The future of communication

Future, past and present are all zones on the continuum of history. There is a trend we can see throughout human history that more people sharing more information more widely, more rapidly, leads to more and more advances in the human condition. The invention of the alphabet led, over time, to the scientific and philosophical heights of classical civilization. The development of the printing press led to a democratization of knowledge that led to the Enlightenment. The Industrial Revolution led to mass communications and mass literacy. Electronic communications, from the telegraph to the internet, connected people around the globe. And the internet, as we have it now, allows anyone with access to be heard globally. All that could come of that is beyond individual imagination.

One thing that could happen going forward is balkanization. We may see more politically or commercially motivated filtering and blocking to impede communications. Someone pointed out in one of the summaries that much of the world is learning English to take advantage of the internet. But I don’t see much interest in the US in learning languages other than English. Could that eventually make non-English parts of the web effectively hidden from us?

On the other hand, we may not be far from a Star Trek style universal translator. I heard a futurist talking about Moore’s Law about ten years ago, and he was saying that the processing power necessary for this was not too far away.  I’ve watched videos with automatic captioning turned on and automatically translated into English from Spanish or Italian. It’s barely intelligible much of the time, and the computer can’t always distinguish between sound and speech, but the fact that it can do it at all is kind of impressive. And it can only get better.

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