01240022After a high school field trip in the mid 1960s to see a digital computer, my electronics teacher said, “Digital computers will never last.”

“Analog computers,” he went on, “are faster, more reliable and have some practical uses besides accounting such as cannon trajectory calculations for battleships. But those digital computers like what we just saw have more than a thousand parts, any of which can break down and render the machine useless. They will never last.”

About twenty years later, the Motorola 68000 digital microprocessor hit the market. It was given that identification because it had that many transistors.

Today, the number of transistors in such devices is passing a billion.

While those numbers are impressive, there’s another change taking place that will have an even bigger effect.

For a long time, I thought that bigger provocateur of change would be the layering of software with simple operations at the base of the pyramid and, with each successive layer placed on top, growing in complexity until, at the pinnacle, you really could ask, “What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything?” and expect a reasonable answer.

But I was wrong. That too — the layering of software — is just a way of dealing with complexity.

The real driver of profound change is going to be how freely and quickly these devices communicate with each other and exchange information.

In the movie “The Minority Report”, there’s a scene where John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is trying to get away from those who know he is about to commit a murder. In the movie, he is moving down a public walkway and, every few steps, sensors in the wall and ceiling are scanning his iris, identifying him, addressing him by name and playing an advertisement tuned to his interests.

They know where he is because the interconnected network of computers that permeate that society know who and where everyone is.

As long as they can scan his eyes, they can find him.

Tonight as you flip channels on your DirecTv DVR, Roku streaming receiver, your dedicated computer/TV linked to Hulu-Plus or, tomorrow, your AppleTV receiver, remember they know what you are watching, which movies you download, when you watch them, what YouTube videos you play on the TV, what websites you visit, when your telephone rings and who is calling you, and so on.

Some TV set top boxes are even being discussed that will have a camera that watches you while you watch TV to see if you’re really paying attention and, if not, try different commercials to see what will interest you.

Does your computer have a camera? Is that computer connected to the internet? What about your cell phone? Does it have a camera and can it surf the net?

How do you know someone hasn’t hacked in and is watching you through that camera right now?

(Did you stop picking your nose?)

Big brother is doing a whole lot more than just watching you.

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