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!

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.

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