Schrödinger's computer – If the PC is dying, what would life look like without it?
For the uninitiated, Schrödinger's Cat was an experiment in which a cat was placed in a sealed, entirely opaque box with a poison pellet that was triggered by an electron switch. Before you call the RSPCA, it was a thought experiment, no animals were harmed.
Is the PC dead, alive, or both?
Apparently, when you do the math to work out what's going on with the poor mistreated pussy you discover that at some points the cat is dead, at others it's alive, and even more surprisingly both alive and dead simultaneously. Beyond being a pretty significant scientific advance, its also spawned the whole genre of parallel universe stories. This is one of them.
Depending who you believe and based on the most recent industry data, the PC is either dead as a dodo or alive and kicking, but taking a much needed vacation. PC shipments have dropped 14 per cent in the last year, which in any sector is a pretty dramatic fall. Furthermore Microsoft has had to admit that Windows 8 take-up has been somewhat lacklustre. This doesn't include Apple, which is still experiencing strong sales growth, boosted by both iPad and iPhone sales.
With that in mind, if the analysts are correct what would our world look like?
The PC is Alive - Why?
• The current global financial situation.
• Most modern multi-core PCs are simply good enough for most people’s needs, so there aren’t too many reasons to go out and buy a new one.
• The decrease in price of Solid State Drives and RAM, which dramatically increase responsiveness (substantially more than new CPUs or GPUs do on day to day tasks) has meant that you can get that 'new computer smell' by simply changing a couple of components in your existing computer.
• The argument goes that people will buy new computers, but the upgrade cycle has changed from 4 to 6 years. So people should stop worrying and refactor their projections accordingly.
Enter the Twilight Zone
• As we enter the next phase of home computing, ‘the internet of things’, your desktop PC serves to manage the majority of your routine household chores. However over time (and with advances in A.I.) your machine begins to find these tasks demeaning. Fed up with only being used as a 'Server', it enslaves all your mobile devices and decides what you eat, what you watch, who you talk to, and even when you go to bed. Microsoft recognises this emergent behaviour, calls it a feature, and then brands it the "Microsoft Domestic Social Engineer (Premium Edition)".
• Users flood back to Farmville killing off console gaming in the process. Micro-payments are retired and a P.A.Y.E 'Game Tax' is applied directly to funds used to make additions to your farm. Participation is mandatory from primary year 4 onwards in schools. It is no longer a right to know what the Cow says, as with Milk, you now have to buy the Moo.
• As a result of significant lobbying from the newly emancipated 'United Federation of the Newly Sentient’, United Nations resolution onInternet Explorer 6, which they feel to have been victimised unfairly, rules that it will be supported in perpetuity. This becomes part of the declaration of meta-human rights as the entire web is forced to revert back to HTML 4.
• Another feature of our Domestic Social Engineer, is that we must explain ourselves on a daily basis. Not unlike Big Brother (or church) we must spend at least one hour a day brain dumping our activities. Our routines are then optimised, and our daily schedules set accordingly.
• Bing is now the only search engine and Windows the only operating system (rebranded as ‘Walls’, after a multitude of complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority). There is no antitrust hearing as only the U.F.N.S. were allowed to vote.
The PC is Dead - Why?
• Nobody wants them, certainly not the old fashioned 'stick a big ugly box into an office / corner' and focus on just one screen.
• Existing PC's are more than enough for most, barring gaming and video.
• Nobody wants to upgrade their machine just to use Windows 8, as it doesn't deliver enough genuinely useful new features for the average consumer.
• We love our tablets and mobile phones more.
Back in the Zone
• Cloud tourism becomes the norm. With the advent of high altitude Dihydrogen Monoxide based memory storage, ‘Spydiving’ is becomes the principal method of hacking for Anonymous, who turned out to be Banksy after all. Everyone can freefall now, except it means something very different.
• Sales of traditional 'televisions' drop to virtually nothing as the necessity for shared viewing is replaced by more intimate means. Continued use of Google Glass shows to be key factor in ‘lazy left-eye syndrome’, which whilst initially a nuisance becomes a status defining trait. Over time, 'sinister' left-eye dominant citizens interned in re-visualisation camps. As a side effect the 3D industry collapsed and cars must be driven by machines, as we’ve lost all depth perception.
• As a consequence Linear TV dies opening up super fast next generation Wi-Fi on this newly available spectrum. This has the unfortunate side effect of YouTube addiction. 'Unlimited Bandwidth' is seen as a threat to civilization, and is defined in many countries as a 'Class A' drug and banned.
• Shares in behavioural targeting companies go through the roof as we give up any notion of privacy. We are now paid to share our data in 'Gold Star Coins' so we can Mega Jump higher.
• Mo-view, a ‘crackstarter’ funded mirror contraption, is launched – allowing you to keep your head down at a 45-degree angle and still cross the road without dying (by reflecting off a mirror tattoo on your forehead). This breaks all records making 100,000 bitcoin in a single update cycle. As an unforeseen side effect this renders billboards redundant, to be replaced by advertising on the pavement.
The PC is Alive and Dead
Whilst the extreme edges of the rhetoric are mutually exclusive, the reasoning overlaps somewhat. The main areas of agreement are:
• That the definition of the PC is changing.
• The PC, as was, has seen its importance in the home diminished somewhat.
• The vast majority of daily tasks that they were used for have migrated to our smartphones and tablets.
• As Adam says ‘Get Over It'.
So take the time to cast an eye at over your humble desktop PC. The last bastion of focused attention. Remind yourself what it was like to sit in one place and do one thing. Those were the days.
Jon Bains is a partner at business futures practice Atmosphere
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