Susan Hassler, editor for IEEE Spectrum, gave us a look at the possibilities for technology in the next 10 to 20 years in her talk on Up & Coming Technology. The subject of her talk came from the results of a survey of 700 members of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, known as the IEEE Fellows. They were asked to project out 10, 20 and 50 years on where they see potential technological advancements. The engineers balked at projecting out 50 years, but did come up with some predictions for the next 10 to 20 years. According to Hassler, the engineers were very serious about their predictions and stayed away from the sci-fi realm. For example, they did not see robotic nurses caring for the elderly any time in the near future or self-driving cars. She focused her talk on two major areas of potential advancement: extending biology and the smart interconnection of everything. The full article that IEEE Spectrum ran on the survey results can be found here.
The surveyed engineers predicted biotechnology would impact us before nanotechnology. They were particularly interested in augmenting our own biologies, ie bionic humans. These developments could be used to fix people with injuries or trauma, but they also talked about enhancing people. Artificial retinas were one example. Not only could they cure blindness, but they may also be used to detect infrared or to enhance vision in other ways.
This was the first point where Hassler began discussing RFID, which we revisited later in “Sensor Nation” portion of her presentation. RFID is a great thing for companies like Wal-mart, she said, because they can keep inventory, but if you put it in your pocket, “they can track where you are.”
She mentioned a husband and wife who planted RFID chips in their hands so they would not need to use keys or passwords. You can read more about this couple here.
There are a couple of schools in Japan where kids have RFID tags in their backpacks or on their person. When they arrive at school, an e-mail is sent home saying they arrived safely at school. (Yikes! Personally, I find this very creepy.)
Smart Interconnection of Everything
Three areas of technology converge to get to the Smart Interconnection of Everything.
- Computation and Bandwidth to Burn
- Sensor Nation
- Distributed Networks
Computation and Bandwidth to Burn
Many survey respondents (44%) predicted that in developed countries we will have Gigabit Internet access available in homes in 10 years or less. Another 45% said it will come in 11 to 20 years.
Hassler talked about a world where people have teeny tiny cameras and teeny tiny GPS sensors. Prices are falling for both RFID chips and RFID sensors. Hassler said the 1980s were shaped by personal computers, the 1990s were shaped by the Internet. “The next 20 years will be the era of sensor networks.”
Technology and other entities have typically followed a top-down, hierarchal structure. This is changing in many areas. For example, in the power industry, electrical power had always been delivered from the power source. We now have the capability for consumers to generate power during low-use periods and feed it back to the power plant for use by another consumer. Hassler saw this in the library profession as well, where users can have more of a role in library service.
What happens when these three areas converge. Hassler’s response is Google Maps, (powered by computers with large bandwidth, using satellite technology (Sensor Nation), on a distributed network.) But Hassler sees much more significant results as these three areas become bigger and seesmore convergence.
A note on Google: Hassler says Google’s search is very fast, very great. But it’s also very crude. They’re bringing audio and video into the search, “but it’s not like bringing a human being in” (hmm….like a super information-seeking librarian?) Hassler says, “When our technology starts to mimic our own abilities, we expect it to do more. ..Technologies are like extensions of ourselves, but we get disappointed when they don’t live up to our expectations.”
Hassler talked about a OptIPuter project out of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technlogy where scientists are using an enormous optical network and software that allows users to to look at multiple streams of video content in real-time to watch real-time video with absolutely no degradation (think of the jerky video you see when you’re streaming on YouTube.) I won’t go into too much detail here other than to mention that although this all seems like very high level stuff with no relevance to the ordinary user, Hassler noted that the Internet started out this way. Hollywood has been very interested in this technology as a way to delivery movies over the Internet, and this is something that can plausibly be available in households in the future.
Hassler did discuss some issues for libraries to consider amidst all this technology:
- What does it mean to be literate? It no longer means just being able to read and write. How can libraries help people become literate?
- Libraries need to think about archiving digital content. Will an academic library archive every podcast created by the class of 2007?
- Physical libraries will still have a role in building social networks.
The discussion following this presentation was very interesting. The question of cost – who will pay for all of this? Hassler says it will most likely be private industry that will see a value in making this happen. Will the data collected by private industry with this technology make it worthwhile?
A comment was made that it may increase the divide between the haves and the have nots. Hassler’s response – maybe, maybe not. She didn’t see the cost lying in the devices, but in the bandwidth. With the growth of publicly available wireless networks, it may not be as much of an issue here. The $100 laptop project has sent computers to people in developing nations, but the problem there is they don’t have a telecommunications infrastructure that supports high bandwidth.
Hassler had talked briefly about the differences between digital natives (the generation that has grown up with computers) and digital immigrants (the rest of us) which led to a question about a younger generation of technology users who are looking for instant gratification and may not be fully considering the consequences of these decisions. In response, Hassler asks, “Are they less well educated? Are they less equipped to make plans? Or do they just make them in another way?”
An academic librarian said his concern is making technology relevant for students, and he doesn’t see that the current equipment in his library is supporting this. With the proper technology, he said, these students could be in digital group study instead of going to the library for group study. “I thought that as I walked through the exhibit hall,” Hassler said, noting that she was surprised there wasn’t more technology in the exhibits. “I thought where is all that stuff?”
I will attach Hassler’s PowerPoint to this post as soon as I get it.
Filed under: nela2007 | Tagged: future, its, nela-its, nela2007, privacy, rfid, technology | Comments Off