As computer technology races forward, with storage becoming cheaper and cheaper and machines becoming more powerful by the year, it’s odd that some things just don’t change. I am using a four year old computer with an Intel quad core processor at 2.4 gigs per, with 8 gigs of RAM, an Nvidia GTX660, and a 750 watt power supply. It runs great; it’s given me zero problems. And yes, I did build this machine but still…
What reason do I have to upgrade? I spend a little time in some shooter games, getting my DNA reduced to gloppy puddles of goo. I work in Blender and Gimp just a bit and I do some low-level audio work via Audacity. From time to time I will find the need to fire up Eric IDE and do some low-level coding. Other than that I just browse, exchange emails and do my banking and parts ordering online. Add to that watching online entertainment and you have my computer use down.
I look at the new offerings and I just cannot justify a new computer, or even new parts for that matter. But even with the insane specifications that are coming out on desktops, their sales seem to be falling behind tablets and phones. Almost everyone I talk to says they can do everything they need to do on a tablet.
I suppose if you are doing email, social media and online entertainment consumption, then yeah, I’ll give you that. But I have a really nice tablet and I bought a really nice keyboard to go with it, but I put them away about 72 hours after I opened the boxes. I now use the tablet in the living room to check TV scheduling and look up who the actors are in whatever I am watching. For the work I do, I need a desktop or at least a decent laptop.
However, if one thing is coming out of this mobile technology industry, it might be the evolution of the old kludgy mouse and keyboard interface we use today. The first commercially successful typewriter blossomed on the market sometime in 1860s. Today, the main input interface we use is simply an evolution of the same keyboard and functions we started with almost 150 years ago. What we cannot do with a keyboard, we do with a mouse.
I spent some time this week with some high school seniors who were either taking advanced computing classes or planned on working in computers and technology engineering when they graduate high school. The three of us kicked this around for almost two hours. Each one predicts we are heading to the commonality of neural interaction. However, they don’t agree on how we’ll get there.
Brandy is a high school senior who actually graduated at winter break. However, she wants to audit a couple of classes before she starts college next fall. She is a nervous blur of energy and ideas and if you don’t work on keeping up with what she’s saying, you’re going to get lost. She’ll leave you behind and not look back.
Joshua is also a senior and will be seeking a four year degree in computer science. He has applied to Carnegie Mellon for next year. While Brandy has enough energy output to light up a small city, Josh is quietly intense. At first, you think he isn’t listening to you, when the fact is, he’s three steps ahead of you and has taken your thought or idea five different directions to glean the possibilities. Josh is a geek’s geek.
Both Josh and Brandy believe that the gee-whiz-ain’t-that-cool special effects from Minority Report are fun to watch but are impractical in concept. Even if that kind of technology is being developed, it will have little solid application in the work place. All the pinching and sliding on screens in NCIS: Los Angeles works fine in Hollywood…
Many of us have worked on a touch screen, both on tablets or glass-surfaced horizontal and vertical keyboards. I suppose with a lot of practice we might gain a bit of proficiency on horizontal touch keyboards, but traditional typing skills will become less prevalent as swipe and auto-correct become the standard. Josh see’s this as one possibility, but Brandy see’s something else.
Sliding, zooming, three dimensional computer graphics will not be the direction of computing in the future. While Brandy and Josh believe different things will get us there, both believe that neural connection to the computer is inevitable.
“Oh, you think not?” asks Brandy.
She smiles and points to an article she keeps bookmarked on her Lenovo. “Think of Google Glass as being the first shot fired in getting us wired,” she told me.
I’m having trouble finding arguments for her theory.
Even though Josh believes in the same outcome, he thinks that voice control is how it will finally evolve. Remember the Star Trek movie where they had to bring back a whale to their century? I think of Scotty trying to communicate with the computer by speaking into the mouse. That was actually a brilliant piece of humor bringing light to the main fact: the voice will replace the mouse. You won’t “click” something to open it, you will order the computer to make the display.
So what makes me an expert on this? Nothing. However, I know for a fact that several Ph.D’s read this site and some of them have their degrees in computer science and engineering. On behalf of two brilliant kids on the doorstep of their lives and professional careers, let me ask one thing. Tell them what their limited experience and education is missing here. Your serious input will not be wasted…
Ken Starks is the founder of the Helios Project and Reglue, which for 20 years provided refurbished older computers running Linux to disadvantaged school kids, as well as providing digital help for senior citizens, in the Austin, Texas area. He was a columnist for FOSS Force from 2013-2016, and remains part of our family. Follow him on Twitter: @Reglue