Introduction: Rhetoric and Critical Literacy
The contemporary media scene is heavily populated by magazines, books, and other publications that offer up scenarios about our technology future. Predictions that might have been dismissed as outrageous or impossible 20 years ago have recently become unsurprising. For example, Kurzweil (1999) in his book The Age of Spiritual Machines, predicted that by 2019, a $1,000 computing device will "equal the computational ability of the human brain" (p. 278); by 2029, the "majority of communication [will] not involve a human [and] the majority of communication involving a human [will be] between a human and a machine" (p. 279); and by 2099, there will be "a strong trend toward a merger of human thinking with the world of machine intelligence ... and no longer any clear distinction between humans and computers" (p. 280). Because this author was inventor of the Kurzweil Reading Machine in 1976, the developer of the first commercially marketed speech recognition system in 1987, and recipient of the National Medal of Technology in 1999, many of his readers took his views quite seriously. His book-a series of predictions supported by accounts of the history of technology development, examples of current scientific research, and deSCriptions of future time-did not at first attract widespread media attention or criticism, however.