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From Pony Express to Disposable Computers: A Technology Timeline

Share "When five computers have been sold, the world won't need any more." That's what the head of IBM predicted in the 1940s. Today, computers are selling at the rate of five every second! What will the next 50 years bring? Find out in How the Future Began: Communications, Anthony Wilson's fascinating new look at the past, the present, and the future of communication technology.

Book Cover Image"On December 23, 1947, three American scientists demonstrated the world's first transistor, built from a paperclip, gold foil, and a slab of shiny material called germanium. Fifty years later, transistors outnumbered humans by a million to one.

"The first phonograph records could play three minutes of music and had to be made one at a time. If one hundred copies were needed, the musician had to perform the same piece one hundred times! A century later, DVDs store two hours of high-quality sound and are produced in factories that stamp them out by the million."

You'll lose track of the number of times you say "Wow! I didn't know that!" as you read Anthony Wilson's How the Future Began: Communications! What makes Wilson's treatment extra special is his clever juxtapositioning of the past and the present, which puts some otherwise dry facts in context, making them both meaningful and memorable. Consider this:

"In the last twenty years, the cost of computing has come down a thousand times, while the power of a home computer has increased by a similar amount."

A boring statistic -- until you continue reading and learn that

"If cars had improved as much, a family car would now be as powerful as a jet fighter plane and cost less than the price of a compact disc."



Wilson's descriptions of some of the uses of today's technology are equally fascinating. Did you know, for example, that virtual spiders are being used to cure arachnophobia? Or that architects and engineers working in different countries pooled their resources -- virtually -- to design the new Guggenheim Museum in Bilboa, Spain?

It's Wilson's vision of the future, however, that's most riveting.

Some of his predictions are imminent and unsurprising. Who doubts, for example that by 2005 "portable computers will be voice-activated and recognize handwriting" or that cellular phones "will transmit and receive high-quality images as well as high fidelity sound"?

Others, although also believable, are slightly more fantastic. For example, Wilson says that:

  • By 2020, "a special shower unit, with built in sensors and a handheld 'Mednet' scannerwill monitor your health daily and communicate with online databases if they detect any problems."
  • "By 2050, home computers may resemble sheets of paper -- thin, flexible screens with a microchip inside. They will come in tear off pads."
  • "Keyless doors will be common in the 21st century, opening doors automatically when the right person approaches."

Things don't get really scary, however, until Wilson looks into his crystal ball and predicts that:

  • "By 2050, insect-sized flying robots called bugbotswill act as fleets of security cameras."
  • By 2100, robots may be the most intelligent forms of life on Earth.
  • By 2200, the human brain may be kept alive without any body at all, connected instead to microchips, artificial senses, and other support systems."

Just to keep things in perspective though, the book also includes a feature called "Blurred Vision," which highlights past predictions that failed to come true!


How the Future Began: Communications is the first book in a new "modern marvels" series being developed by Kingfisher Publications. This is definitely a high-tech book -- in looks, topic, and tone. The pages are crowded with colorful photographs and drawings, and text is presented in visual "sound bites" sure to appeal to the digital generation. None of that, however, makes it any less educational!

Each of the book's five sections -- Living with Computers, Keeping in Touch, Entertainment, The World in Your Home, and Keeping Watch -- begins with a timeline, providing an immediate overview of the history and possible future of a particular kind of technology. The descriptions of how each type of technology -- including computers, movies, television, telephones, and satellites -- actually works are simple enough to be understandable, and technical enough to be accurate.

The book includes a glossary that defines terms as scientific as "neural net" and "package switching" and as cool as "artificial intelligence" and "knowbot." It also contains a list of Web sites that provide additional information about the future of technology; and the names of science centers and museums that further explore the history of communications.

Students in middle school and above will find How the Future Began: Communications, hard to put down. But if they do put it down, they'll pick it up again and again -- each time finding something that will make them say, "Wow! I didn't know that!"

Article by Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2000 Education World

If you are unable to locate a copy of this book in your local bookstore, ask your bookseller to order it for you or contact the publisher directly.

How the Future Began: Communications, written by Anthony Wilson, is published by Larousse Kingfisher Chambers Inc., 95 Madison Avenue, New York, New York, 10016.

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