don't feel they will replace the desktop-sized PC. (Notice I say 'desktop-sized PC' not 'desktop PC.') For high-activity wordprocessing, etc. you will need a full-sized keyboard (leaving aside speech-recognition for the moment - we'll need advances in AI before that is perfected) & a large high-resolution screen. This PC will not be a PC as we know it.

Supercheap wireless broadband Internet access will make the 'permanently-connected' PC the rule rather than the exception. As well as using the Internet to access information we will probably choose to store our files on a secure server out there rather than on whatever acts like our local harddrive. (We'll pay for so many "gigs" of storage and let them handle back-ups, virus- protection, etc. Secure in the knowledge that if our machine gets stolen - our data is still securely held out there in cyberspace. Also secure in the knowledge that we can sue the pants off our storage providers if any of our data gets lost!)

Since many of the functions of the traditional desktop PC are being moved 'offsite' - including data storage and probably even processing power ("let me borrow your organisation's supercomputer for a few nanoseconds") - the devices themselves will become much simpler and hence much cheaper.

I predict that the next 10-15 years will see a reconstruction of the concept of the Personal Computer - from a stand-alone big-grunt data- processing device, to an access device or gateway to the worldwide computing network.

(Of course your $20 Internet-interface device will have the remnants of a traditional stand- alone PC - maybe a Gig or so of memory, and a few Gigs of storage. It'll probably be capable of functioning sans Internet - at least this generation's machine. Our grandchildren will probably be much more comfortable entrusting everything to the electronic ether.)

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Related Works

- In This Series -
(1) What Can & Cannot Be Done - The Limits of Futurology (April 2000)
(2) The $20 Computer (April 2000)
(3) Smashing Windows(TM) - The Ascent of Non-linear Thinking (August 2000)
(4) Nu Plastic Yu! (February 2001)
(5) Nu Plastic Yu Tu! (April 2001)
(6) Artificial Minds? (AI Revisited) (August 2001)
(7) Video-On-Demand (June 2002)
(8) Changes (June 2002)
(9) The Implications of Immortality (June 2002)
(10) Cheating in Education (April 2003)


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Copyright © 2000 by Michael F. Green. All rights reserved.


Last Updated: 18 July 2011