Documenting the Coming Century

PBS is currently airing a program called 22nd Century to showcase some possible future technologies, and I really hope that these shows are used in educational settings to foster discussion on technology's role in our social evolution.  The first of three possible pilots was aired in January, and is available for viewing on PBS' site.  Depending on viewer responses, the show with the most positive feedback will be turned into a series.

The first pilot was quite enjoyable.  Some of the most intelligent proponents and opponents were showcased in this episode and they explained their case.  Rodolfo Llinas had the opportunity to discuss some of his incredible work with nanowire bundles being wired directly into brains, Steve Mann had the opportunity to show his wearable computer glasses (the Eyetap), and Bill McKibben  had a chance to discuss some of the concerns that arise when we're too connected.

I must apologize for all the links, but when discussing subjects such as this I can go on and on …

When I was still a student, the thought of connecting myself directly to a computer was appealing.  Having the ability to quickly access information stored on computers anywhere in the world and make use of that information without the distractions of going to a computer or opening a book would have been a dream come true.  Learning a language in minutes and having the ability to have incredibly complex calculations solved in the space of seconds by sending the question to a computer only to receive the answer moments later would be euphoric.  Just imagine how easy it would be to communicate with any person anywhere on the planet!  Just imagine how simple it would be to instantly tally up the cost of your groceries before getting to the checkout!  The potential uses for this ability is endless.

Exciting, indeed.  But what must we forfeit in return for these benefits?

Over the last few years I've come to learn that humans would not be a very happy lot if everything was perfect.  We thrive in imperfect conditions.  What challenges would we have if everything was automatic?  Would we get bored of life?  How would we regard people who weren't "plugged in"?  Would we consider them sub-human?  Would we even be human ourselves?

I can't claim to have the answers to these questions, and since many of my ideas on the subject are very close to Mr. McKibben's, I'd recommend that people buy his book, Enough.  The arguments are structured a million times better in that book than I could ever hope to write on this site.

I look forward to the future episodes of this new documentary.  Hopefully it will inspire some of our youth to examine the potential benefits and consequences of our increasing dependance on technology.