Zamfir wrote:Sure, the internet is a big thing, and so are computers. At the same time, it's easy to underestimate changes in the past.
My grandmother can still remember when she didn't have tapwater as a kid, and I think electricity came to her house only slightly earlier. My parents remember when the first person in their streets got a TV, and the whole street would get together to watch popular shows. My grandfather bought a car to bring vegetables to the auction, and would ask my grandmother to walk ahead in case the police were checking for driver's licenses. My grandmother's father and uncles had a plastering company, and they would regularly take the whole family, children included, walk with hand-carts to a faraway job, and stay there a few weeks. My daily commute is larger than those distances.
Even with all the changes from electronics, computers, networks, I guess there's less difference between my life and that of my parents, than between them and my grandparents, or grandparents and great-grandparents. Not sure about earlier generations, those generations might have been the big change.
Maybe. At least part of that, though, is due to how the West went through a few decades when a much larger proportion in the growth in the West's overall wealth went to the ordinary working man than to the super-rich. Not only did the average stiff's buying-power grow quickly compared to the flatlining we've seen over the last couple of decades, but governments were more socialist in nature overall - having high rates of taxation, launching National Health Services, investing in infrastructure like roads, telecoms and the rest of it in ways they shied away from before and since.
This growth in quality of life has largely taken care of the bottom rungs in the pyramid of needs of the average citizen, so, naturally, what's left to improve is necessarily fundamentally less important. But, factoring that in, things have moved forwards in leaps and bounds none-the-less, I think.
15 years ago it'd have been pretty impossible for me as an ordinary person to go online to a UK business, buy something from them with a credit card, and it be at my door in China a week later. Ebay and Amazon have been social revolutions in their own right too.
15 years ago I was still buying A-Z guides (street maps); Nowadays a smartphone practically makes a satnav system redundant. I can hold up a phone to a Chinese sign and have it translate it into English in real time. The technology involved in Jeopardy's Watson is going to fundamentally alter job opportunities over the next 20 years, bringing automation to whole new swathes of industry.
15 years ago I was packing hundreds of books into black bags whenever I moved house. When I came to China I could leave them all behind since I can fit a thousand books onto an ereader. I can also fit a thousand movies onto my computer and watch them on my iPad whenever I wish. Bittorrent may be the bane of entertainment companies everywhere but it's a social revolution every bit as significant as any before it. Even those who didn't partake have benefited from companies being dragged kicking and screaming into offering a good deal of their content online. For good or for ill, porn has entered 'post-scarcity', with as much porn as you could ever want available for free online. Realistically, the same is true for all information-based entertainment (music, movies, tv shows, computer apps etc): For good or for ill, piracy has never been easier or more widespread.
Not only is working from home going to become much more common soon, so is learning from home. Doing university courses online is going to open up education to the masses in a way that could eclipse all educational advances before it - especially for the developing world. People from Asia and Africa will be able to study at the elite UK and US universities without leaving their homes let alone their countries.
Yes, there have been relatively low-tech advances in the past that have been revolutionary, such as the contraceptive pill, but there's nothing stopping an advance like that hitting us at any time right out of the blue. Maybe tomorrow someone will come up with a similarly low-tech pill that stops you feeling hungry on-demand or stops you developing insulin-resistance - slashing the predicted healthcare bill of Western countries and improving quality of life immeasurably. Or perhaps someone will invent a pill that eliminates withdrawal pains from addictive drugs, or prevent them from being addictive to begin with - fundamentally altering how drugs (and the war on them) has wrecked our societies. Heck, for those it helps, Viagra has been a quiet social revolution; Not as fundamental and empowering as the contraceptive pill but just as psychologically significant in its own way. So I wouldn't say we've reached 'peak science' in the sense that cheap, low-tech, world-changing technologies couldn't be just around the corner. They very easily could be - and if we don't think them up, the hard AI that will come about this century certainly will!