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The Future Is Good But Only For Those Who Can Afford It

About 7 yeas ago, I was still working as a salaried guy at this company. It was paying bills, things were alright and what not. Around that time, Microsoft (my favorite tech company by far) released (and they keep releasing interesting videos like all the time) a video depicting in the future. The video – Microsoft’s Concept Future Vision 2020-  is available here at this link, and I have embedded it below, as well.

It is the year 2017 now, and we are 3 years away from whatever the video thought would have happened. Unlike Hollywood movies such as Blade Runner (flying cars, humanoid androids, planet exploration and terraforming) or even poorly made Bollywood movies like Love Story 2050 (which for some reason copies everything from Blade Runner to Star Wars to X-men? What!!! Why god why!!!!) these concept videos are made by folks who are considering the future, trying to build technologies that they can sell. Not a movie audience but an audience that wishes to get work done. In fact, Microsoft has an entire website dedicated to future vision of productivity called Productivity Future Vision.

Thus, much of it is plausible instead of fantastical. I loved that video from 7 years ago, and of course, the website has a more recent vision of productivity and has a different video. A lot of things that are in the concept video are already here. For instance, I see a child write something in English and that gets immediately translated to Hindi, on a transparent wall, for an Indian child to understand. The video is obsessed with transparent screens ( transparent screens are not practical, at least not for everyday usage) but otherwise, everything that happens in the video can happen. Some of it, is already happening.

Skype already has live language translation. That means, two folks who don’t have a common language could (with conditions applied) speak to each other, and let Skype do the translation. In another scene, objects are dragged from one screen to another screen. The HoloLens from Microsoft can do it today. Move stuff from say the television screen to the portable screen. A lot of scenes use a ‘wheel’ type input device, which is exceedingly cool. Although the ‘non-physical’ wheel is not real, Microsoft recently started selling something similar called ‘Surface Dial’. For creative work, the thing is incredible and totally awesome. Of course, I will say awesome so many times when talking about the future.

In another video (with similar stuff, available at this link ) a woman steps down from airport and by the time she steps out, the cab is already waiting for her, and at the hotel, the concierge is already waiting for her, and she is already checked in. Then, we see a guy who scans a screen at the metro station and pledges some money (the photo interacts with him like it does in the Harry Potter movies) and then continues onward with his journey. Then that woman (who checked into that hotel) wraps up a report on her tablet, and then sends the finished work to her colleague who then proceeds to create a virtual conference room. This video in particular, almost everything that is done here is already possible.

I love such things because life is about technology and progress is measured by it. If not for the fire and wheel, humanity would have long gone extinct.

While all this stuff is already happening (except for borderless and transparent displays), there is something that the video will not say. Or perhaps, it is not supposed to. When all is said and done, Microsoft is a company that is essentially making advertisements for future products. As I have mentioned above, a lot of things in these videos are already available to paying customers. It may not be as cool as it is in the video but it is definitely a future come true.

Now, this technology is awesome but as with everything, we live in a world that is mostly driven by capitalism. Money helps make more money. That is how the world is designed. Instead of going on and with imaginary examples, I will use my own work desk as an example. Although I hail from a poor family, due to a combination of luck, wanton recklessness and lack of respect for my father’s feelings, I was able to get round the clock access to computers and internet, early on. This was the year 2005, in a small city such as Mysore. People here were paying 60 rupees per hour (an amount that is worth almost 200 rupees today) to use a computer with an internet connection. I had it at my disposal like all time. By default, I had access to technology that a lot of my peers did not have.

The access to technology (and adult entertainment, obviously) completely changed the way I perceive technology. I was already slightly smarter than the average engineering student (yes, totally self bragging here) and this access to information completely changed things for me. I would spend hours and hours pouring our thousands of online articles. Much of this knowledge was organic and without purpose. In some unconscious way, I am probably still processing all that information. Yet, this access to knowledge (thanks to access to technology) completely changed the way I perceived the world around me.

Now, I never wondered why my peers did not have access to the same technology. Most of them had access to a computer, sure. However, most of them were not connected to the internet. Heck, all they did was watch movies and play video games. I did the same but for some reason, I was always obsessed with reading and now, I had the entire world at my disposal. There was so much to read. Eventually, I realized that the reason many of them were not connected was because internet access, back in 2005 was incredibly expensive. It was my reckless behavior and uncompromising stance and dozens of fights with my father that got me access to internet. My father resisted so much (although he eventually gave in) because it was costing him thousands of rupees every month just to get me basic internet access. Other fathers did not wish to spend thousands on internet. My peers did not wish to go reckless and fight for internet access.

At the end of it all, I figured out that, it all came down to money. Back then (unlike today) internet access fell into one of those things that you only buy with discretionary income. In my case, I forced my parents to giving it to me, possibly causing a lot of hardships to them in the process. In fact, the money thing just keeps coming back to haunt every aspect of our lives. I could talk about how better money (most of the time) leads to a better life but I am (as always) limit myself to technology.

The Microsoft videos are about productivity so I will go into the role technology plays in our daily. As mentioned before, the access to internet, completely changed my mind, and the way I look at everyday things. I was using online banking before most people knew what a website was. I was getting products delivered home before folks knew that such a technology was science fiction. That trait that started in 2005, continues in my life, with me almost always using productivity stuff that my peers aren’t using.

One of the first things I do when any assignment starts at a client location is to get a second monitor. I have worked on some assignments in some seriously large companies. It is always disappointing to see people not using a second monitor. Three monitors are almost a rarity. When I discuss with the IT guys, they tell me that second monitors are not offered (I did get mine, and always get because it’s part of my contract) because of cost. The lack of a second screen means a loss of productivity, so imagine the loss of productivity in a team with 200 developers all because the IT has been advised to save some cash? I don’t blame them. Every company (just like individuals) has their priorities and if a rupee can be saved if it can be done.

The same applies to wireless keyboards and mice. Wires indirectly lead to fantastic reduction of property and sometimes even injuries. Then there is the effect of poorly designed keyboards themselves. I spent close to 7000 rupees on my wireless keyboard and mice combo. I had to endure some amount of ridicule from my work colleagues (of course, not directly into my face because I am a senior developer and the architect. They better not openly mock unless they want to lose their jobs) and others who would claim that for the same amount, they could buy 7 wireless ones, or some 20 regular ones. However, my Microsoft Business Keyboard and Mouse comes with tiny enhancements (like the push back buttons on the keys that push back after each key press, the tickaty tackaty sound that makes me feel like a real typist, the clear spacing between the keys, the small size that keeps hand movement to a minimum reducing hand movement and the steel weight that keeps the keyboard in one place) that takes my productivity to a whole new level.

Essentially, this access to improved technology (which comes at a hefty price) allows me to work better and save time. Time that can be utilized elsewhere for something else. I could be saving as little as 1 minute, but that is still 1 minute saved. There is also the major side effect. Expensive productivity tools such as these last way longer than basic keyboards and mice, and they also endure less wear and tear and less downtime due to repairs. Of course, these bad boys don’t even need a dongle so when I am working across multiple PCs and tablets, it is so much easier to use them. Again, massive improvement in terms of productivity.

If I were to extrapolate this experience (expensive keyboard and mice equals improved productivity) imagine what people with access to technology as depicted in the above futuristic productivity videos depict can achieve? Imagine what you and I could do we had a 50 inch touch screen enabled monitor that can also be written on. Imagine being able to use the Surface Dial to switch between multiple menus using natural gestures. Imagine what is possible if we could teach essential programming using HoloLens and sharing that view with hundreds of other students.

Then, I realize, the only thing standing between us and maximum productivity is access to the right tools. The right tools, well, the better tools are the ones that cost a truck load of money. By extension, when the future technology arrives, and it will, the only way that anybody can experience it is if they have access to necessary funds. That means, an ability to earn such money, and then getting access to such tools, which in turn increases productivity, which possibly helps you make more money.

All this seems very apocalyptic but there is a bright side though. Technology usually trickles down to everybody. I had internet access in 2005. People finally started getting internet access a few years ago. However, I had the first mover advantage which I might have taken advantage of. So, when the above futuristic tools become available, the person who gets it first gets to take full advantage of it and the cycle will continue.

The challenge here is a simple one. Can we really be the ones who have the first mover advantage?

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