In the past 100 years, we’ve seen incredible technological advancements become increasingly commonplace.
To realize just how quickly things are moving, consider this: the Intel Pentium 3 processor, produced from 1999 to 2003, had a max CPU clock rate of 1.13 GHz. The iPhone 7’s A10 Fusion processor’s max clock rate?
2.34 GHz — more than double that of the Pentium 3’s.
However, there are multiple reasons why technological advancement may hit a dead end. Here are four of the main ones, including one which may slow down the growth of the internet in the very near future.
1. Battery Life
Speaking of the iPhone — did you know that the battery takes up most of the space inside its case?
That’s because we’re still using a variation on the same rechargeable lithium-ion battery technology that was first commercially released in 1991 by Sony. As gadgets become more complex and power-consuming, those batteries need to be larger to power them.
Unless we find a new way to power our devices away from power sockets, we’re going to have to deal with increasingly larger gadgets — or stop making them more advanced.
Right now, many industry-leading companies are working on innovative ways to make batteries. One of them is SolidEnergy: a company with roots in MIT. Another is Toyota, which has recently published a paper on high-power, solid-sulfide batteries.
But as of right now, there’s no alternative to Li-Ion batteries on the immediate horizon — which may stop mobile technology from developing in the very near future.
2. Expensive Electricity
If we continue using fossil fuels at today’s rate, they’re projected to run out in the 21st century. Oil may be gone as early as 2050 — but prices may explode long before that. In the U.S., fossil fuels may already be losing the price war against solar and wind power.
One thing that could happen is that we invest in solar, wind and geothermal power, getting cheap electricity in the long run. Some people think the U.S. will make the switch by 2050.
But before that becomes a reality, we may be faced with the prospect of increasingly expensive electricity.
If the latter happens, we may have to rethink the need for electricity-guzzling cars and gadgets in favor of simpler ones that don’t put quite as big of a drain on our wallets. Cars engines are getting smaller, and often simpler — other technologies may soon follow suit.
3. No need
Between 2005 and 2013, the Nintendo Wii — a technologically simple gaming console — outsold both the Sony PS3 and Microsoft Xbox 360, two far more powerful devices.
Could this trend repeat itself in other industries? Not necessarily. This is just one example, and it doesn’t prove that simplicity is the way to go for everyone.
However, the Wii case certainly shows us that “more powerful” doesn’t necessarily mean “better.” And with batteries and electricity costs potentially limiting the number of people who can afford complex devices, simplicity may be the way of the future.
Of course, processors, screens and sensory devices will all continue to get more complex in laboratory settings. But in the end, unless customers need and buy those advanced technologies, devices may remain as they are now or become simpler.
4. Limited bandwidth
Last year, researchers and scientists met in London to discuss the fear of fiber optic cables approaching their physical limits. According to an Alcatel-Lucent spokesman, that may happen in the next 4-5 years.
That’s a problem, because 8K video, over-the-top messaging services like WhatsApp and mass video streaming all require bandwidth — and lots of it.
This might seem like a stretch to you right now — but just take a look at this infographic published by Ooma, with data compiled from publications like The Economist, the New York Times and the Huffington Post.
The data it references shows us that WhatsApp uses up to 12.6 Mbps of bandwidth compared to Facebook’s 2.1 Mbps… and Snapchat uses a whopping 40.5 Mbps.
If messaging services keep developing at the same astounding rate, we may have to find new alternatives to fiber optic cables sooner rather than later.
On an optimistic note, there are many techniques that would enable us to get more power and speed from the same cables that are in place today — and together with renewable energy sources and battery technologies on the horizon, there should be no long-term issues with technology’s advancement.
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