Years ago we started to see the ideas scientists had for the future of computing. These ideas were used to create the futuristic technology used in popular sci-fi series like Star Trek. In the original TV series we saw portable hand held communicators and computers which held their information on small (for the time) solid state cards.

The mobile phone finally arrived in the 80's and slowly reduced in size, whilst gaining in ability, until today we can carry small versatile mobile phones around with us that are more powerful than most computers on the market 12 years ago and able to do a wide range of different tasks, combining consumer camera, web browser and information retrieval, map guidance, portable music and video playback, as well as making audio and video calls. None of this could be imagines even when the first mobiles appeared in the 80's.

And then there is the idea of the solidstate storage. At the time of Star Trek computers were mostly large machines housed in dedicated rooms with data stored on large magnetic tapes. Now we have all but ditched magnetic removable media and nearly everything we do is stored on solidstate memory cards. Camcorders, photographs, music... it is all on memory card. The only thing left is the harddrive, and that is quickly coming to the end of its life as solidstate harddrives are developing. Still too expensive to currently fully replace traditional magnetic harddrives, they will soon develop the technology far enough for it to happen. When it does the only moving parts left in computers will be the cooling fans. Something that can be overcome I'm sure.

So, unless you consider the larger ideas of Sci-Fi with transporters and warp drive, the smaller technological advances seen in the original Star Trek series have come to pass. We still don't quite have voice control perfected yet, and it will be quite some time before we can communicate 2 way with a computer system to replace a computer screen completely for some tasks, but I'm sure it will happen.

Moving forward to next Generation and other more recent sci-fi we started to see newer ideas. Touch screen interfaces and control panels that could change their layout and function to suit the task at hand. With the iPhone, iPad and many other makes of device we are now seeing this become a reality. More and more devlices are now ditching real buttons for those of a touchscreen. This is becoming reality.

Another thing seem commonly in sci-fi is the datapad. Star Wars and Star Trek both show these being used through out their universes to hold information alongside larger computer systems and data storage locations. Again, the iPad and ebook readers are 2 devices that are now showing this idea beginning to finally become reality. We have had portable data storage pads for years in the form of PDAs like the HP iPaq or the Psion PDA, but these were more like an electronic filofax than a proper generic data pad that could be utilised for anything. The iPad and its copiers are the closest we have seen to this idea of a univeral data pad becoming real. It isn't quite there yet though. The screen is still too similar to that of a mobile phone or laptop, so cannot be used for long periods of time without creating eye strain, and this is where the ebook readers eink screens come into the picture. Unlike the iPad which needs a lot of power to keep its touchscreen working, eink screens don't. They are designed to be much higher resolution and more like a printed page, making it easy to read them in all light conditions without eye strain, and with much reduced power needs, so the battery life can be measured in weeks rather than hours. And they are now developing colour eink screens. Once they get this working, if colour touchscreen eink screens were combined with the ideas of the iPad we will have a real datapad here. With built in wi-fi, bluetooth, 3G etc it could then communicate with larger computers to share and exchange files, programs, data etc and become a true portable extension of the main static computer systems. For many, a datapad will be all they will want. Only needing to access email and internet from it, and some entertainment programs and files. It won't replace the static computer completely though. There will still be a need to use both, and just as we saw in star Trek, people will work on the main computers and download data from them into their datapads to continue away from the main computer, or whilst they are working out in the field, just as we saw with Star Trek engineers.

So what is the future of computing? Pretty much what we are seeing already. The continued reduction of separate devices and technology, merging into single universal devices that can do everything we need. Recording and playing back video, images and sound, connecting to the internet and accessing resources from information to directions and more.

But it will be some time before full convergence is realised. We still have a lot of companies developing in competition with each other on similar parallel ideas. These are pushing each and motivating them to keep developing, but there will come a point where they will all end up being and doing exactly the same thing and at some point someone is going to have to sit up and realise they are all making the same thing.

There is also the ever present idea of robots in sci-fi. Serving mankind, or becoming sentient and turning on their maker. We have had robots of a sort in industry for years. Car makers for example use them all the time throughout their production. And in the news recently they featured a hospital in the UK that uses completely automated robots for all of their mundane tasks from cleaning the floors, to taking compete control of the pharmacy stock, sorting where and how medication is stored, and automatically retrieving and delivering prescription orders as they are given. It definitely cuts out human error and reduces waiting times as there is now boredom setting in with a robot. but you have to wonder what the non-accademic sector of the population will be doing for a job in 10+ years time if all the unskilled labour is taken by robots?

So what have you seen in Sci-Fi over the decades that is now becoming reality, or you can see becoming true in the next few years?