No more geeks in fifty years?

By Sterling “Chip” Camden
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

Richard Demming wrote a short story called “The Shape of Things That Came” back in 1950.  The story, set in 1900, is about a writer who has traveled forward in time to 1950 and back again.  He tries to publish a story about the future technologies he has witnessed, but it’s rejected — the editor says it’s unbelievable because with so many advances in only fifty years, it’s impossible that everyone could take them for granted.

I read this story for the first time just last year, and I had to wonder what a modern version of it would look like with all the advances in technology we’ve seen since the fifties.  Just as in Demming’s story, today we take even the most recently introduced gadgets as commonplace components of our lives.

Now TechRadar has published nine predictions for the future of computing over the next fifty years.  If I’m still alive in 2059, it would be interesting to compare how closely reality follows these prognostications.  I’m guessing that they’re pretty far off the mark, given the history of such predictions and the accelerating pace of technology.  Even looking forward five years into the future is getting pretty dicey, never mind fifty.

For instance, take the predictions about photonics.  This is a technology that already exists.  Is it realistic to think that no better alternative will be developed in fifty years?  And will it really take that long for computing to reach zettascale?  Will advances in display, storage, speech, and touch be only refinements on what we already have?  Think of all the innovations in computing over the last fifty years and then tell me we can’t do any better than that.

But the one that really got my goatee is the ninth and last point: “Being a geek won’t matter”, because everyone will possess geek powers.  A commenter named “matrixdweller” captured my reaction precisely:

Making the assumption that everyone will be geeks would be like saying, back in the early 20th century, that everyone would be an auto mechanic since automobiles would proliferate to a great extent. The more concise conclusion would be that everyone would know how to drive.

Sure the technical know how of the average person will far exceed that of the average person today. Similarly on how each generation’s technical know how is more advanced than the preceding generation’s (my parent’s still can’t set their digital clocks). There will always be those that have a more advanced comprehension of a subject than the general population.

Of course there will be geeks — they just won’t be working on problems that will have already been solved for fifty years.  Instead they’ll be exploring new technologies that haven’t even been dreamt of yet.

Long live geeks!

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20 Responses to No more geeks in fifty years?

  1. There will always be geeks. People who know more about tech than the average populace. Everyone will know how to use technology. Geeks will understand how it works and how to use it in unexpected ways.

  2. There will always be geeks. People who know more about tech than the average populace. Everyone will know how to use technology. Geeks will understand how it works and how to use it in unexpected ways.

  3. I agree with you, geeks will always be !

    Their point is non-logical, it is just as if people said in the early last century : "everyone will be able to read so there won't be literature experts any more". We can see nowadays that yes everyone can read, but those able to study and understand every moves of a text are few…

    g33k5 4 3v3r ^^

  4. I agree with you, geeks will always be !

    Their point is non-logical, it is just as if people said in the early last century : “everyone will be able to read so there won’t be literature experts any more”. We can see nowadays that yes everyone can read, but those able to study and understand every moves of a text are few…

    g33k5 4 3v3r ^^

  5. I think what they mean by that prediction is that the jobs you think of today such as politics, accounting, finance, psychology, will disappear. Art and music will flourish like never before but only because they are hobbies and people have leisure time. The technical, engineering, and maintenance fields will be the last intellectual frontier; everyone else takes their allotment of leisure time and is basically recognized as we might consider couch potatoes today.

    • I don't see that happening. Back in the early sixties, futurists were predicting that the advances in technology would give us all more leisure time. What we do? We invented more things to use up our time. If anything, I think the trend is towards more 24/7 connectedness — always pushed, no quiet spaces in our experience.

  6. I think what they mean by that prediction is that the jobs you think of today such as politics, accounting, finance, psychology, will disappear. Art and music will flourish like never before but only because they are hobbies and people have leisure time. The technical, engineering, and maintenance fields will be the last intellectual frontier; everyone else takes their allotment of leisure time and is basically recognized as we might consider couch potatoes today.

    • I don’t see that happening. Back in the early sixties, futurists were predicting that the advances in technology would give us all more leisure time. What we do? We invented more things to use up our time. If anything, I think the trend is towards more 24/7 connectedness — always pushed, no quiet spaces in our experience.

  7. It's like that one about speech recognition!

    I mean, DUDE! We can already command a computer using a very light and unintrusive helmet that reads brain waves. It's so freakin mainstream it was featured in the last Dr Houses's episode! It took the patient in the episode a few hours to move the cursor, but from the live demo I saw, it actually takes a few second to register a new command.

    Who wants to speak alone to their computer like some crazy people when you can actually wear something that's probably more confortable and seemingless than Ibuds earphones (I can't stand those suckers) and just transmit THAUGHT to your computer.

    And people think I type fast? I see this keyboard mouse thing as an incredible drag!

  8. It’s like that one about speech recognition!

    I mean, DUDE! We can already command a computer using a very light and unintrusive helmet that reads brain waves. It’s so freakin mainstream it was featured in the last Dr Houses’s episode! It took the patient in the episode a few hours to move the cursor, but from the live demo I saw, it actually takes a few second to register a new command.

    Who wants to speak alone to their computer like some crazy people when you can actually wear something that’s probably more confortable and seemingless than Ibuds earphones (I can’t stand those suckers) and just transmit THAUGHT to your computer.

    And people think I type fast? I see this keyboard mouse thing as an incredible drag!

  9. I dunno. Yes, there will always be people who know more than average about tech but I think the divide will probably narrow to near negligible in future. Look at the rise of frameworks. Want to write a wiki? Just fire up Ruby on Rails, make a few design decisions, run a script and it's done and listening on a port for its first connection. You never even see a while loop or a subroutine. Now how long would that take you in C? Weeks at least.

    It still takes some technical know-how and it isn't something my mom could do. But how long until users can do it themselves with the help of very powerful WYSIWYG programming tools? There will always be a need for geeks but the gap between user and developer is closing.

    • Yes, but how easily could you write the next Ruby on Rails? Granted, it would be easier now than it was when DHH did it — but that's only because some geek invented the new tools. There will always be a need for new tools that are beyond the ken of most people.

  10. I dunno. Yes, there will always be people who know more than average about tech but I think the divide will probably narrow to near negligible in future. Look at the rise of frameworks. Want to write a wiki? Just fire up Ruby on Rails, make a few design decisions, run a script and it’s done and listening on a port for its first connection. You never even see a while loop or a subroutine. Now how long would that take you in C? Weeks at least.

    It still takes some technical know-how and it isn’t something my mom could do. But how long until users can do it themselves with the help of very powerful WYSIWYG programming tools? There will always be a need for geeks but the gap between user and developer is closing.

    • Yes, but how easily could you write the next Ruby on Rails? Granted, it would be easier now than it was when DHH did it — but that’s only because some geek invented the new tools. There will always be a need for new tools that are beyond the ken of most people.

  11. Assuming humans remain in approximately their current biological form, there will always be geeks (or, more precisely, there will always be non-geeks) because being a geek seems to require a certain type of thought process which not all humans seem to be capable of.

    • Yes, and I don't think the advance of technology helps people to think more precisely. Quite the opposite, in fact — they get sloppier.

  12. Assuming humans remain in approximately their current biological form, there will always be geeks (or, more precisely, there will always be non-geeks) because being a geek seems to require a certain type of thought process which not all humans seem to be capable of.

    • Yes, and I don’t think the advance of technology helps people to think more precisely. Quite the opposite, in fact — they get sloppier.

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