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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Technology Day

Once a semester, in my writing class, I attempt to share some of the technologies that will likely change communications in the near future. The goal is to get students to be amazed at what is coming. These are not theoretical ideas, but technologies that already exist, though not available or not reaching their full potentials.

We then discuss the likely ramifications of the technologies. I am amazed how much we become futurists, together, in the classroom, discussing how the world of communications will be different in 1-20 years.

What technologies would you add to/remove from the list?

This semester we discussed:

1. Aggregators like iGoogle: http://www.google.com/ig

Aggregators are a single customizable web interface which draws feeds (content put online that is regularly updated) from many different locations to one. They make it so a user can go to one location online to access all desired content instead of going from one website to another getting updates.

2. Second Life: http://www.secondlife.com/

Second Life is an online user-created 3D environment where people create and control avatars (characters or representations of themselves). I like to say that in Second Life you can do everything that you can do in you real life, plus three: you can fly, teleport, and come back to life after dying (then I repeat this three or four times throughout our discussion, so the concept sinks in). All major organizations likely have a presence of some kind in Second Life. People make real money by doing services in Second Life, including receiving endorsements and sponsorships from real companies.

3. CNN’s iReport: http://ireport.cnn.com/

Launched in August 2006, iReport was the first of its kind. People are invited to submit their own stories, images, and videos and if CNN uses them, they get recognition as an “iReporter.” Check out CNN's iReport location in Second Life: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XXK96XO2K0

4. Google Wave (canceled in August 2010): http://wave.google.com/about.html

This is a fun technology to talk about now, not for the potential, but for why it never took off … why it was a confusing solution to a problem most people did not have. The ability to combine email, chats, and real-time document creation into a replayable video just was not really desired. Many, like me, tried to employ it in various settings, but it always felt forced as if we were using it just for the sake of using a new technology, hoping to see the point soon.

5. Broadcast Holograms: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7fQ_EsMJMs

Debuted on U.S. election night, Nov. 4, 2008, this hologram technology allows two people any where in the world to appear as if they are in the same room. It was so convincing that, based on feedback from test audiences (who could not tell the real person from the hologram), a bluish halo and red circle around and beneath the hologram was added to identify the hologram. No longer can we trust that people in live broadcast videos are actually together.

6. Eye Projection: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9KPJlA5yds&feature=related

I first saw this technology demoed when I was a grad student at Indiana University in 2001. One of the inventors was showing a group of education student what just-in-time training would be like in the future. We were amazed. He told us that soon this technology would be available to consumers, but for now the military was the only organization who had it available to them. I find it interesting that I have not seen this technology available for public use yet. He also told us that soon users would not need to use glasses, because contact lenses could be used which would beam the augmented reality graphics right onto the retina. I have looked into the patents and they are in effect for the glasses and contact lenses. I'll never forget the students' faces when the inventor actually said, “So billboards will be catered to each of you based on past purchases you've made … and if you don't want to see any white people or women throughout the day, you just program the technology to do this.” Think of the ethical questions with such a statement.

7. Mind Control Toys: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8STHiP7HZY

I first was exposed to the concept of measuring brain waves and using them to cause motion when I saw a PBS special in February 2004 on using machines to overcome blindness. Near the end of this program there was discussion of the experiments being done on monkeys where the monkey learned to control electronic devices simply by thinking about it ( http://www.pbs.org/wnet/innovation/transcript_episode2.html ). Then a few months later I saw a follow-up special where there was discussion of using miracle stem cells to overcome nerve and muscle damage, including on paralyzed individuals. ( http://www.pbs.org/wnet/innovation/transcript_episode6.html ). It was not much of a leap for me to connect the two and realize that if we could get humans to control electronic devices simply by thinking about doing so, we could not only mechanically overcome paralysis, but we could control the way we communicate with the world. Imagine combining mind control technology with holograms, Second Life, and eye projection technology. Wow.

8. Witricity: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CH6U1eyrsHY

This may be the most life-changing technology of our generation. It is the ability to turn electricity into magnetism and then back into electricity over a range of about six feet. All one needs, basically, is a coder on one end, which turns regular electricity into magnetism, and a decoder on the other end, which turns magnetism back into electricity and into which the electrical device is plugged. In essence, this means exactly what the name suggests: wireless electricity. It is not the charging of batteries without cords, which is becoming popular now, but it is literally always being plugged into power without having to use cords. In time, this technology will be improved upon so that the power transfer and range increases enough to power most everyday electrical devices in a practical manner, and even combustion engines will be changed over to electrical engine because of this technology (cars, lawn mowers, etc.). We discussed in class how this will change the auto industry since the coders could be built into the infrastructure—like roads and parking lots—so that when the car, equipped with the decoder, passes over them, it will receive power. This discussion shifted away from the use of fossil fuels in engines to how we might produce electricity to run the engines. What are the implications of such drastic changes in electrical power?

9. Google Voice: http://www.google.com/googlevoice/about.html

Google Voice has completely changed how I communicate at an individual, and sometimes mass, level. I can easily archive all email, text messages, and voice messages (with automatic, near-instant, transcription that's pretty good). These can be searched easily for later reference. Phone conversations can be recorded. All phones I use are synced to one phone number. All of my contacts are synced across all communication devices. And, all contacts can receive an individualized voice message. This is powerful for me. Couple that with the iPhone Google Voice application and it is all mobile.

10. Livescribe Pens: http://www.livescribe.com/

There are now two types of smartpens by Livescribe that can sync audio to the written word: the Pulse and the improved Echo. I was an early adopter of this technology since a colleague of mine, Andy Van Schaack, is the Senior Science Advisor of the company and pitched the product to me before the launch. I use my Pulse all the time. For meetings and conversations, the ability to record them and go back and review the text replayed in the order I write it and synced with the audio is invaluable. I get told all the time, “Wow, you take great notes.” when I am asked to recap a meeting or discussion (well, it is because I recorded it). I love being able to archive the notes and audio and having my bad hand-writing be optical-character-recognized so I can search the text. I even used it in my classes, where I had a student record the discussions then I uploaded them for distance students to have access. I was interviewed for my use of the pen, because I was the creator of the Livescribe Discussion Group in Facebook ( http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=50972165986 ). When the final article came out, my quotes got cut, but the author said he may include them in a follow-up article ( http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/19/magazine/19Livescribe-t.html ).

11. Google Goggles: http://www.google.com/mobile/goggles/#text

Though Google Goggles currently only runs on the Android phone, several new applications are popping up with similar technologies for other devices, like the iPhone ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2uH-jrsSxs&feature=related ). This is an amazing blend of real-world, real-time inputs with augmented, overlay realities and searches. This ability will completely change communications. Imagine, for example, when promoting an event or product release of some kind and people walk by wanting to know what is going on, they will be able to launch Google Goggles (or the comparable app), hold up their mobile device, and receive real-time information about what is happening and how they can get involved. Just think of the possibilities.

12. Spaceports: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ox0UEDtGZk

Private, commercial spaceflight is now an option, thanks to several billionaire investors. Well, technically, it will be a few more years before it is available to the public. Imagine, though, being able to cut long distance travel to a tenth of what it currently is. So, a flight between Los Angeles and Paris would take under two hours. By using a small rocket ship and suborbital flight, such trips will become commonplace. And, why are current airline companies not jumping into this industry? … probably the same reason railroad companies did not jump into the airline industry (a miscalculation on what their industry actually is: “You're in the travel industry, not the railroad or airline industry, so look to the future of travel … here it is.”).