Half a century ago, life was far simpler. Modern and affluent household barely had either a Murphy or Philips Gramophone for playing records from “His Masters Voice” (HMV) with a logo of a dog listening to a phonograph.People bought pins to play records- one pin played just one record. Steam engine run trains were the usual means of transport. Most villages lacked electricity. Kerosene lanterns were made ready before sunset. People ate supper early and retired to their beds soon after Isha prayer.BBC news on the radio at eight was usually the final activity. Telephones were very rare and a special call booking had to be done to talk to an acquaintance outside the city that made the telephone operator a very important man. Only a handful of cars and motor bikes were visible on the roads. McDonnell Douglas, Triumph and BSA were popular motor cycles while elegant and graceful American cars such as Chevrolet and Ford ruled the streets. Inexpensive and cut cost Japanese brands such as Toyota and Honda had not crowded the roads as yet.
Telegram was the fastest communication usually employed in circumstances of ill health and death. Postman was therefore a central figure in society being the bearer of messages of love, hate, opportunity, despair or grief as well as delivering money orders. He was well rewarded for his services on every visit and especially on Eid. Sui Gas was not yet available in small cities. Food still cooked on dry cow dung, wood or kerosene stoves. More affluent households used gas cylinder. Only districts had a few banks. The bank manager was a very important member of the community. Tehsildar, magistrate and local police officer were considered very high ranking officers. Private sector hospitals and clinics had not cropped up and most facilities such as X- ray machine or blood tests were only available at the District Civil hospital. MRI or CT scan had not been invented yet. Drinking water fetched from a local well and stored in mud flasks (Garha or Surahi). Refrigerators, air conditioners or water dispensers were not usual possessions and neither had Nestle mineral water flocked every shop.
Dawn of the 21st century saw a rapid boom in technology. Computers rocked the world and grew rapidly efficient and took every sphere of human life like a storm. Every machine is now controlled by a computer. Both developed and under developed countries have sent satellites in orbit. The world of Communication has been transformed over-night. Graham Bell’s invention of telephone has become a thing of the past as everyone now owns a hand held mobile device. The romance of the steam engine has been replaced by the efficiency and comfort of the bullet train. The Euro rail crossing the English channel from Paris to London has reduced the journey by many a mile. The grounded Concord could fly from Paris to New York in less than 5 hours.
The world has shrunk beyond imagination. Television technology remains in a state of rapid flux. Thousands of channels are now available via satellite on the click of a button. It has become impossible for governments to hold or manipulate any information from people at large. Whosoever now controls communication, social media or formal news networks now grips the supreme force.Only wealthy household in earlier times owned a Kodak Camera whereas today every mobile phone carries a high definition camera. Most developed cities are not under intense electronic surveillance. London has correctly been called the most watched and monitored city of the world. Every inch of every nook and corner is covered and nothing is beyond its scope. Conspiracy theorists state that these hand held devices are also tools of documenting our every move.
Where information has flooded our minds, our libraries have been deserted. Information once mined from libraries, books and encyclopedias is available at a single click from google. People are now more broad minded and well informed than ever.
Agriculture, poultry and fisheries have also witnessed a revolution. Genetically modified and altered seeds have paid dividends. Hormonal and genetic variations in poultry and fisheries have optimized production. Reportedly US scientists have developed artificial meat and it is on the cards that in ten years there would be no need to slaughter an animal.
The Japanese have been working hard to develop robots who can serve as housekeepers, waiters or sales persons. Hollywood films depicting machines taking over our cities does not seem unrealistic anymore.
Weapons and tools of war have also been altered. They have also modified the skill set required for achieving victory in combat. Technology is now the new weapon. Drones and not people go to war. Sitting conveniently in California one can easily target Afghanistan or the tribal area of Pakistan via satellite and identify and engage a terrorist. Hydrogen bombs, Neutron bombs and Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) have now led to the invention of the Patriot missiles to disarm them instead.
But this is not the end. It is just the beginning. Sociologists and Tech wizards are making daunting predictions but equally thrilling. The gasoline engine utilizing as much as 20,000 parts will soon be replaced by a 20 part electric smart engine sold with a lifetime guarantee requiring only a 10 minute replacement in case of malfunctions. Gas station will be replaced by charging stations dispensing electricity.
This is lurking to put an end to the fossil fuel industries of Coal and Oil to eternal rest. More so personal cars seem obsolete in the future as 2020 is the year when self driving cars would hit the market and it would be more convenient to call a car to the doorstep via smart phone and pay for the distance travelled only. This is hoping to drastically bring down the accident percentage from one accident every sixty thousand miles to one in six million also disrupting the Insurance business. Tech companies (Tesla, Google, Apple) are hoping to build a PC on wheels and will bankrupt all car companies. Many developed nations have already shifted households to solar energy which actually sell more electricity to the grid then they consume which is eventually sold to commercial consumers and industry. Another upside is that desalination of sea water now only costs 2kWh per cubic meter thereby costing only 0.25 cents ensuring abundance of drinking water in the future.
Perhaps the most astounding developments will take place in the world of medicine. Robotics in surgery is already taking over as most advanced hospitals are using computer calibrated robots for fine surgeries. A device called “Tricorder” is in the offing which will be able to analyze up to 54 bio markers from simply breathing into it and diagnosing almost every disease known to man. Bio engineering and genetics is another fascinating field as scientists are planning to grow human tissue in animals to put an end to illnesses like diabetes, kidney failure and heart pathologies.
Agriculture is on the brink of revolution. Aeroponics becomes more and more efficient and petri dish veal already developed is likely to reduce space occupied by livestock and provide more space and cheaper machinery for automating agriculture.
In short this is the Exponential Age and the 4th Industrial revolution is on the cards. Many old industries face extinction while new innovative ones are brewing up for the challenge. Innovation and improvisation means that Uber is the world’s biggest Cab Company without owning any cars and Airbnb is a hotel company with no properties. IBM’s Watsons already beat former champions in the quiz show named “Jeoperdy” and won first prize of 1 million dollars. We are living in a state of continuous flux and readjustment moving from one set of rules and bench marks to another.
The horizons and limits to excellence redefine every moment. I am an optimist and always see opportunities in challenges. The silver lining for Pakistan is that we have the man power, skilled labor as well as the flourishing market to encash these opportunities. It is imperative that we keep abreast of these developments and find the most efficient and effective way of utilizing our strengths to make our mark and benefit individually and collectively.
(The writer is chairman of Jinnah Rafi Foundation)