Technology Time Machine 2016

The Technology Time Machine 2016 looked at technology that may change the landscape in 2030. Credit: IEEE

It is not about predicting the future, it is about building it. Sure, no-one can single handed build the future but each one of us, potentially, can influence what will be coming, by strongly committing to what should be coming.

Furthermore, if you really want to contribute to building the future you need to dream about it but your dream has to have roots in what can be achievable. Now this is the most difficult thing to know: what can be achieved.  And this, in a nutshell, was at the core of a two day discussion at TTM 2016 on what technology, and its evolution, can enable.

Here, and in the coming posts, a quick summary, with my thoughts.

Today’s infrastructure enabling tomorrow’s Innovation

Infrastructure has to be understood in a broad sense and as an enabler comprising equipment, software and minds. Different infrastructures have one characteristic in common: they are long lasting. Standards have this characteristic and they are affecting many endeavors and their outcome. Infrastructures also have another common denominator: they are mostly transparent to the user, in spite of their complexity and the time it took to build them. Looking back we see that in different fields, be it Internet, rubber, automobile, television, vaccine the time from the idea to the actual deployment, and use of the supporting infrastructure, is measured in decades, 2-4 decades.

What would you think you would be able to ask, as feasible, in 2030? (Hence, start by getting rid of teleportation, time travel and the like.)

One of the “feasible” desire that came up in the discussion was to enrich our senses, expanding onto what some animals seem to be able to sense. It clearly has to be feasible, since it is already been done by other creature, so why not us with a little help from technology?

In reality answering this question is difficult and it is part of the difficult time we have in predicting the future and the innovations that will shape that future. Here a list of wishes in 10 different areas, as illustrated by Alicia Abella, AT&T:

Energy – I wish I could see solar panels on every rooftop in NYC

Solar panel harness energy from the Sun, that’s good but then you need to distribute it, to store it

Materials – I wish I could make a battery from cellulose

Technology in the battery area is lagging behind our growing needs, if we were to find new materials that can provide energy density, lower cost on the environment….wow

Industrials – I wish in a world with no traffic accidents

US traffic is safer than other Countries traffic. Moving to become even better is a challenge

Consumer Discretionary – I wish cars become self driving cars

It is realistic, we see it being experimented today but today’s approaches may not scale up.

Consumer staples – I wish I didn’t have to go to the supermarket

I can buy on line but I would like to have on line the kind of experience I have when touching the food, smelling it…

Healthcare – I wish I had early diseases diagnosis through continuous health monitoring

A good deal of technologies are already available, and more will become available.

Financials – I wish could live in a recession-proof economy

New techniques for financial engineers

Information Technology – I wish for a computer assistant that could intelligently assist me

We already have (smart) assistants, we need to have seamless interaction and be able to trust my assistant. We are not there yet.

Telecommunications – I wish feel someone’s presence without the need for physical proximity

Telepresence should move from showing people and ambient to making you feel you are there and they feeling you by their side. 

Utilities – I wish I lived in a world with no garbage

A big reduction of garbage would be a very good first step. In order to achieve that you need to step back and take a look at the whole design, manufacturing and usage of products.

One of the big challenges laying ahead is to create an infrastructure, leveraging on the present one to manage and have seamless connectivity across billions of devices that have a “soul” of their own (autonomy, intelligence). The Cloud is a centralized response, but it has to confront with computing at the edges. Cloud computing and edge computing will need to be woven together in a seamless fabric.  This is not straightforward, we need to answer a few questions, like:


  •           should the edge devices be treated as Nodes of an existing Cloud or should they be seen as micro clouds?
  •           in the execution of a task what should take place in the Cloud and what at the edge?
  •           where should the cloud deploy edge services, among the million of devices how do we select the ones relevant for the service?

The above questions have, at least to me, a strong biased perspective. They stem from the assumption that someone has to take such a decision and, implicitly, that “someone” is a toda’s network Operator. To me the future will not benefit from the engineering wisdom of today’s network Operators. The overall infrastructures will be built and operated in a much more decentralized way. Is this feasible from a technical and economic point of view? My answer is yes, and not just because we are already seeing examples today in the way services are built by a multitude of players and networks (at the edges) are more and more built outside the control of network Operators. The need for a centralized control stems, mostly, from the economic need to minimize resources (and their individual and overall cost). Technology has slashed cost to the point that it has become (almost) irrelevant along with the need for efficiency. Economics is driving a multitude of offering and many will find niches to succeed and part of that will also be taking care of interoperability with other niches, thus getting around the need for a centralized control. This does not imply that we won’t have big, high capacity infrastructures, just that they will be basically au pair with the multitude of the micro infrastructures at the edges.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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