I was thinking about Ruth Hope the other day. Ruth was my maternal grandmother who lived to the staggering age of 99. Missed the century mark by three months. She was born in 1913. When she was just old enough to recall, World War I broke out. She witnessed many technological changes in that day and age.
Vast jumps in the progress of humanity went on all around as she grew up on her little Pennsylvania farm. Her father still used horses for transport and for farm work, even though combustion engine-powered vehicles had been around awhile. They knew what electricity was, as they had seen it in the little town they shopped in. They didn’t have it on their farm, and she said many a time she’d wished she had a powered light, instead of candles and oil lamps. Radio and telephones, though still crude, worked much the same as they do today.
As she grew, my grandmother began to get familiar with these new-fangled inventions, far faster than her parents did. She had five daughters who began their lives in time for the Roaring Twenties and Depressing Thirties and Forties in that part of the century. It took an amazing amount of growth for her to move from candles and horses to paying for electricity and driving her 1945 Dodge around Pittsburgh.
Grandma Ruth raised her daughters on her own after my grandfather died. Her children were born into an era that would come to accept and expect new technologies as vital for existence. What took real bravery on my grandmother’s part in adapting to change wasn’t an issue for her daughters.
By the time I was born in the early Fifties, she had witnessed the birth of television. I took it quite for granted. Imagine the shock of seeing movies that were once only shown in theaters, now coming over invisible air waves into your own living room. Until she actually saw it with her own eyes, she couldn’t believe it was true. From planes with canvas wings and wooden frames to the steel bombers of WWII, she was part of that transition as well. Then that changed to jet planes and rockets into space. The growth she lived through was no more or less astounding that the growth occurring now. The changes being wrought by AI are almost too fantastic to comprehend.
For many “baby boomers,” today’s technology promises a disconcerting future, much the same as it was for Ruth in 1918. My late mother would be baffled by today’s iPhones or Androids, just as I was just a few years ago when I got my first pocket-sized computer/phone/library etc. I’m comfortable with that technology now. But what about the next step in communications? What if it involves a chip being implanted in your hand, one that would allow you to make phone calls with your fingers? What if everyone buys merchandise by waving a hand in front of a scanner? Are you good with that? I’m not sure I am.
I am still not certain I can completely “unpucker” when I start using driverless transport on a regular basis, if I ever do. I have faith in autonomous vehicles and their software. But only up to a point. That won’t even be a concern for my grandson. It will never cross his mind that something accidental could happen while he rides to school or goes to the store. I believe our fight-or-flight instincts will no longer kick in by then, because we will no longer fear something that isn’t new.
When we look at the strides in medicine, in comfort, in work-saving technology and in every aspect of life, the technology the early 20th century produced is nothing short of astounding. The technological leap moved humanity ahead farther than in the previous 500 years.
That is almost exactly where we are now in 2018. We are on the verge of sweeping change. We stand on the mountaintop, surveying an entirely new branch of technology, waiting for the world to move into position to take full advantage of what this technology has to offer.
Once I imagined that Dick Tracy’s communication watches were too cool to ever come true⎯but they did. Skype? Sure, Dick had a kind of Skype. But no one predicted text, data, selfies, GPS and sexting.
Considering the bravery of my grandmother, I am pleasantly persuaded that through the coming transformation of our world by AI, VR, AR, quantum computers and neural networks, we are going witness a leap by humankind of a 1,000 years before the end of the 21st Century⎯only 82 years away at this point.
We’ll benefit from advances in medicine, transportation, commerce and the way we work. Instead of clinging to the past, we need to be ready to embrace technology that will improve our lives, just like Grandma Ruth did.