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The unexpected future

14 June 2017

The Wednesday edition of Aardvark tends to be published a little later than those editions published on other days of the week.

Why is that?

No, I don't choose to sleep in on a Wednesday. It's actually because I am involved in a global webcast for sUAS News on matters relating to drones and drone technology.

I'm part of a group of industry-players who get together and discuss the issues of the week, new technologies, stories in the news, regulations and emerging trends. That panel consists of people from around the world and today we had folk from South Africa, France, the USA and (of course) New Zealand.

There was a lawyer, several people from drone companies, myself and someone involved in search and rescue operations using drones.

It was after today's webcast that I realised just how much the field of telecommunications has changed in my short lifetime.

I fondly recall that when I was at primary school, our class was given a tour of the local Post Office.

The thing that fascinated me most was the telegram section -- where a group of women sat in front of teletype machines, keying in the cryptic messages that had been handed to them by front-counter staff. Boy, if you think that abusing the English language in order to fit messages into the smallest character-count is something that began with txt-messaging you're wrong. Telegrams were the first incarnation of this trend.

While this group of ladies tapped away at one group of machines, another couple of machines sat on the other side of the room clattering away and spitting out a thin paper tape with just one row of printed characters on it -- and it only did upper-case. Wow, shades of the original TRS80 model 1 eh?

That tape was then run through a little glue-bath and stuck to "telegram" forms, before being popped in an envelope and sent out to the intended recipient by way of a dedicated postie.

Oh, and over in the far corner was a genuine telegraph key -- the kind which was used to do the dit-dah of morse code. Apparently that was still active and used as a backup, should the main telegraph links or equipment fail. Incredible!

Telegrams were an interesting method of communications but they often brought bad news. I can recall that my mother would shudder with apprehension on the very few occasions when a telegram was delivered to our door because it usually meant that someone had died.

Telegrams were the expensive, urgent communications medium that was without rival. Remember that back then, not everyone had a telephone and letters would take days to get from sender to recipient. A telegram could be delivered in just an hour or two, even if it was sent from the other end of the country.

Nobody could have imagined way back then that in just 50 short years, telegrams would be relegated to becoming just a note in the history books.

Today we take ubiquitous, immediate, reliable, low-cost communications very much for granted.

These days we use email or online chat to engage with people on the other side of the planet, without a thought for the fantastic advance in technology that this represents.

However, sometimes, those of us who are old enough to remember, pause for a moment and reflect on what we've achieved in the span of a single lifetime.

I have to say that even though I understand the technology and its evolution has taken place at a sometimes inexorable rate, I'm still gobsmacked at what we have achieved and the way it has changed our society.

OMG... what will communications be like in another 50 years?

Will we all be permanently "networked" at a biological level? Will we have cerebral implants that allow us to communicate with someone by simply giving them a thought?

Just as it was impossible to predict the last 50 years of change in the communications industry, I'm picking it will be just as impossible to predict the next 50 years.

Anyone care to have a go? Please place your predictions in the forums.

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