Technology Limits

They’ve a 3-D printer that can use different materials and colours – wow.

This is also the day I transferred some information from a tablet computer to a PC by writing it on a piece of paper and retyping it.

In 1898 the US Commissioner of Patents said that “Everything that can be invented has been invented”.  However, this is apocryphal.  Charles Holland Duell did say, in 1902, “In my opinion, all previous advances in the various lines of invention will appear totally insignificant when compared with those which the present century will witness. I almost wish that I might live my life over again to see the wonders which are at the threshold.”

So, ‘all done’ or ‘barely started’?

We are hitting limits in computing, chips that use only one or two electrons, or electrons in quantum states.  The Cray supercomputer is curved to reduce the length of the wires as the speed of light is a limit.  You wouldn’t have thought losing a few centimeters here and there would make much difference.

If you look at Star Trek’s technology: once you have replicators and site-to-site transporters, you can make anything appear anywhere.  That’s got to be more-or-less it, surely?  Thinking of Clarke’s law, even magic can’t top that.

I’ve gone in both directions in my fiction.

There’s an argument that technology will keep improving until we no longer understand it as in Clarke’s Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  I’m not sure.  I can tell that transporters are (portrayed as) technology even if I don’t know how the trick is worked.  I think it’s a cop out excuse.

What do people think?


6 thoughts on “Technology Limits

  1. Endless. People are already talking about 4-D printers (self-assembly component printers), and whole fields like synthetic biology have barely even begun to get off the ground. Commercialisation of space could lead to big changes too.
    Watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos from 20 years ago and it is incredible how much has changed, how much is new in that short time. I think it’s important to remember that as existing technologies mature new discoveries unlock doors we didn’t even know where there until we found the key. That’s still happening.

  2. I’m not saying we’re done yet, but once you can transport/replicate (therefore create) anything up to and including living thing to anywhere, then that’s it. And, there’s also the limit to what we can use: do I reply here or on Facebook? That takes times. Smartphones can only be so small before you can’t operate them. Etc.

  3. I think with some forms of technology, especially biotech, the only limit in our lifetimes and those of our children will be the opposition from activists and ethicists — the people trying their best to keep us more human than machine.

  4. Surely the real advance is the psychological one? Everything else is just… toys. (I’m reading a fascinating book at the moment – “On The Origin Of Stories” – so my brain is full of developmental psychology and evolution…)

    • I would argue that some toys allow you to play in a way that was previously impossible. However, changing the way we think is the important part. Knowledge has brought some of us out of the mire of superstition.

      “On the Origin of Stories” sounds very interesting.

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