Thursday, December 31, 2009

What A Long, Strange, Trip It's Been

At the end of 2009, both for the country and for me personally, things seem to have gone in unanticipated directions. In December of 1999 I was a sophomore in college, and I wasn't think all that much about very long term plans. To the extent that I was, they didn't look anything like my current life. At the time I mostly tried to stay away from politics, thinking that Washington consensus had been reached, that the iron cage of bureaucratic capitalism would keep the American ship of state from going too far off course, instead pushing us towards further modest expansions of the welfare state. Of course, I probably thought a lot of other crazy things at the time too.

For the country, the  '00s really do feel like the lost decade. For most people, the standard of living is basically where it was at the start of the decade, if not slightly worse, only, we have much better cell phones and televisions, and more people have high-speed internet connections. I suppose medicine is probably a lot better in certain fields. That's not nothing. But it feels weak if you're measuring the accomplishments of a decade.

The '10s should be an interesting decade. There are two major underlying technical trends that should open lots of new pathways for innovation. First, the pressure to move to sustainable levels energy consumption and sustainable sources will grow, not shrink. I don't really know what this means for the world, other than that it will increase living standards as we stretch each unit of electricity further and further. Second, bandwidth and storage capacity will continue to fall in price at alarming rates. This has all sorts of possible consequences, and the world could go in several directions. At the moment, traditional hard drives are ridiculously cheap, but slow. In fact, over a local network, the network is now often faster than the hard drive. If this continues, it means that learning how to index the information we store in long term storage will become increasinly important. On the other hand, Solid State Disks hold the promise of increasing disk access speeds. At the moment they're significantly more expensive, but because they involve fewer moving physical parts they may start dropping in price much faster. Combine that with the fact that bandwidth may eventually be cheap enough to drop your cell phone/Internet bill to zero (or rather, to drop the price of the bill to the price of the content, not the price of moving the content around), and the future of information transfer looks very, very interesting.

Sidenote: I feel like search engines are become less useful over the past decade. Is this true? Or are the questions I'm asking of search engines more complicated? Or maybe they got good enough that I forgot how to search effectively. What's you're experience been?
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