Firing up the future
As part of my participation in the FiRE Conference, I was privileged to take part in a panel presenting “visions of the future”. I was the last in line of a group of 6 speakers and must confess to feeling somewhat humbled and prosaic after listening to my fellow panellists speak about providing clean water to a billion people who don’t have access to it today and how that can transform lives, or about creating technologies that will allow human beings to live up to 150 years old!
Nevertheless, my observations over the last while have caused me to form a view that perhaps, despite the current state of the world economy, there are grounds for optimism in the future. Over the last 40 to 50 years the global economy has experienced unprecedented growth and that has been, in a large measure, due to the productivity improvements generated by waves of innovation in computing and communications. I have come to the view that we are about to see a new round of productivity improvements, again underpinned by the following ICT developments:
- Cloud services: While cloud is the hyped up buzzword de jour, the fact is that it is bringing the sort of productivity tools that have previously only been available to large corporations, to the masses. It is going to extend the range of productivity improvements and also the number of organisations and people who benefit from it, by enabling the outsourcing of IT complexity
- Machine-to-Machine (M2M) Communications: A whole new generation of sensors that can measure everything from the vital signs of people, to the environment, to the state of infrastructure – is emerging and these are all able to communicate thereby potentially enabling the measurement and control of everything. Coupled with the latest buzzword of “Big Data” - the computing and analytical techniques to enable this new flood of new data to be used effectively for everything from optimising operations to targeting customers – the impact will be enormous efficiency gains.
- Unified Communications: The widespread adoption of high speed, media-centric, broadband – both fixed and wireless – and stunning new screen technologies, are enabling effective distribution of the workforce from home to another country, thereby changing patterns of work, reducing commuting and enabling a global talent pool.
However, being an engineer, I had to end with a caveat: the biggest technology challenge facing ICT technology adoption this decade is portable power solutions. I have yet to find the data (if anyone out there has it, I would love to see it) but my anecdotal view is that the rate of improvement of battery life is linear and the demand for portable power solutions is growing exponentially (somewhat akin, and probably related to, what is happening with network capacity).