Life After Pong: Is Computer Technology Hitting a Finite Wall?

Do you remember the game “Pong?”  For those of you too young to remember, “Pong” was one of the first electronic games ever produced for the mass market.  It consisted of a game module connected to a TV with a white ball going back and forth across the screen.  Players electronically batted it back and forth across the screen.

I bring this to you because it’s my standard story I recall when looking at the world of computer/consumer electronic technology.  I’m usually in some retail establishment surrounded by technology and younger people.  Something amazes me and then I tell some twenty something about the “Pong” game.  They look at me as if I’m from Mars.

So today I read a Reuters report about Apple and its impact on the consumer world.  According to brandchannel.com, which asked 2000 professionals which brand had the biggest impact on their lives, Apple with their computers and iPods won out.  As a long time Mac user, that wasn’t too much of a surprise.  However, the Mac has been here for almost 25 years.  Apple has won the minds of the world’s Microsoft clones with their consumer technology, which brings elegance to the masses.

Regardless of how I like all things Mac, this is not a column about them.  Everything is cyclical in the consumer world and they surely will meet their match someday.  I bring that up because a friend of a friend of mine has his PhD in computer science.  He related to me that he believes computer scientists have “hit a finite wall.”  He related the move to get constantly smaller and faster with computers as starting to show some age.  He believes that somebody has to come along to make the “next great leap”.  Otherwise computer scientists will be just spinning their wheels.

I was told that while writing a column about the future of Canadian agriculture for Country Guide magazine.  When that story was told to me, I was simply taken aback.  I thought with computer processors getting smaller and more powerful, the sky simply was the limit.  However, according to him, this finite wall is right in front of us.  While I had always assumed technology would advance, I had never heard that it might actually “hit a wall.”

This is what I mean.  What was it like the day before “Pong” hit consumer shelves?  My memory isn’t too good, but what I remember were board games.  In other words the players of Parcheesi had no idea that something “electronic” could be so much fun.  25 years later, with the PS3, X-Box and Wii, we take it all so much for granted.

Simply put, “Pong” was out there.  It was like sending me on a rocket ship and landing me on Mars.  According to my computer scientist friend, we might be standing on that precipice again.

My imagination is limited from what I know.  However, lets think “internet”; let’s think of some technology, which makes life easier, cheaper, and more environmentally sustainable, and earth changing.  Do you have any ideas?  The key will be throwing off the shackles of your own limitations and think big.

Let’s assume for a moment, the world is bereft of war within the next ten years and the “great leap” in computer technology takes place.  I see a world without “land line” telephones.  I see a world where the idea of a wi-fi or wi-max computer wireless network was obsolete years ago replaced by a wireless world beamed from space.  The world’s economies will be more interrelated, as the world’s peoples will talk to each other more.  Even television as we know it might be forced to the rubbish bin.  Fossil fuels will surely be on the way out.

However, its still 2008 and consumers are buying laptops, hooking up with wi-fi and using game controls to play kid’s games.  If you had told me that 25 years ago as I took my first foray at “Pong”, it would be like I had landed in the middle of Siberia.  I’d be lost with no hope of a way out.

Some might argue that our latest manifestations of consumer computer technology have been focused on trivial things like games and music.  For instance much of it has focused on what we do with our leisure time.  However, there are also instances like personal GPS units, which help people, get where they are suppose to be.  Trivial also you say?  Maybe, but what I’m referring to is something big, world changing technology, which may be just around the corner.

In that first game of “Pong” 25 years ago, I tried my hardest.  However, I couldn’t stop that white ball from hitting the side.  If I live to see the next 25 years, I’m hoping to do better.