Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Predicting the Future Again

In keeping with the theme of past predictions of the future, here's one more. I wrote this as a FaceBook "note" in December 2009, just over 5 years ago...

A Few Tech Predictions for "beyond 2010"
Deke Kassabian - December 24, 2009

At the end of every calendar year, the IT community tends to share predictions for technology for the coming year. It's the subject of many late December trade press articles, and a New Year's tradition. Those who make predictions sometimes review the accuracy of predictions made in the past. But why should tech pundits have all the fun? Let's join in.

What follows are predictions of mine for technology: not for next year, but for 2011 and beyond. These aren't areas in which I'm an expert, and they aren't things I've carefully researched. This is just for fun and obviously I could be way off base! The predictions that follow are based on some reading of scholarly engineering journals and also popular IT trade press (print and audio), some conversations with colleagues from around the country in multiple disciplines, and a little of my own thinking to synthesize it all.

I predict that the following technology developments will happen during the next decade, some a lot sooner than others. Don’t bet your retirement fund on any of these, but give them a read, tell me what you think, try your hand at a few predictions and share them, and have some fun.

Happy New Year!

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(1) Robots among us

I'm picking the most exciting and outlandish of my predictions as my first: That robots get to be way more common place as an element of our technology.

Now, we know that there are many things already in reasonably broad use today that can be called "robots." Roomba floor cleaners, for example, have been around for years. But I think that when most people think of "robots" they think of Sci-fi movie robots or Rosie from the Jetsons -- something that stands and maybe walks and talks and responds to voice commands and looks vaguely humanoid in its size and/or shape. And my prediction is that these cooler robots are coming.

Close to home, in our own Engineering School, The GRASP Lab (see
http://www.grasp.upenn.edu/) does amazing things with robotics, including robot motion that can handle inclines, irregular terrain, and even being pushed or bumped.

Commercially, Honda has the Asimo (see http://asimo.honda.com/). FujiSoft Inc and others are following suit. These companies have robots that stand and walk and can be programmed to move in ways we expect "movie robots" to move. Some of this stuff is commercially available now, though still a little expensive.

So, I think that impressive robot motion is clearly well on its way. What about interactivity? The fact that my car’s GPS device and my smart phone are (slowly) becoming better at interactive voice response tells me that the technology is coming along and may not be incredibly expensive. If a $500 (unsubsidized price) smart phone can do it, why not a $5,000 robot? But beyond just interactive voice response, robots may, even in the relatively short term, offer some visual feedback reminiscent of emotion. For robot development that may truly excite you -- or maybe creep you out -- check out Hanson Robotics (http://www.hansonrobotics.com/), developers of technology that bring facial expression and "attitude" to robots.

Allow me to now put a finer point on my prediction: maybe we won't all see a robot in every home and office in just a few years, but encountering a semi-autonomous, mobile, interactive humanoid robot a few times a year will I think be common for people in urban environments relatively soon.

Time frame: 2013-2015


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(2) The Kindle and today's iPod fade

It has been really interesting to watch the growth of the e-book reader space. The Kindle became the first big-dog to the market and then the Sony and Barnes and Noble entries expanded that market. Most of us have experienced them, either by becoming owners of the technology or by trying out a friend's shiny new device.

My prediction is that the dedicated single purpose e-book reader will have a short life as a general interest device and will fade to a niche device for a much smaller community of users. My bolder prediction is that dedicated mp3 players like conventional iPods will do the same thing. The reason, in both cases, is that I think capacitive touch devices like today's smartphones (think iPhone and iPod Touch, or Droid), and tomorrows larger-screen tablet devices, will supplant them. Smart phones and future multi-media tablets promised by big players like Apple and Microsoft, and smaller players like Joo Joo (nee Crunchpad) and Notion Ink Tegra, will be able to function as an e-book reader or an mp3 player, but will also do much more. Voice calls, video calls, web browsing, TV and movie watching, organizing and sharing photo libraries, and much more, become natural on these devices. Having separate, dedicated music or book devices will only make sense if their user experience is much, much better, or if none of the tablets are any good or all of them are overpriced. And I don't think that will be the case.

Time frame: 2011

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(3) SSD for serious laptops

This one is a little simpler and maybe a little more obvious. As memory continues to get cheaper, and as people continue to gravitate to laptops over desktops, fast boot and fast wake will be differentiators at first (and perhaps we’re already at this point) and expected soon after. So high-end laptops will move to Solid State Disk (SSD) for their primary storage, followed soon after by the mid-range. Prohibitively expensive for many now, it's just a matter of time for this stuff to get cheap. Conventional spinning disk drives for Netbooks and very low-end laptops will still make sense. SSD will be the choice for mid- to high-end laptops.

Time frame: 2012

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(4) The “Clouds” are clearing

To borrow terminology from Gartner, and apply it to this year's biggest buzz-phrase, the slide from the "Peak of inflated expectations" into the "Trough of Disillusionment" is about due for Cloud Computing.

Cloud Computing as a service offered by some industry players is a very interesting tool that looks like it can be used strategically. But the assumption that it is the solution to a long list of IT woes, and a transformational technology to be broadly applied comes from, in my opinion, a misunderstanding of what Cloud Computing really is. This seems especially true within Higher-Ed.

Over the next several years there will be some outsourcing of email that will be mis-categorized as cloud computing (when it really is tactical outsourcing). In some cases, the use of ad-supported and otherwise free commodity web-based services will be mis-categorized as Cloud Computing. For other uses, the realization that it isn't free and it can be somewhat brittle will hit some of us over the head.

But then some enterprises will carefully study and understand the Cloud technology that is really available, will consider policy and law as it applies to services and data and will navigate the complexities of the SLAs, will do real ROI analyses for services that are not free, and will deploy services based on Cloud Computing -- some successfully and some not. As that happens, Cloud Computing will "level off" into its rightful place in the Gartner "Plateau of Productivity" and become one of many tools that the best IT shops will be able to use strategically and effectively.

Time frame: 2012

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(5) 3D printing comes home (or at least to the small office)

3D printing, already in use at Penn at the School of Design and perhaps elsewhere, is the process of building up 3D objects through the printing of successive layers of plastic or other materials. The printer gets a 3D specification as input and literally prints out a 3D object.

This technology is very valuable for prototyping newly designed objects, but it might also turn out to be a handy way to get small and simple replacement parts in a hurry. Imagine printing a camera lens-cap, a battery cover, small toy parts, and more. Rather than writing to the manufacturer to buy something that costs more to ship than to make, the manufacturer could allow you to replace the parts yourself (and fully at your cost).

3D Printers are available today in the $10K-$20K range (and of course at much higher cost, too), with some new entries showing up at around $5K. If the price gets closer to $1,000 soon and $300 eventually, and if product manufacturers end up liking the idea of making some of their replacement parts available as specifications for home printing, these interesting devices could become a lot more common.

Time frame: 2015

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(6) Cars that drive themselves

Really, truly, drive themselves. You sit there and read the newspaper (if newspapers still exist).

Several times over the last decade, teams from around the world competed in the DARPA Urban Challenge in which vehicles navigated and drove entirely on their own with no human driver and no remote control. The results so far are mixed, but that there are any successes at all is really quite impressive.

This one comes with a lot of anxiety. Would YOU get into a car that a machine was driving? Knowing all you know about the rate at which computers and other automation systems fail? Would you get in and trust your life and the lives of your loved ones to a non-human? Not today you wouldn't, and neither would I. But some day I think you will. In fact, you already do something like this all the time. Elements of air travel and even elements of car travel already depend upon technology in ways that have crept in over time. When technology works very reliably for a long period of time, we begin to trust it.

The pieces to make this real already exist in rudimentary form. In fact they are already commercially available. I know I’m oversimplifying, but … (GPS) + (Cruise Control) + (External proximity sensors) lead to self driving cars. Again, I’ll grant that there’s more to it than that. But how much more? Some high-end cars already have on-board systems that allow them to self-park. Others are starting to have crash detection systems that allow them to respond to imminent impact in ways that minimize passenger injury. Isn’t all that the beginning of self-drive?

Time frame: 2020 for the first workable self drive concept car from a major car manufacturer. A while longer before they are driving down your block.

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(7) FAX will still be a technology in somewhat common use.

Really.

Time frame: 2020

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Predicting the Future, Part 5

Between 1998 and 2003, a group of IT staff members at Penn worked together to produce technology vision and strategy documents called PennNet-21. There were 3 editions, published in 1998, 2000 and 2003. Each explored relevant technologies and the steps we hoped to take to deliver better services to our user community. 
As one small part of this effort, I wrote vignettes that helped to describe how future technologies could play a role in improving common workflows. I found them fun to write and fun to look back upon now. There were five in all, and I have been publishing one every few days here in this blog, word for word as they appeared at the time. 
I invite you on a trip back to a “future as seen from the past” in these 5 PennNet-21 stories. As you read them, try to remember the actual technology of the time – a time before smartphones, generally before wireless networks, and before many of the things described were at all possible.
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From PennNet-21 3rd Edition, 2003
“Never Down And Out - a story set in the not too distant future (2003)”


Elizabeth, a Wharton MBA student, was sitting in her off-campus apartment living room listening to music and writing a paper on her laptop when the power went off suddenly. Before she could locate the matches and candles in the kitchen, the lights came back on, so she walked back toward the living room and glanced into the back of the hallway closet where her home network equipment showed the flashing lights of a reboot. The closet held the only network wiring, connecting a file server and a wireless access point to the 1 Mb broadband router that connected her home network to the Internet. 

Within three minutes, her personal file server was up and had established time synchronization with Penn's networked timeservers, and the rest of the networked appliances on which she relied began to restore their time and configuration from her file server. Less than a minute later, her personal video recorder was set once again to tape a show on the Discovery channel later that evening, and her networked digital music player which stored over 96 hours of high quality music and played it through her home stereo. picked up right where it left off when the power went out, playing Beethoven's seventh symphony, third movement. 

Her PDA and MP3/MPEG player, which never noticed the power blink since they run on batteries, each checked in briefly with her laptop (which had reverted to battery in the power blink, but was now back on AC power). A few news articles traveled quickly over her home wireless network. 

Elizabeth briefly thought once again about a home UPS, but decided, as she had before, that she was getting along well without spending the extra money. After all, recovery had taken less than five minutes, with no loss of data and no manual reconfiguration of the appliances or computers. Only her old microwave oven was flashing "12:00." 

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Story1 / Story2 / Story3 / Story4 / Story5 /
The above appeared as a "PennNet-21 Story" in the 2003 publication PennNet-21 Third Edition. This is the last of the group. Some of what appears in the story may seem corny, some of it describes technologies that we really did have or came to know, or that are now coming of age. Please leave a comment to let us know what you think, and please go back and read the other PennNet-21 stories if you haven't already seen them.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Predicting the Future, Part 4

Between 1998 and 2003, a group of IT staff members at Penn worked together to produce technology vision and strategy documents called PennNet-21. There were 3 editions, published in 1998, 2000 and 2003. Each explored relevant technologies and the steps we hoped to take to deliver better services to our user community. 
As one small part of this effort, I wrote vignettes that helped to describe how future technologies could play a role in improving common workflows. I found them fun to write and fun to look back upon now. There were five in all. I am in the process of publishing one every few days here in this blog, word for word as they appeared at the time. 
I invite you on a trip back to a “future as seen from the past” in these 5 PennNet-21 stories. As you read them, try to remember the actual technology of the time – a time before smartphones, generally before wireless networks, and before many of the things described were at all possible.
______

From PennNet-21 3rd Edition, 2003
“Ease of Access - a story set in the here and now (2003)”


Ernesto, a GSFA faculty member, was working from home, as he often did, sitting at his computer desk. He was speaking in a quiet voice and at a normal pace, watching his words appear as text on the screen. He was in a text-based chat session with his colleague Dinah, who was in her office at Penn.

The chat software recognized that the connection was good enough to support a voice call, and suggested this option to both parties. When they accepted, the chat session was replaced with a voice call almost without delay. Dinah picked up a telephone receiver on her desk, but Ernesto just continued to speak and listen through his headset, smiling as he thought about the easy transition. Not all of his colleagues appreciated the technology that made this sort of thing possible, but Ernesto surely did.

During the conversation, Ernesto selected a document with his mouse and allowed his computer to share it with Dinah's. They discussed some proposed changes, and then saved the updated document on Ernesto's computer, with a copy to Dinah's.

After they said goodbye and ended the session, Ernesto checked his University voice-mail box, again using the same headset. He was just finishing up and switching over to listen to some of his favorite music on his MP3 player through the headset when the doorbell rang. "Can't get this one from here here!" he thought, laughing to himself, and backed his wheelchair away from his desk with his good left hand, slowly moving towards his front door.

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Story1 / Story2 / Story3 / Story4 / Story5 /
The above appeared as a "PennNet-21 Story" in the 2003 publication PennNet-21 Third Edition. Some of it may seem corny, some of it describes technologies that we really did have or came to know, or that are now coming of age. Please leave a comment to let us know what you think, and check back soon to read the last of the PennNet-21 stories.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Predicting the Future, Part 3

Between 1998 and 2003, a group of IT staff members at Penn worked together to produce technology vision and strategy documents called PennNet-21. There were 3 editions, published in 1998, 2000 and 2003. Each explored relevant technologies and the steps we hoped to take to deliver better services to our user community. 
As one small part of this effort, I wrote vignettes that helped to describe how future technologies could play a role in improving common workflows. I found them fun to write and fun to look back upon now. There were five in all. For the next few days I’ll publish one every day or so here in this blog, word for word as they appeared at the time. 
I invite you on a trip back to a “future as seen from the past” in these 5 PennNet-21 stories. As you read them, try to remember the actual technology of the time – a time before smartphones, generally before wireless networks, and before many of the things described were at all possible.
______

From PennNet-21 2nd Edition, 2000
“Virtually There - a story set in 2004”


Penn Mathematics Professor Gerald Halford is reviewing a colleague's journal paper on a graph theory problem so complicated it is virtually impossible to visualize. With the aid of tele-immersion virtual reality conferencing, the professor is "meeting" his Russian colleague in a virtual space where images of the problem are displayed in three dimensions. Since neither is fluent in the other's native language, the pair discuss the proof with the aid of near real-time language translation facilities, all while moving the complex images around in free space. As they near completion of this intense collaboration session, Professor Halford's calendar program notifies him that he has a class to teach in 15 minutes; he realizes that he'll never make it to the classroom across the city in time! Luckily, he has a solution in mind that has worked well for him in recent weeks.

Third year graduate student, Stuart Mathis, arrives at Professor Halford's class well over 10 minutes late, and tries to sneak into the back row. Luckily for him, it appears that his professor is remotely instructing the class using some of the new classroom technology tools, including high quality image projection and audio and shared whiteboarding. Stuart's late arrival shouldn't be noticed.

"Glad to see you could join us, Mr. Mathis," booms the Professor's voice.

Momentarily shocked, Stuart quickly realizes that the professor is probably using local cameras and video feeds to interact more effectively with the students. An Image Recognition system helps the instructor to put names to faces, matching the students to their PennCard Identification which is stored in a University database. That particular bit of technology just landed Stuart in the dog house!

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Story1 / Story2 / Story3 / Story4 / Story5 /
The above appeared as a "PennNet-21 Story" in the 2000 publication PennNet-21 Second Edition. Some of it seems corny, some of it describes technologies that we really did come to know or that are beginning to come of age. Please leave a comment to let us know what you think, and come back soon to read the next of the PennNet-21 stories.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Predicting the Future, Part 2


Between 1998 and 2003, a group of IT staff members at Penn worked together to produce technology vision and strategy documents called PennNet-21. There were 3 editions, published in 1998, 2000 and 2003. Each explored relevant technologies and the steps we hoped to take to deliver better services to our user community.
 
As one small part of this effort, I wrote vignettes that helped to describe how future technologies could play a role in improving common workflows. I found them fun to write and fun to look back upon now. There were five in all. For the next few days I’ll publish one every day or so here in this blog, word for word as they appeared at the time. 
I invite you on a trip back to a “future as seen from the past” in these 5 PennNet-21 stories. As you read them, try to remember the actual technology of the time – a time before smartphones, generally before wireless networks, and before many of the things described were at all possible.
______

From PennNet-21 2nd Edition, 2000
“Taking It With You - a story set in 2003”


Stuart Mathis, a second year Penn graduate student, is walking across campus. He's wearing tiny headphones plugged into his wireless handheld Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) in order to listen to a recording of a recent lecture by his faculty advisor with whom he has been writing a journal paper. Stuart is on his way to a lecture on the opposite side of campus in a building he hasn't been to before, so he's using a wireless PennNet campus map and locator service that also allows his PDA to show his current location, his destination, and the best path between them even taking campus construction into account!

Since he still has more than 20 minutes before the lecture starts, Stuart decides to take a brief detour off his path to the Silfen Center near Houston Hall, where he rests for a moment and uses his PDA to look over his course options for next semester via PennInTouch. He then checks his email from his PDA, and sees that he has a message from his advisor with a short video attachment in which a fine point of their journal paper is briefly discussed. Stuart views the full message and then saves it back to his office desktop computer. He then gets up to continue his walk, but not before using his PDA and the locator program to find a nearby coke machine where he can buy a cold coke electronically using his PennCard.

He still has almost 15 minutes before the lecture starts, so he decides to take his walk slowly, using his PDA to watch a few minutes of a movie he rented over the Internet the night before.

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Story1 / Story2 / Story3 / Story4 / Story5 /

The above appeared as a "PennNet-21 Story" in the 2000 publication PennNet-21 Second Edition. Some of it seems corny, some of it describes technologies that we really did come to know. Please leave a comment to let us know what you think, and come back soon to read the next of the PennNet-21 stories.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Predicting the Future, Part 1


Between 1998 and 2003, a group of IT staff members at Penn worked together to produce technology vision and strategy documents called PennNet-21. There were 3 editions, published in 1998, 2000 and 2003. Each explored relevant technologies and the steps we hoped to take to deliver better services to our user community. 
As one small part of this effort, I wrote vignettes that helped to describe how future technologies could play a role in improving common workflows. I found them fun to write and fun to look back upon now. There were five in all. For the next few days I’ll publish one a day here in this blog, word for word as they appeared at the time. 
I invite you on a trip back to a “future as seen from the past” in these 5 PennNet-21 stories. As you read them, try to remember the actual technology of the time – a time before smartphones, generally before wireless networks, and before many of the things described were at all possible.
______

From PennNet-21 1st Edition, 1998
“Business as Usual – A Story Set 4 Years Into the Future”


Robert arrives for work at his office in the Van Pelt Library about 30 minutes before his scheduled video conference call, and sets Rover, his handheld computing device, next to his desktop computer. The handheld and desktop quickly authenticate to each other and then automatically start to synchronize their data over a wireless connection.

“Any messages, Scanner?” Robert asks his desktop. “Three,” his desktop computer replies in Robert’s preferred voice, “two from callers on your critical-caller list, one that seems to be a sales call.” Robert tells Scanner to route the two critical caller messages to Rover, where he can access them wherever he might go, and to leave the sales call. He’ll pick that up later as time permits. “I reserved some video time for this morning,” Robert continues. “Bring up a screen directory, please.”

Schedule information for his reserved 4-way video conference, and three scheduled video multicasts he had indicated might be of interest, display on his screen in a window just above the rolling ticker display of university announcements. He confirms the video conference call and clicks ‘reject’ on two of the multicasts and ‘accept’ on one. Scanner completes the network reservation requests for both the video conference and the video content he requested.

One of the video multicasts Robert rejects is on a campus issue he has been actively involved with, but he can’t spare the time today. He decides to take a moment to search a likely directory for some current information on the topic and ends up listening to a short audio clip of a recent address by a university vice-president on the subject. Robert gets an idea on the subject and decides it is worth discussing with an executive member of the vice-president’s staff with whom he’s worked before. He pulls up his calendaring tool and tries to schedule a meeting with her, but her calendar is blocking requests at the moment, so he hits the voice-contact button on the screen and Scanner places an audio call. Surprisingly, the call is “picked up” quickly. Robert doesn’t know for certain whether Jean has picked up the call on a conventional telephone device or whether she is answering through her desktop computer.

“Good morning, Jean. I was hoping to get a brief meeting with you – in person rather than video conference if you can – to discuss the Locust Walk proposal. But your calendar wasn’t responding.”

“I’ve heard we’re having a server upgrade here,” Jean says, “but it should be cleared up within the next half hour. Would 2pm Wednesday at my office work for you?”

“Oh yes, thanks, that’s great. I’ll queue up a request for your calendar and it should be visible on your end when your server comes back up. See you then.”


Robert has 20 minutes before his conference call, so he picks up Rover and walks down the hall toward the coffee machine.

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/ Story1 / Story2 / Story3 / Story4 / Story5 /

The above appeared as a "PennNet-21 Story" in the 1998 publication PennNet-21 First Edition. Some of it seems corny, some of it hints at technologies that we really did come to know. Please leave a comment to let us know what you think, and come back soon to read the second of the PennNet-21 stories.