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Move over to machines
- Peek into a reassuring past and an unsettling future

New Delhi, Aug. 31: If Arthur C. Clarkeís 2001 Space Odyssey and its central figure ' the renegade computer Hal ' left you with a deep sense of unease, you ainít seen nothing yet. That is if you believe the technology timeline British Telecomís futurology department put out today.

Picture this in the year 2050: itís the European Cup being played at the San Siro stadium and raucous British supporters are numbed into silence as England gets whacked 4-0 by a team of German humanoids!

You donít need to go 50 years down the line to see the convulsions that laboratory experiments being conducted today will wreak: in the next four years you could expect to see an artificial intelligence (AI) pop group hit the top of the charts.

The real big breakthroughs are all slated to take place between 2010 and 2020: thatís the decade when you will have an AI Nobel Prize winner, the first AI member of parliament who could give Laloo Prasad Yadav something to chew on, and a synthetic celebrity who would earn more than Amitabh Bachchan.

BTís technology timeline says your next holiday destination could be somewhere above the earthís surface. By 2017, you could be taking off for a stay at a hotel in orbit, with the peace of mind that robots were tending the garden in your absence, making sure the kaleidoscopic flowers were well looked after.

That is not too distant a dream what with the US and Russia examining the possibility of sending tourists into space. The timeline encompasses all areas of life influenced by technology developments, including artificial intelligence; health and medicine; business and education; demographics; energy; robotics; space; telecommunications; transport and travel.

It predicts that by 2012, our children could be entertained by video tiles in the bathroom, before sitting in a playroom with wallpaper that changes appearance to promote energy, happiness, or calm, for example, while interacting with a toy that responds to their voice with matching emotions.

Looking back 20 years, hardly anyone even had a mobile phone. In 20 or 30 yearsí time, we can look forward to holographic TVs projecting 3D images into our living rooms to entertain our custom designed pets, and a space elevator to take us up and away to a Moon village, which will have grown up by 2040.

Ian Neild, researcher at BT, and editor of the timeline, says: ďThe timeline enables organisations to design technology and products with future customers in mind, with a vision of the kind of environment they will be living in.Ē

Cynics might question its merits.

But here is the unnerving fact: the first BT technology timeline published in the early 1990s had an accuracy rate of between 80 to 90 per cent.

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