Worlds of David Darling > Children's
Encyclopedia of Science > Computers of the Future > Introduction
COMPUTERS OF THE FUTURE:
Intelligent Machines and Virtual Reality
a book in the Beyond 2000 series by David Darling
If a competition were held to choose the greatest invention of the twentieth
century, there would be several contenders, including the airplane and the
television set. On balance, however, the award would probably go to the
computer – if only for the reason that it can be used in such an extraordinary
number of ways.
|Intelligent robots that do chores around
the home are just one of the amazing possibilities that may be realized
sometime this century
No invention has developed as swiftly as the computer. Fifty years ago computers
didn't even exist. Yet today there are many millions of them, large and
small, influencing almost every aspect of our lives – often without
realizing it. Moreover, in the years to come, computers will play an ever
increasing role in the things we do.
Making predictions about the future is always risky. No one really knows
how quickly or in what directions technology will progress. In the case
of computers, trying to foresee developments is especially difficult. For
instance, although the speed and power of computers have increased much
faster over the past few decades than anyone guessed, it has proved much
harder to make computers behave in an intelligent way. Even so, progress
is being made towards building smart machines. A new type of computer, with
connections similar to those found within the human brain, offers hope that
machines may someday be built that can think and learn as well as humans
do. Scientists are also making exciting progress in building robots that
can walk, climb, and work in a great variety of environments, including
the deep, dark ocean floor, the boiling heart of a volcano, and the forbidding
surface of another planet.
Remarkable developments, too, have recently taken place in personal computers.
These machines have now become so fast, compact, and easy to use that they
can do things that would have seemed beyond belief only a generation ago.
By linking, such computers to a huge communications network, people in different
countries and on different continents today can share and exchange information
on all sorts of subjects within seconds.
Another new breakthrough involves creating lifelike worlds within the computer
and allowing people to interact with these virtually real worlds through
special headsets and sensitive gloves. Eventually it may be possible to
make entire rooms into virtual reality dioramas controlled by computer,
like the holodeck aboard the famous starship Enterprise. Imagine
what it would be like to play any character you cared to choose in any adventure,
future or past, real or imaginary.
In these pages we shall look first at how computers have been developed
and how they are used – and sometimes abused – in today's world.
Then we shall explore some of the ways in which computers may evolve and
affect our lives as we move through the twenty-first century.