• Question: how do you think computers will evolve in the future, and how will they benefit the world?

    Asked by 11gedyt1 to Simone on 21 Jun 2013.
    • Photo: Simone Sturniolo

      Simone Sturniolo answered on 21 Jun 2013:

      Hard question, because since their invention computers grew up so quickly it’s almost scary, and predicting what they will become in the future is not easy. I’ll try my best.

      One big issue that computer designers are going to meet in the future is that we need to invent a new technology to replace our current microchips in the next years. The reason for this is that microchips have been made more and more powerful by making their components (think of the electric wires on a circuit board) smaller and smaller. They are now so small they are only a dozen atoms wide! So, of course, this is going to have to stop – they can’t become smaller than one atom! That means some new technology needs to be developed. Scientists are studying both the possibility to use ‘optical’ computers (which would replace electricity with light, much faster) or ‘quantum’ computers (which would replace electricity with… some very odd stuff. Let’s just say that this would be hundreds of times faster than current computers!). I am optimistic and think that one of these two technologies (I’d bet more on the second one) will become available in a matter of a few years. Let’s say that in ten years we’ll invent quantum computers; and that in twenty, quantum computers will be common enough (though not maybe as much as normal ones are now – and of course normal computers would continue to exist).

      How would they benefit the world? Well, I work with simulations, so I think quantum computers would help a great deal. Having more simulation power means we might become much much better at predicting things like weather. A better understanding of climate would help us for example to fight global warming. We could even try to actually ‘engineer’ climate – modifying it here and there for the better rather than randomly and causing damage as we’re doing now – and repair the damage done. A fast computer network could control energy production from multiple solar panels (on the houses roofs) and redirect energy so that if my house, say, produces more power than it needs, it can be sent to your house which instead needs it. We can already do this with our computers, but the faster the computer, the better, and the bigger the area it can control!

      And then of course there’s the possibility that faster computers could finally lead to the creation of Artificial Intelligence. Now that would be something really interesting. Personally, I think I would see any computer with human-like intelligence as if it was a real person – I work too much with computers not to love one who can talk me back if I say something! But I guess some people would not be okay with that – we already have trouble accepting humans who have different skin colour or religious beliefs, thinking machines would be a bit too much. This is all science fiction now, of course, but I think it’s one of the most “realistic” scenarios (compared with other science fiction things like interstellar travel, planet-busting weapons, etc.). I would be fascinated by it – but that’s me, of course: someone would probably find it rather scary!