|MSc-IT Study Material|
June 2010 Edition
Computer Science Department, University of Cape Town
Table of Contents
Predictions for the future are regularly made, but they often turn out to be different from what truly happens. It is all too easy to expect that some feature of a new technology will be pervasive in a few years, only to find that some other aspect increases in importance and invalidates the prediction.
For example, a few years ago recordings of music were widely available on gramophone records or cassettes; now both have largely given way to compact disks (CDs). During its technological lifetime, though, the materials used to manufacture gramophone records had changed from a brittle synthetic material played at 78 revolutions per minute (rpm) to a more flexible plastic played at 45 or 33 rpm, which could hold longer pieces of music. It would have been tempting to predict that this technological progression would have continued in the same way, with longer play times on each side of a record. One of the disadvantages of such records was that a scratch on the recording surface would distort the sound when the record was played, because the playback involved the physical contact of a needle against the surface. The advent of CDs meant that not only could greater amounts of music be stored, but that the medium was less fragile, did not rely on physical contact for playback, and offered support for error correction facilities.
Ten years ago the prospects for computing seemed to lie with virtual environments and multimedia productions. There is a tendency to be attracted to the most novel and glamorous features of the new technology and inflate its importance. If you are an enthusiast for a new technology (as most of us are) it is easy see it sweeping away all previous technologies.
In this mode of thought, H. G. Wells believed the gramophone record would replace the book. To him it seemed inconceivable that the book could survive the pleasure of someone reading the same text aloud. Audio books now exist on tape of course, but mainly for a specialist audience, while the bulk of book production still remains as it was.
Old technologies adjust to new technologies, with each taking up a new position in mutual co-existence. Email, for instance, did not give us the paperless office, instead we use both paper and digital documents concurrently.
Email is not yet a legitimate legal document, so for any contract or legal interaction a paper document is necessary.
Similarly, videotape has not replaced film: film has migrated to big production and special effects houses.
CD-Roms are replacing reference works and Encyclopedias (e.g. CD Britannica launched in July 1999 costs just $49 US) and production of high quality art books, supported and augmented by IT, is booming.
Virtual Environments also have not developed as we might have expected. Although virtual reality is used in contexts such as molecular modelling, architecture and surgery, we do not presently use virtual reality to conduct meetings. What has happened is more fragmented, more distributed, more powerful and more paradoxical.
Visit Wikipedia to see how reference sources are being transformed. Wikipedia gives its users the ability to modify the content. Try to find out more about how this site work.
Why have we not witnessed the dramatic kinds of virtual environments described by many books and magazine articles? This was a well-constructed, coherent, reasonable and informed expectation, but what has inhibited the development of these environments? What are the factors that could make them plausible?
You can find some thoughts on this issue at the end of the unit.