Saturday, October 8, 2016

The pace of change

I’m an IT director in our provincial government, and last week my ministry organized a two-day conference to explore themes and trends in technology.

One of the biggest messages I took from those two days - reinforced by one speaker after another - was the pace of change in the technology world.

It’s scary!

No, I mean really scary, as in ten years from now will anyone who’s an adult today even understand the world any more?

Ideas that were pure science fiction ten years ago are reality today. And the scariest part is that the pace of change is exponential. That means that in five years time we’ll be living with technology that is speculative and far-fetched today. And the same will be true a mere two years after that. Then a year after that.

Will we be able to recognize the world a generation from now?

Regardless of the real world, this poses serious problems for sci-fi writers. We all know how novels from the 1950s feel dated today because of the changes in technology, but they still enjoyed a few decades’ shelf life first.

Ten years ago I was writing a novel (which I never finished) that involved computers worn as jewelry, gesture recognition, direct neural stimulation to provide sensory input, and an exclusively virtual interface. That all seemed safely far-fetched back then, but ten years on all those elements are here today in some form or another.

When I wrote Tiamat’s Nest, autonomous self-driving cars still seemed safely a few decades away because computers as a whole were still too prone to stupid errors and failures to be entrusted with the task. But this year we have them on the streets in some cities. That frightens me because no matter how well they perform when things are going well, computers are still dangerously error-prone. Not to mention prone to malware, and how about the prospect of being kidnapped by your own car - the ultimate in ransomware?

So, to all member of Homo Sapiens V1.0 out there, how do you cope with the accelerating pace of change in the real world. And to sci-fi writers, how do you stay speculative when the most way-out ideas you have might become reality before your book is even published?


  1. Just think of all the data we are trying to save - when the programs that access said data will be gone in ten years or less. That will be just as scary.
    When I wrote my first book, I included computer pads like I'd seen in Star Trek. Before the book came out, iPads and tablets were a reality.

    1. Yeah, that's what I mean about the difficulty of speculation staying ahead of reality :(

  2. That is one thought-provoking post! Scary indeed.

    After 33 years of doing what I do, which is using my hands, I still am confident we cannot totally eliminate the need for humans. Sadly, so many of us bow to the pressure of the "self-serve" lane and in doing so we have been part of the "speed up" and "extinguish" process.

    That said, I don't really think we see the kind of changes in technology that truly better our lives. In fact, when speaking to younger working folks what I am hearing is how frustrated they are with technology, and are actually shutting it down during their free time (which seems like a rare thing these days because of technology).

    Anyway, fortunately for me my job still needs hands-on and until they invent a facial treatment (not meaning all the gadgets one can use during a facial) that does not need hands, well then I'll start to sweat.

    As for writing - the imagination is limitless, the potential to create something unique is still largely untapped. I find that is why I shy away from most SC-FI, I feel the writer holds him/herself back by not totally letting go and seeing what really lurks in the dark recesses of their untapped minds.

    The future is promising. I think it promises not to holdout or hold back anything, trick is to grab what it gives and run with it.

    Wonderful post, Ian... I've enjoyed sharing my nickels worth. Cheers, Jenny

    1. The thing is, technology is already taking over behind the scenes in surprising ways. Many news articles you read online now are written by software, not people. There are lots of promising benefits that are becoming pervasive such as machine translation that uses statistical analysis of he reams of data out there to translate meanings rather than just literal words.

  3. Hi Ian - I can see it happening ... I think writing historical posts etc will be ok ... I'm not speculating - only about what my life will be like - I do hope someone will be around to help me!

    Trouble is ... we, humans, are not thinking any more - many just assume that what they read or see is correct ... when we need to evaluate that content ...

    Hopefully I'll be able to cope until I can't - by then ... I shall be past my 2nd or 3rd prime if I'm lucky ...

    Cheers - as long as I can have good fresh food to eat - I'll be happy! All the best - but an interesting post - Hilary

  4. Hilary, I agree we need to evaluate what we read, but I think that's becoming more difficult given that everything we search in an effort to do background research is now being filtered before it reaches our screens. Algorithms are deciding what "facts" to offer us and truly unbiased objective truth is harder and harder to find.

  5. I like to explore what can go wrong with technology based on what we have now or think my be coming down the line rather than trying to come up with the next new fangled future science thing and how we might use it. No matter what out there, someone is going to hack it, break it, or exploit it.

    As far as trying to keep up with at the tech out there now, it makes my aging brain hurt sometimes and yes, it's only going to get harder.

  6. Jean, looking at what can go wrong is certainly one approach. It's what I did with Tiamat. Another approach is to step right outside our near future and you get far more into space opera territory, which is where Shayla lives. Then again there's the alternative history approach too, so I suppose all is not lost :)

  7. Yikes. I guess the only way to get over that hurdle is to reinvent society--to go so far into the future that revolutions have destroyed modern tech and they had to start over. It does make one pause and wonder how it would develop if not in the current trends, eh?

  8. Hi Ian. Looks like you're in the right job for your talents. Already we can look back and see so many things have disappeared. It can be scarifying, but we just have to get on top of change...constantly!

  9. Crystal, Shayla's world takes that approach - civilizations fallen and rebuilt so Earth isn't even on the map any longer.

    Denise, the big fear is that change will soon happen so fast we can no longer keep up!


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