Quantum Computing vs. Paleofuture

Updated: October 18, 2010

The world of technology moves along at a blistering speed. The hottest new gadgets today may become clearance items several months to a year from now, and replaced by something far more powerful (and with prettier graphics, too). Technology enthusiasts are always trying to imagine where the future of computing is headed and what mind blowing devices might change our lives 10-20 years down the road. Unfortunately for us tech nerds, these predictions are not always as accurate as we might hope. Today we examine past predictions and current technology forecasts. How accurate will todays guesses turn out? We'll let you be the judge.

How Have Past Predictions Panned Out?

Our journey into the world of futurism begins be reviewing some popular predictions from the past and examining what became of them in today's world.

Apple's Project 2000

Project 2000 was a concept for a futuristic looking tablet computer from Apple. Conceived in 1988 as part of a student competition, the project was regarded as revolutionary to the future of computer industry for its small, portable design and full video and graphic capabilities. This video shows the concept in action, and features discussions from Apple executives about its possible impact on students, education, and more.

How Has It Panned Out? Over 22 years later, Apple finally released its tablet computer, the iPad. The technology barely resembles the project 2000 in any way, and although it has been wildly successful, it is far from the first tablet machine to hit the market. As for the Project 2000? We can only imagine that it's collecting dust in a display case somewhere in Apple's basement.

Pacific Bell Video Phone Concept

In 1991, Pacific Bell released a video for a concept technology it called the video phone. The video phone would show the caller on a video screen while you talked to them, and amazingly you wouldn't even need a handset to use it. Microphones would pick up your voice and you could simply talk to the screen as through the two of you were speaking face to face.

How Has It Panned Out? While no one in the year 2010 uses a "video phone," there is FaceTime on the new Apple iPhone 4. This technology allows you to chat with your caller via built-in cameras on the phone. Skype and other webcam chat technologies have produced a near identical reality to Pacific Bell's vision, only they use computers to function.

The Computer Doctor

In 1982, a book entitled Health and Medicine (World of Tomorrow) published this vision of the hospital of the future. The computer doctor, they said, would see you before a human doctor took you in. Patients without serious problems could receive advice and treatments from the machine, or even provide it with appropriate samples for further testing. Of course, those who needed immediate attention could still receive it from a human.

How Has It Panned Out? Perhaps thankfully, there is no such thing as the computer doctor today. If you walk into a hospital for any reason, you are not made to speak with a machine before you see the physician.

The Answer Machine

Hailing from a 1964 children's book entitled Childcraft Vol. 6 How Things Change, comes this prediction for a computer-like device called the answer machine. As explained in the illustration, you need only ask the machine a question, and you it will return you the right answer. Users could even request videos and imahes about subject matter and be delivered relevant content to help them learn about whatever they wish.

How Has It Panned Out? One word: Google. Ask it anything, you'll get as many responses as you care to read in a fraction of a second.

Current Predictions For The Future of Computing

Now that we have examined how some past technology predictions have turned out in the modern world, lets examine popular predictions being made today about the world of tomorrow.

The Quantum Computer

One of the most popular current technology predictions is the quantum computer. While all curent computers are limited in their problem solving capabilities because they store information in bits. The theory of quantum computing claims that switching over to a new system known as "qubits" could greatly increase the computer's capabilities.

Future predictions site FutureForAll describes how this is all thought to work. "The basic principle of quantum computation is that the quantum properties of particles can be used to represent and structure data," they explain, "and that quantum mechanisms can be devised and built to perform operations with these data." Though nothing close to a fully functional consumer quantum computer has been made, several organizations are working on it. Among them is Yale University, where a team of engineers recently built an algorithm to work with a quantum processor.

The Holographic Disk Drive

The holographic disk drive is a long-discussed alternative to traditional storage that is expected to hold over 30 times the capacity of a standard Blu-Ray disk. This capability comes from the drive's supposed ability to store data in three dimensions on a disk using light particles. "Instead of using a laser to burn and read a pit, as with conventional CD and DVD," explains Manifest-Tech, "holography stores a three-dimensional volume of data with each flash of light." Though it may sound like like something from the Millenium Falcon, several companies have invested substancial resources into developing this technology,including Pioneer, MEI, NHK, Sony, Thomson, Samsung, Daewoo, JVC, and Optwar.

The Optical Computer

Another limitation of the speed of the modern computer is that it uses electricity to transmit data. Since the speed of light is much faster than electricity, some predictions claim that light transmission will one day become the new computing standard. This is known as the optical computer.

NASA engineers have been working a way to harness that power and put it to use inside of a computer. Dr. Donald Frasier claims that these systems have been in the works since the late 70s. "What we are accomplishing in the lab today will result in development of super-fast, super-miniaturized, super-lightweight and lower cost optical computing and optical communication devices and systems," he explains. For all that research, however, the world is still a long way from the fully realized optical computer.

The DNA Computer

What is the greatest data storage medium known to man? It isn't computer memory - it's Deoxyribonucleic Acid, commonly known as DNA. A single microscopic strand of DNA can code for the complex biological organization of an entire living creature. To harness this ability could unlock untold storage capacity and computing speed, if it ever gets developed. FutureForAll reports that "The storage capacity of a single gram of DNA can hold as much information as one trillion compact discs." Imagine the number songs you could fit on a DNA iPod.

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