Technology is an ephemeral beast. It’s the best thing ever – and then it’s gone, outdated and no longer amazing or mind-blowing. Or is it simply that we have become so used to the incredible availability of filter-down technology, we no longer celebrate or even recognise it?
I’m fascinated by filter-down technology because it tells us so much about our future and what we can expect. The things which we all own and use as commonplace vehicles for that technology have origins somewhere else – and much of it is military.
Virtually every smartphone has a GPS facility, for example - allowing you to navigate your way using satellites which had their origins guiding military vehicles, personnel and ships in combat manoeuvres. Once, we marvelled at how a plane could fire a missile with pin-point accuracy to hit an insurgent target, yet we adopt exactly the same technological process to smash the nearest pizza palace after a binge-drinking bout and barely give it a thought.
And aren’t apps brilliant…? Apps bring the world to your fingertips. We have apps for everything from measuring curtains to firing birds from catapults. Encyclopaedic volumes are a 3G connection away. How vastly different has this made our education system? Hours of research and time required to gather data is now compressed into nano-seconds as those packets of information whizz into your pocket.
And sadly, you are more likely to hear someone whining about the terrible three second delay in downloading the two-for-one coffee offer on Priority Moments than praising the god of all things technology based.
The fabulous nature of Moore’s Law governs much of this amazing change (see my previous Moore's Law
pondering on this…) as levels of power within technological devices ramp up perpetually, while prices cascade ever downwards.
This led me to take a look at the latest Raspberry Pi
computer. What a work of genius that is. Originally invented from scrap computer bits to enable third world countries to start out down an affordable technology path – it is now a full computer system the size of a credit card, costing less than thirty of your English quid - which children can learn to write code on. And this is undoubtedly the kind of development from filter-down technology which pushed the government into writing coding into the national curriculum for primary and secondary school pupils.
Of course – there’s a terrible dark side to this filter-down technological tsunami. No-one will forget the 9/11 attacks on New York, but many will forget that the terrorists did much of their flight training in simulators that were also once only used to train military pilots.
Nor will we escape from the cowardly videos posted on social media by terrorists operating in Syria and Iraq to create fear and publicise their propaganda. Reporting on such atrocities was once the domain of journalists working behind enemy lines, compiling interviews and filtering the truth - and it took time to make its way back into the global media. Communications has been radically altered through filter-down technology and those videos require nothing more than a smart phone and some connectivity to reach the masses instantly.
Which brings me to the nub of this blog – filter-down technology is there for everyone and we should not fear that. It offers far more benefit to the world than harm.
For all of the horrific reportage winging its way around the Internet, there are many journalists and PR professionals making sure that core, balanced reporting takes place at the same pace of change. Public Relations is now super-fast thanks to social media platforms and massive bandwidth, enabling agencies to react instantaneously to the news agenda for much more targeted media relations engagement.
And let’s look at medicine. We are now witnessing the future of medical advance and it’s likely to be based around 3d printing. Yes – your own body parts will soon be available from any local hospital, built to your specification via the miracle of 3d printing.
This is no idle boast – we have already seen a little girl’s life transformed because surgeons could 3d print an exact replica of her heart and use that to establish a treatment.
The development of organic printable materials used in conjunction with 3d printers and genome science will eventually enable surgeons to print biologically matched replacement body parts, a development which is already in progress. All this from a technology that has its roots in rapid prototyping for manufacturers.
And the filter-down of technology means that soldiers in combat zones can use apps to translate and overcome language barriers, enabling better communications and helping to avoid confusion, fear and mistakes in highly charged situations.
This is only one of many instances where we are seeing the filtering of technology heading the other way. Readily available games console controllers are modified and used by the military to pilot drone aircraft remotely, because the technology which has filtered-down is so much more refined and cheaper to use than creating bespoke controllers.
So let’s all have a moment to marvel at your nearest bit of technology.
For instance, when your car next breaks down, try to consider that it’s a very rare occurrence because technology has made engines better and cars more reliable. In the 1980s for example, you could have reasonably expected multiple breakdowns per year.
When your phone next alerts you to the taxi waiting outside the kebab-house, thank technology for keeping you in the spicy warmth instead of hunting around in the rain for a working phone box and some change.
And when you turn your TV on to watch whatever you want from whenever it was broadcast – thank technology that the test-card no longer plagues your day…