We're Already in the Future: 11 Ways (Existing) Tech Blows Our Minds
We are younger, tech-savvier types of people. We're "up to speed."
For people who identify this way, it's easier to forget just how fast technology evolves. We take for granted the miracle known as Moore's law — that computing power doubles fast, and that we're living in the age where tech progress takes quantum leaps forward.
Still... anything can seem slow when you have to live it one day at a time.
Therefore: for some amusement (and perspective), here are 11 of our favorite ways that existing technology blows our minds and makes us wonder:
Are we already living in the future?
An App for That
No cash? No wallet? No problem.
Let's say you're wanting Chick-Fil-A breakfast and you're about to drive past one. BUT you forgot your wallet and it's 10:23, so you don't have time to go back for it.
What do you do?
You might remember that you set up Apple Pay months ago, but never used it (because you're used to paying the normal way). Worth a shot, you think.
You step up to the counter. "Do y'all accept Apple Pay?"
"Why yes, we do," they say sweetly. "It'd be our pleasure to take your order."
Crisis averted, you think. I'll take a chicken biscuit and hash browns with a side of social-liberal guilt, please. (Eating at Chick-Fil-A is a dilemma, isn't it?)
Hard copies seem like strange purchases now.
The whole notion of "digital copies" was once cutting-edge to the point of being cumbersome (since bandwidth and storage space were both much more expensive). Entire businesses were built on the bare necessity of hard copies—especially of movies, shows, and games.
Remember Blockbuster? They seem like ancient history... but they only went under a few years ago.
Nowadays, instead of going to Blockbuster, we go to Netflix. But remember when Netflix was exclusively a disc-delivery-by-mail service? Even that seems old-fashioned by now, in the age of streaming.
When's the last time you watched a physical DVD? Even more to the point: when's the last time you bought a physical (music) CD?
Video games are almost rich enough to live in.
Games went 3D in the '90s, most notably with Super Mario 64. The following decade (the 2000s, or "the aughties"), 3D games were too numerous to count—and getting bigger as the hardware for running them got stronger.
Even then, series like Grand Theft Auto and The Elder Scrolls were boasting huge playable areas (entire cities recreated! 16 square miles packed with stuff!) — which was cool, and impressive, and even fun. But it still looked and felt like a "flat" videogame world, where (for instance) most doors you see can't ever be opened.
Now, the decade following, games have evolved another order of magnitude. Sure, the "big" games are still large and growing, but the presentation and degree of interactivity are filling out too. In these virtual worlds, you can do more, explore more, customize more, and truly "go play" more than ever before—and many of these games are online, where players share a continuous world which persists even when they're not playing.
It's not quite at Matrix levels of perceived realism, but it IS an alternate reality in which people can choose to spend their time. Speaking of which...
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are happening.
They're still relatively new, expensive, and generally inaccessible technologies (especially AR). Unless you've got a powerful PC and a thousand extra bucks, you won't even have decent VR capability.
But they are a recognizable example of "sci-fi tech" that's becoming real and mainstream, which will inevitably become more accessible, and which will almost certainly affect the way we interact with the world in the future. If names like Oculus and Google Glass are already widely-known, imagine how big they'll be when everyone can have them.
To combine points: games like Fallout 4 (one of the huge open-world RPGs) are now being ported to VR, meaning you'll soon be able to wander around huge, semi-realistic virtual worlds with even deeper immersion. (If nothing gets published on the blog this winter, that's probably why.)
You can now get ANYTHING delivered to your house—whether it's groceries, McDonald's, or even a massage.
The first example is actually a practical one—with services like Instacart, you can have virtually all of your normal groceries delivered, and you pay a slight overall markup to save yourself the time and hassle of shopping. (We've written about this in greater detail before.)
The second example is a magical app called Favor. If you're not familiar, it's a service (in Austin and other Texas cities) that does much what its name suggests: lines up people ("Favor runners") who go and do your bidding for you. It's a way to get virtually anything delivered—even from places that don't deliver and never will.
And yes, the massage thing is real. Download an app like Soothe and you can request for a legit (i.e. certified and background-checked) masseuse to come to your house. They even bring their own supplies and equipment so it's truly thoughtless.
Power in Your Pocket
Wireless earbuds exist—and they already work great.
Apple only recently released the AirPods and let us tell ya: they work great. They're light and comfortable, they sound pretty good, they've got good battery life, they charge fast, and they're seamless to use.
Not even 10 years ago, it seemed like wireless, user-friendly earbuds belonged to the distant future, since some of the key features (like battery life and wireless communication) weren't yet ready. But they're here and ready NOW.
In typical Apple fashion, the AirPods are designed for intuitive use—no buttons. To pause your music, just pull out one earbud (and put it back to resume). To get Siri's attention, just tap either earbud twice and talk.
One of the "future moments" with AirPods: tapping an ear, telling Siri to remind you something, and having the music automatically resume, all without ever touching your phone. And speaking of Siri...
We can TELL our phones to do stuff (including some fairly advanced tasks).
Some of the smartest people on Earth believe that AI could become scary someday, especially as the underlying technology gets stronger.
Whether we'll reach an I, Robot kind of scenario remains to be seen. For now, we've got a nice balance: we can communicate semi-normally by voice with computers, but they can't yet overpower us and enslave the entire human race as a bionic battery pack.
It's useful enough to be able to say "hey, remind me about this" and your phone actually will. But the APIs for smartphone AI are getting stronger, to the point that you can now ask Siri to call you an Uber.
On the possibility that AI won't become malicious in the future, it's nice to imagine having a robotic butler like Codsworth: all of the convenience and courtesy of a servant, but almost none of the patriarchal guilt.
Most people carry around GPS capability that's downright scary relative to 30 years ago.
As Louis C.K. put it, we now have smartphones that could practically call in airstrikes or allow you to stare at the top of your own head from space. Thing is, he's barely exaggerating.
If you could travel back in time 30 years with just one fully-functional iPhone 7, every military in the world would cry themselves to sleep imagining this kind of power.
Not to mention that you can track the real-time location of anyone with such a smartphone (if you've got the right parental settings, or if those friends have given you permission to see their location). It'd be some creepy NSA-type stuff if it didn't, you know, help keep people from being kidnapped.
Even more obvious: everyone has Maps and guided directions now. Remember when a TomTom was $1000—or when you printed MapQuest directions?
Brave New World
You can order a mattress on Amazon.com (with free 2-day shipping).
We've done this multiple times each at this point, and for whatever reason, it still makes Kevin giddy to think about this:
Buying a mattress, which was once an enormous hassle—involving salesmen, comparison shopping, ridiculous markups, and arranging trucks/delivery—can now be accomplished with literally one click of your mouse.
It gets better: if you've got Amazon Prime, plenty of mattresses are Prime-eligible, meaning delivery is free and it gets there in 2 days. You don't even have to leave your house; the mattress comes to you.
The cherry on top: you get to unseal the plastic, watch the mattress "self-inflate," and meanwhile try to picture the machinery that compacts and shrink-wraps mattresses.
The same guy who made the mass-production electric car possible (and popular) also builds space rockets for NASA.
To be fair, Elon Musk is some kind of exceptional... he's either immortal or insanely talented and busy, and we're still not sure which. We'd be envious except that his life sounds mildly terrifying.
Yet still, we live in a time when these things are possible — so possible, in fact, that one person can single-handedly champion BOTH of them as commonplace technologies before reaching the age of 50.
Today's kids are already "fluent in computer" and may never see the steep learning curve from adults of years past.
When we were young kids (20+ years ago), there was a slight gap between children and technology. Cell phones were still primitive and expensive; computers were still blocky and slow. iPods and iPads hadn't even been invented and Game Boy barely had color.
When we got to use the computer, we picked it up quick—because we were the first generation of kids to grow up with personal computers at home. But we didn't get to use it all the time and it wasn't so intuitive when we did: no Retina touch screens, no built-in cameras, no WiFi.
Today's kids grow up with computers, like we did. But you give a kid an iPod, and suddenly they have (in their pocket!) many, many times the computing power of your childhood desktop PC. And because it's smartly-built 21st-century touchscreen tech, a five-year-old can use it as fluently as an old pro.
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