Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Invisible Technology

It seems to me that it's in general a useful exercise to ask the question "What does the world look like if X becomes invisible?" where X is a technology (not, for example, the Invisible Girl.). This comes up often for specific technologies, famously Don Norman's The Invisible Computer, and here at Supernova (and usually at a speech by Tim O'Reilly) that the browser is going away.

It's happened already to lasers. You might think of lasers as being high-tech objects, but you don't know how many lasers you have in your house (a lot). The point isn't that you should know; in fact, you shouldn't care how many lasers there are, any more than you should care about how many electric motors you have, or, in the last few years, how many embedded processors there are in your car. (Lasers example thanks to Rodney Brooks.)

But in general we should just do that exercise for any given technology. Note that we're not exactly asking what happens if a technology goes away, just if it submerges into the fabric of the rest of human technology. What if phones became invisible? What if web browsers became invisible? Search engines? Recorded music and stereos? Robots? (Rodney Brooks again). Genetic therapy? Drugs? Medicine?