WESTPORT, CONN. — Take a little ride with me in the Wayback Machine: it's a few decades BC, and the Romans are roamin' their far-flung empire. Friends, messengers, bearers of papyrus of all stripes bootleg the news of the day from the Forum to wherever consuls are consulting. Slaves fetch and carry and all that fine stuff. The example is set.
For a couple of millennia, not a lot really changes. Papyrus gives way to semaphores, telegraphs and telephones, and slaves are finally supplanted by servants and service personnel. Still, at the end of the day, if you have the bucks, you can conduct social affairs and obtain support for your daily needs and wants. It's just that it takes a lot of humans, as well as some risk — we seem to like to crash our horseless carriages a lot.
OK: back to the future, 10 years after. Yes, I know, Ten Years After was a rock act that played Woodstock, but that's nearly half a century ago, in an analog decade. What I mean is 10 years after today: 2026. If you think what follows is science fiction, think again. What it might actually be is set a few years after the fact. The pace of technological innovation and change is accelerating beyond anything imaginable in the pre-computer era. Bits and bytes are eating everything in their path, and regurgitating it into our world.
This is your day in 2026: The mattress of your thermally responsive bed goes from cool to warm and lifts your head, as the light in your bedroom brightens in intensity to regulate your circadian rhythm and help maintain a lean body mass index. A rooster crows from the Amazon Echo in your pillow until you raise your head. As you enter the bathroom, the toilet seat glows at a pleasant 75 degrees, and when it self-flushes, the shower automatically pulses its pre-soaped body-wash from all sides at a Bermudian 85 degrees.
Post-shower, Hobson — the robot in your walk-in closet you named after John Gielgud's butler character in "Arthur" — hands you today's wardrobe synced with the most important meetings Hobson gleaned from your Apple Watch. You grab the perfect liquid breakfast with vitamins that the smart blender has mixed up based on your mattress' readout from key glucose and metabolic readouts when you were sleeping. Bonus: the smoothie tastes of pre-washed ripe berries that were dropped overnight into the re-lined chimney flue by Amazon's drone.
The lights turn off and the thermostat lowers as you leave the house and step into the waiting driverless Uber called by the scheduler in your watch. Your Augmented Reality transitional sunglasses show the alternate route Uber is taking to skirt traffic, with an ETA of 15 minutes.
At today's WeWork office space, chosen for mutual convenience with your only in-person meeting, you use hand gestures and dictation to Facebook a dozen updates between Virtual FaceTime in which you appear through your VR glasses to be sitting next to the person on the other end of the line. Throughout the day, the chair's seat and armrests, as well as the treadmill rug, take you through your exercise regimen.
After gyroelectric-unicycling home for a fun alternative — you love that it will never allow you to tip over — you settle down in the center of your holo-theatre to eat the white pizza your auto-oven has cooked to perfection, and play the latest edition of You-Be-Bourdain Home Edition, in which you ride a virtual talking tortoise through the Galapagos. Plus you feel good about yourself, since with every minute played, a penny gets deducted from your Bitcoin account and sent to Ecuador's Kickstarter to help save native species.
In essence, your smart home and smart devices are less things than subscription services, borrowing knowledge about you and integrating it with relevant information stored in a billion corners of the worldwide meta-cloud, which unifies hundreds of aggregating corporate and government clouds, endlessly copying everything you touch and that touches you. In order to maintain a healthy balance between individualization and access to your personal data, the leaders of every nation save for North Korea, China and Russia have agreed to provide restricted access for the data you wish to protect. The universal sunshine law bares all but top-secret government data. You make sure to surf WikiLeaks every day or so just to let them know you're watching.
It's a brave new world indeed — a digitized democracy. Whether it is more a benevolent dictatorship as Aldous Huxley foresaw 2540 A.D. or, worse, a totalitarian dystopia half a millennium earlier as George Orwell imagined 1984 — more recently updated and googlarized by Dave Eggers in "The Circle" — check back with me in a few years. As Bob Dylan said, I'll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours.
Dalton Delan is an executive producer for PBS. He has received Emmy, Peabody and duPont-Columbia Awards.