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Looking ahead

By Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 3, 2000

In 1999, the attempt to explore Mars with the Polar Lander failed. By the end of the 21st century, though, humans might be living there.

That's a prediction from associate professor Dava Newman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which asked some of its faculty to peer into the future. Here are some highlights:

"In the 21st century, information technology will be used to make machines serve people rather than the other way around -- which is what happens today, when noble educated humans like you obediently press phone buttons in response to a litany of queries dispensed by hundred-dollar computers."

- Michael Dertouzos
director of the Laboratory for Computer Science

* * *

"Some of the fear surrounding the use of computers in schools and in the home will subside in the 21st century (as fear surrounding the telephone, the radio and television subsided in their time). This will allow people to take a clearer look at the role computers really can play as actors in our social world -- as agents, allies, advisers."

- Justine Cassell
AT&T career development professor of media arts and sciences

* * *

"Cars will become smarter -- they will automatically optimize their performance, efficiency, and emissions for given driving conditions to minimize their impact."

- Professor John Heywood
director of the Sloan Automotive Laboratory

* * *

"Almost everything that you touch will have computation in it. This means that everything -- from pens to cookware to toys to dog collars -- will be customizable, upgradable, and in communication with other things around it."

- Lynn Stein
associate professor of computer science and engineering

* * *

"People who will tell you what the 21st century is going to bring will probably lie to you about other things as well. With that caveat, I think it highly likely that we will be astounded by great discoveries in biology, including a much better understanding of how the human brain works."

- J. David Litster
vice president and dean for research and professor of physics

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