For Anonymous: Where Does It End?

>> Friday, July 24, 2009

Anonymous asked : Do you ever think there will be a limit to how advanced technology can get with the resources we have? I mean there has to be a limit to how small you can make the components to things and still have them work just as efficient and alot of advancements have to do with efficiency and making useful things easier to use by making them smaller. Do you ever think we will be able to manipulate atoms more efficiently?

You know, if you look at the history of computers, for instance, where we are today was almost imaginably distant from where we started. I can remember, when I was in high school, working with a computer with no hard drive, 64K of RAM where we stored data on a tape cassette. When I got a first computer, it had a monochome monitor (green), an 8" disk drive and a 20 MB drive. I was in heaven.

I have files now that are four times larger than that first disk drive. I have a cell phone that has more computing power (and memory, both RAM and storage) than that first computer. My point is, if you told me back then that I'd be able to get a netbook 20 years later that had 160 GB hard drive and was almost palm sized. It's like magic.

But, when I talk to people in the business, they describe methods to save memory that have a hundred/thousand times more memory in a smaller volume, less mass. My husband, who loves doing research on nanotechnology, gets lots of literature on machines that are desperately small, electron microscope small. Little tiny robots that have room to crawl on the head of a pin. ICs and circuit boards burnt into tiny fragments of semi conductor.

Is there a limit? Probably but I have no idea what it is. Right now, it's manipulating molecules and atoms. Some day, that may not be the limit for us.

I believe one thing, though. I believe we've only scratched the surface of what we might be capable of, of what we'll do and learn. And I suspect, if we look at it 50, 100 years from now, the limits we thought we had will have been long past.


  • Roy

    Heh, heh! In my lifetime I've watched computers go from the size of a small building (when my Dad started his career of designing computer systems for the aerospace industry) to something you can fit in your pocket. If there's an end anywhere, i can't see it.

  • Stephanie B

    I hear you, Roy. I don't want to assume the limit and then end up sounding like this:

    "It would appear that we have reached the limits of what is possible to achieve with computer technology, although one should be careful with such statements, as they tend to sound pretty silly in 5 years."
    -- John Von Neumann, 1949

    On the other hand...

    "If the automobile had followed the same development as the computer, a Rolls-Royce would today cost $100, get a million miles per per gallon, and explode once a year killing everyone inside."
    - Robert Cringely, InfoWorld

    That's kind of scary, too, and there are a number of places where progress wasn't nearly as extreme as was projected.

  • The Mother

    I am a big Ray Kurzweil fan--his future is full of continued exponential growth of technology. When you consider how much we've accomplished in the last two centuries since the enlightenment, I don't see a limit.

    Clarke's first law applies, as the Von Neumann quote proves.

  • Aron Sora

    I wonder what someone from the medieval age would saw if they saw what we have today. The Higher classes had it pretty good then, they would be knocked to the floor now.

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