Washington -Computers are hi-tech, right? Our children may not see it that way. The next generation of digital devices will be hidden, says Tom Chatfield, bringing both benefits and dangers. The author Douglas Adams once made a witty point about technology: the inventions we label “technologies” are simply those which haven’t yet become an invisible, effortless part of our lives.

“We no longer think of chairs as technology,” he argued. “But there was a time when we hadn’t worked out how many legs chairs should have, how tall they should be, and they would often ‘crash’ when we tried to use them. Before long, computers will be as trivial and plentiful as chairs and we will cease to be aware of the things.” Adams’s prediction was prescient. Computers have been such a prominent, dazzling force in our lives for the past few decades that it’s easy to forget that subsequent generations might not even consider them to be technology. Today, screens draw constant attention to themselves and these high-visibility machines are a demanding, delightful pit into which we pour our waking hours. Yet we are on the cusp of the moment when computing finally slips beneath our awareness – and this development will bring both dangers and benefits.

Computer scientists have been predicting such a moment for decades. The phrase “ubiquitous computing” was coined at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in the late 1980s by the scientist Mark Weiser, and described a world in which computers would become what Weiser later termed “calm technologies”: unseen, silent servants, available everywhere and anywhere. Although we may not think about it as such, computing capability of this kind has been a fact of life for several years. What we are only beginning to see, however, is a movement away from screens towards self-effacing rather than attention-hungry machines.