I met an old friend at a party recently who has recently retired from the Research and Development Dept. at Hewlett Packard.
I reminded him that about 20 years ago, when computers were slow, clumping, great things that did mental arithmetic for you, and telephones were bulky black objects, found only indoors or in telephone boxes, I had asked him to predict future developments in the world of computer science. He had explained that computers would become progressively smaller and faster, and telephones would become portable, so that no wires were needed. 'Oh, that would be interesting' I said.
'Yes, and then eventually computers with a huge memory capacity will be linked into mobile telephones so that you can carry them around in your pocket with all your contact numbers and E-mail addresses in one neat package'. 'That would be amazing' I said.
'Yes, and one day you might be able to get a type of very small telephone that would fit in your pocket and do everything a computer does now but also plays music'. 'No, really?' I laughed nervously.
'Yes, and it would also show television programmes and do library searches and take photographs and store them and send them to your friends, and...'. 'Ha, ha,' I said 'What a joker you are, and I expect it will unpack your groceries too'. 'Just wait and see' he said.
So, meeting him 20 years later I congratulated him on his prescience, and asked him what he would predict for the next 20 years.
He was thoughtful for a while, and then said that in another 20 years time, we should simply have to think of a task in order for it to be done by a superior form of intelligence with no effort on our part, and some jobs such as household chores and the ordering, taking delivery and unpacking of groceries, would be done before we'd even thought of them for ourselves. 'But I've already got one of those' I said 'it's called a wife'.
Actually I wish I hadn't said that now because, if I may be permitted to mix my metaphors, I've just shot myself in the foot by stepping into the Catch-22 trap. I've been trained, you see, to avoid sexist or 'Little Woman' jokes. So that if the above remark was a joke, I'm in trouble and if it wasn't, then I'm in trouble. Perhaps I should have stressed the superior intelligence part?