17 Feb 2010 9:00 am   //   Filed under: Technology

It’s 2010, and the future is… databases.

Hoverboards have yet to materialize. Space travel is on the outs. Virtual reality, holograms and video phones have failed to impress. You call this 2010?! It’s like the future we were promised never arrived. So what do we have? The fruitful evolution of something utterly boring but immensely useful. Databases.

Databases used to be ponderous and difficult, and had to be accessed with extreme efficiency in mind. Remember the early days of computerized library card catalogs? How slow they were? Now think of all the computing power Facebook expends making sure our updates automatically refresh on our screens. The jump from early databases to realtime social networks is a modern wonder, like trading up from a bicycle to a battleship.

Server farms host giant databases that update instantly and replicate constantly, and that can handle as many queries as all humanity can throw at them. They move massive amounts of data using hardware and software designed to be light, cheap, fast, modular, open and scalable. So much information, organized and dispensed more quickly than a human mind can think to ask for it. Through these technologies we have Google, Facebook, Twitter, Bing, YouTube, Flickr, not to mention the networks that power our telephones and our financial system.

Ten or 15 years ago, I don’t remember anybody predicting that massive databases would be the future of computing. Maybe they did, but we simply ignored them because the idea is so boring and hard to explain. Yet here we are, and we’re just getting started. Programmers and engineers everywhere are working to take all these database components and snap them together. Where are the sources of real-time data? How can you collect and organize that data? What two pieces of data become shockingly useful when married together? How do we make 2 + 2 = 16? If you have an idea, buy a book, learn a coding language and get started. For the first time, there’s computing power to spare.