Communication Speed and Technology: It’s getting interesting

Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

In the mid 15th century, Johannes Gutenburg invented the printing press. Several decades later it began to go mainstream, mostly with academics. This resulted in many of those academics arguing with each other through books. The 16th century version of having a “rapid-fire” argument on social media today, but over months instead of seconds. In 1992, British electrical engineer Neil Papworth sent the first text message from a computer to a cellular phone execytive with Vodafone. The message said “Merry Christmas.”

During the first Iraq war in 2003 a significant problem for American and allied tanks was glitches in their communications systems due to the way the turrets moved, so special optical technology was invented to solve the problem. Tanks became more efficient at blowing things up than ever before. When the iPhone launched in 2007, texting use soared and so did the demand for data to do other things on our phones. Smartphones took off and suddenly, all kinds of other technologies leaped ahead, especially products that could connect to them via Swedish invented Bluetooth, another communication technology.

All of this, along with the constant miniaturization of communications technologies and the arrival of broadband internet and wireless high-speed data such as WiFi, prompted even more technologies to burst onto the market. The Internet-of-Things and the Industrial-Internet-of-Things was born. We suddenly had doorbells and cameras in our homes to spy on visitors and babysitters we thought weren’t being nice to kids. And got angry when Amazon was selling doorbell video surveillance to police departments.

Rarely today do we see what would be considered breakthrough technologies such as the invention of the telephone and telegraph or electricity. Technologies today tend to be based on prior technologies and combining other technologies. Smartphones, for example, are the combination of multiple pre-existing technology such as GPS, batteries, cellular modems etc.

The pattern we can see is that as communication technologies improved and became faster, so did adjacent and complementary technologies. Satellites and GPS enabled truck fleets and taxis to work better so we could move things around more efficiently. And drop bombs more precisely. sadly. RFID tags and WiFi enabled factories to develop better, faster equipment to reduce costs and operate more efficiently.

We tend to think of “communication” when we hear the word in human terms; writing, reading, texting, talking, posting. But that is the human to human context. It guided how we evolved our societies, initially through cave wall drawings to runes to words and numbers to arguments on Twitter. But it is more impactful, I’d argue, in how communications happens between things. And how we are separating these forms of communication.

As Artificial Intelligence tools like Neural Networks and Machine Learning evolve and we connect cars, trucks, homes, factories, medical equipment, aeroplanes, helicopters, boats, yachts, ships, canoes and Apple AirTags or the Tile, we are slowly (in some cases rapidly) handing off operational communications to digital devices.

Objects and things will communicate, and many already do today, with no human in the loop. As we now develop any new technology, one of the first things the inventor thinks about is how the widget will connect to the internet and other widgets. We are I believe, splitting into two main forms of communication in our world. Anthro-communications, technologies that are human to human, such as a phone or tablet and operational communications, technologies that talk to each other and do things without human or very little human, involvement.

As technologies rapidly evolve and become increasingly interconnected, we are going to see some incredible new technologies that today, we can’t quite fathom. Just like Blackberry totally missed the smartphone.



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Giles Crouch | Digital Anthropologist

Digital / Cultural Anthropologist | Featured in Wired, National Geographic & Forbes | Celt | Explorer | Intensely Curious