Lesson 25 – It will change our lives

Warm up

  1. Ask students what new technologies have developed in the last hundred years. Write them on the board.
  2. Tell them to decide with their neighbors which are the most important, and why.
  3. Ask for opinions and invite comments. Use this to check or revise the language of comparison.

Main Activity

  1. Tell students they are going to read about the technology of the future. Go around the class telling students they are A, B, or C in turn. Put them in groups of three or four, with each group being all the same letter, e.g. AAAA, BBBB, CCCC.
  2. Tell them to read their text and help their group with anything they do not understand.
Imagine watching a film, but with video goggles that go around the sides of our heads too, so that we can see an image all around us like in real life. We do not watch the film from a distance, we are in It! The film, of course, is a computer image. The goggles are sensitive to the movement of our heads: the image moves when we turn our heads as it does in the real world. Built-in earphones also change the direction that sounds seem to come from as we move past objects. Gloves that can expand to put pressure on our fingers allow us to feel that we are touching objects in the virtual environment. All this already exists, so what is new?
As computer programs get faster and more detailed, much more will be possible. We already have flight simulators for training pilots, but programs will be developed for training in almost anything. We will be able to meet friends or colleagues in virtual environments: luxury conference rooms, exotic landscapes, virtual art galleries, or impossible fantasy spaces. Imagine treating phobias by allowing people to meet their fears in a virtual, harmless world. Doctors will be able to attend operations thousands of miles away, and when robot arms are developed, they will be able to actually take part in the operations. This type of remote expertise will be available to many professions.
But there is more. Experts believe that, sooner or later, the technology will be developed to allow us to link computers directly into the brain. Then everything will be possible: sights, sounds, touch, smells, tastes, even emotions. It is even suggested that we can go further still, and input memories to create completely new virtual identities. We can become whoever we want to be. We could have a whole catalog of parallel lives and personalities. The possibilities are truly endless.
We already have intelligent, automatic lawnmowers that can find their way around the gardens, cut the grass, and then find their way back to the shed and plug themselves in to recharge. There are vacuum cleaners too just as clever. At a more exotic level, there was the Mars Pathfinder robot that did its job without human help.
There are all sorts of other uses for intelligent robots that can operate with little or no human control. Dangerous or unpleasant work, like clearing poisonous waste or landmines, are obvious examples. Research is being done on a car that will
drive itself more safely than a person could. It would communicate with the other computerized cars around it and with electronics in the road to avoid accidents. Road deaths will become a nightmare of the past.
It is not just robots that are being considered, but all types of other machines carrying out a wide range of tasks. For example, the intelligent fridge that can read microchips attached to food packaging and warn you when the food needs to be eaten or thrown away. It will also reorder more food over the Internet when needed. Robots for general housework are sure to come. Honda, among other manufacturers, is researching a humanoid robot that can walk and carry things around. Some experts believe that the entire man-made world could be populated with all kinds of intelligent machines by the middle of this century.
In addition to the machines, more Intelligent computer programs are predicted: programs that can learn and eventually think for themselves. One idea in education is interactive programs. For example, imagine a history program that would allow you to talk with an artificial expert historian and ask for explanations of anything you did not understand, or a language program that speaks every known human language, and can tell jokes in them too.
Everyone is aware that technology has become able to build machines on an increasingly small scale. Today’s desktop computers are more powerful than the room-sized machines of the 1970s. Nanotechnology is a special type of manufacturing technology and, according to the experts, it is the next step. ‘Nano’ means very small, and nanotechnology aims to build things an atom at a time, exact and perfect. This will give us computers billions of times more powerful than at present, but its other uses are endless. By working with individual atoms, it is possible to make anything. The silicon in microchips is just sand with the atoms rearranged. By rearranging the atoms in coal we can make diamond. Rearranging the atoms in dirt, water and air we get rice.
Working at the level of the atom will also mean we can produce things without the pollution from today’s methods. We should be able to recycle all the waste. Manufacturing will be cheaper as a result. It should be possible to build machines that will remove the poisons from the air we breathe or the water we drink, and we can start cleaning up the environment. We should even be able to reverse the centuries of air pollution by taking chemicals out of the atmosphere.
Another advantage of working on the atomic scale is that we can build machines that can go places impossible today. Scientists are dreaming of machines small enough to travel inside the human body. They will find and destroy cancer cells, viruses or bacteria. They could heal wounds, or even replace a missing arm or a damaged heart. Some people suggest that with nano-computers, we could carry complete libraries inside our brain.
  1. What will be the main uses of the technology?
  2. Which use will bring the biggest benefits and why?
  3. What are the most surprising predictions and why?
    Discuss the questions and make notes.
  4. Which technology will bring the biggest benefits and why?
  5. What is the most surprising prediction and why?
  6. Which technology do you like the idea of most?
  7. Which technology do you think is the most likely to happen and why
  8. Which technology do you think is the most unlikely to happen and why?

Now put students in groups of at least three so that each group has a person who has read each text, e.g. ABC, ABC, ABC, ABC. Show the questions on the board and explain that students should tell each other about their text. They must work from their notes and turn their text face down so they can not read aloud from it. Ask for their opinions and invite comments.

Follow up

  • In their groups, students imagine a typical day in the future when all three technologies are in common use. They make notes about their daily routine.
  • Students describe their day to the class.
    – the most interesting
    – the most likely
    – the weirdest
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