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In depth: Technology predictions will help you avoid future shock

CIOs and other IT leaders should look to the future to win the information war being waged today. This article from Auerbach Publications looks at what's ahead in the IT world and how enterprise and employees must adapt to survive.

Predictions made 50 years ago about life in 2000—flying automobiles, colonies on the moon, and really shiny clothes—seem naively optimistic today.

The rapid rate of change in technology today makes predictions even more difficult now than it was in 1950. But according to an essay from Auerbach Publications, CIOs and other IT leaders must look to the future if they hope to survive the information war that is being waged today.

The Auerbach Publications essay “About the future,” by Vasant Raval, focuses on how tomorrow’s reality begins with the dreams of today. Raval outlines a number of emerging technology issues—from the development pipeline to the shift to the knowledge economy—and speculates on how business, economic, and social systems will need to adapt or become overwhelmed.

Raval discusses the unique pipeline used for developing technology and how the process is divided into three progressive stages:
  • Stage One: The incubator, where technological research continues for years before it becomes feasible.
  • Stage Two: Deployment, which typically does not occur until a technology is economically viable.
  • Stage Three: Human factor, which refers to the capacity and willingness to adopt a new technology.

The article offers a look at current technology in the incubator stage today, such as:
  • Three-dimensional transistors that will expand the capacity of current silicon chips.
  • A bandwidth laser that will carry more than 1,000 frequencies through an optical fiber.
  • A 3-D machine will convert digital information into a three-dimensional object.
  • Low earth orbit satellites that will keep the entire planet in constant communication.

Raval also warns of a number of challenges that will accompany technological change, including Internet taxation, privacy concerns, and a Pandora’s box of legal issues.

To read the essay, click here.

Summary prepared by TechRepublic’s Loraine Lawson.
For 40 years, Auerbach Publications has been publishing premier content for IT professionals. You can find many of its enterprise computing articles at TechRepublic. You can read more Auerbach Publications articles by clicking here.
About the future…
Vasant Raval

Thomas Jefferson once observed, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” Dreams are more exciting, and although they are often foggy, they are a crucial requirement for progress.

Dreams, creativity, and innovation are the beginning. They require not just projecting, but rather predicting, being free from known constraints, and being brave.

Predicting can also become a dubious exercise, bordering on the foolish or the outrageous. In chasing dreams that do not meet reality checks, much effort and other resources will be wasted. So, the whole idea is to balance the two. One needs to predict, without being foolhardy. Just leaning on the past, especially these days, does not get us too far ahead.



About predicting
Predictions are made for just about everything. For certain areas, such as health care, predictions are probably easier to make, for the actuarial science has matured over time.

Most assumptions can be straightforward, and projections can be linear. However, the case of technology is quite different.

What was at the center of a technology revolution in the 1970s may have had only a minor role to play in the 1980s, and what might have been a major player in the 1980s could have had very little impact in the 1990s. If the driver of change is different each time, one needs to take a nonlinear approach to predicting technology’s impact on the future.

Whereas most sectors, in their exercises in predicting, deal with the amount of change, the field of technology wrestles with not just the change, but rather the rate of change. The rate of change in technology, combined with the nonlinear movement of technological innovations, makes predicting a challenging task.

The history of predictions in information technology suggests that short-term predictions are usually optimistic, resulting in a disappointment. Long-term predictions are usually pessimistic, but they may come through more quickly than anticipated.

Finally, predictions result in different views of the same future. For example, one might predict the hardware or component view, or the software or logical view, or a view based on the communications infrastructure. Alternatively, one might look at the future in terms not of the technology itself, but rather its impact on individuals, families, communities, and economies.

Different views are important to different people; still, a main concern is that these views should be consistent and should not involve assumptions that are substantially different.

Three stages of technological development
The pipeline for developing technology is very long. For practical purposes, one may want to visualize technology’s presence in various forms at three progressive stages. The first stage is the incubator, in which technological research continues for years, even decades, before it shows operational feasibility.

The transition from the incubator to actual deployment—the second stage—is largely controlled by economics. If it is economically feasible to deploy a technology that is ready to move out of the incubator, the migration occurs.

For economic feasibility, a typical trigger that makes the difference is the volume. For example, Web-based business has become much more feasible because of the reach that the Internet offers. Aside from the economics, sometimes a development in a different technology has to occur before an already tested technology can come out of the incubator!

The final stage is defined by the human capacity to absorb technology. Even after a technology is deployed, the human factor may slow down its infusion. Not everything that is available will be instantly adopted by the society. Although online banking is available at many banks, paper checks are still around.

On the other hand, the rate of technology adoption seems to be improving. To reach the first 50 million users, radio, personal computers, and television took 38, 16, and 13 years, respectively, while the Internet took only four years!
This article first appeared in the Fall 2000 issue of Information Strategy: The Executive's Journal. It appears here under agreement with Auerbach Publications. To find out about other Auerbach publications, click here.
Factors which drive technology development
Several factors are responsible for the deployment of different technologies today. Near term, these factors will continue to dominate the forward movement of technology in use.
  • The Internet is a de facto priority-setting threshold. This is because it is a new, powerful, and complete platform to reach new markets. Therefore, it determines the volume of activity, which in turn may make the technology economically feasible.
  • Cycle time is under constant pressure. Reduction in cycle time has been a major concern of most businesses.
  • Speed—of doing almost everything—has been a vital factor. Time to market has been described as a major competitive force.
  • Telecommunications, rather than computing hardware or software, has been in the driver’s seat and will continue to occupy that position for several years.
  • The asynchronous mode of communication is gaining ground. Being able to communicate any time any place is demanded.
  • Scalability and reach are important considerations in measuring a technology’s potential.
  • Because speed, innovation, and application of technology take long lead times and require a prior knowledge base, it is necessary—almost inevitable—to form collaborations or alliances, or seek mergers.

The landscape: Today and tomorrow
The theme most talked about these days is the information marketplace created by a giant network of networks worldwide. It is rapidly changing the face of not just the economy, but society as a whole.

The marketplace has over 400 million users growing by the minute—one billion pages growing at the rate of over 15 pages per minute—and a vast array of content and tools for research, learning, and the actual exchange of goods and services. While the opportunities appear to be unlimited, the problem is twofold.

For the most part, the marketplace is still in its infancy, functioning as no more than a passive repository system, although this is changing. Moreover, the information marketplace suffers from information overload.

The challenge is in separating the wheat from the chaff. Technologically viable systems have yet to fully reflect the human side. In any case, the unstoppable revolution has begun.

Consider the example of a Christmas store near Seattle. The owner family used to run a post-Christmas sale, and in a day or two thereafter, pack and store all the leftovers for use the next year. Not any more. Last year, the store put up everything for auction on e-Bay and liquidated the inventory in two days!

While watching this revolution, a peek at the technology in the incubator reveals great promise. Under development are three-dimensional transistors, which pack in more transistors than the current planar silicon chips.

Lithography techniques are being tested using silicon-germanium to make computer chips. Optical communication will soon be making a debut at desktops, creating unprecedented speed in end-to-end communication. Moreover, a bandwidth laser is being developed that can carry 1022 frequencies through the optical fiber. Distance and bandwidth will be so cheap that usage will not be a significant cost.

In the Stanford University lab, a 3-D machine is under development. This one will fax a three-dimensional image that can be molded into a three-dimensional figure at the destination.

Imagine someone in Beijing who scans a statue of the Buddha and sends the image. The image is received by the recipient’s computer, which is connected to a laser pointing to a box full of polymer. Using the scanned image, the laser burns the image out of the raw material (polymer) in a three-dimensional form, exactly as it sits in Beijing.

The convergence of net-centric technologies
While these are exciting technologies to anticipate in the future, the convergence of net-centric technologies is happening now. Four different technologies are deployed to create the networked world:
  1. Information technology
  2. Agent technology
  3. Telecom infrastructure, and
  4. Interoperability standards

Together, these create an integrated, virtual world of data, voice, and video. Information technology consists of computer hardware, scalable software, and network management tools.

Agent technology provides filters for customizing information needs, and helps implement intelligent information-gathering agents. Wired and wireless telecom infrastructures provide telecommunications networks.

In Europe and parts of Asia, telephones are equipped to provide Internet access. For the virtual linkages, standardization becomes a critical requirement. Universal data format and file exchange standards and standardized business transaction protocols will be the rule rather than the exception.

Without these, Web-based business models cannot survive. Imagine the three automakers creating a common channel of vendors for parts and assemblies in a business-to-business model. With several thousand entities involved in the process, it would be impossible to run the enterprise without clearly understood common standards.
This article first appeared in the Fall 2000 issue of Information Strategy: The Executive's Journal. It appears here under agreement with Auerbach Publications. To find out about other Auerbach publications, click here.
Emerging technologies
While the networked world is somewhat familiar to most of us, emerging technologies may not be. One often hears about some of these, but without sufficient assessment of their potential or practicality. Specifically, a brief discussion of the following:
  • Speech
  • Bodynets
  • Virtual reality
  • Virtual augmentation
  • Nanotechnology, and
  • Low earth orbit (LEO) satellite systems

Speech recognition
Speech recognition has come a long way. People are now aware of several applications in which the use of speech technology is reasonably successful.

In providing an airline’s flight information, for example, real-time data can be pulled into the system and vocalized. Speech recognition is successful in situations in which the domain of discussion is narrow and structured—that is, in the mode of instruction rather than conversation.

It is unlikely that even a limited version of conversational application of speech will be seen in the near future. Speech-understanding systems with vocabularies of a few thousand words that stick to specific domains, continuous speech, and interactive dialog should be commercially available within six to eight years.

A related area is the development of intelligent translating telephones. The idea is to hear back the translated message, retranslated in your (host) language to verify that the meaning was preserved in the message. Applications of this nature require breadth as well as depth in vocabulary, syntax, and accents in both languages, and this takes years to develop.

The bodynet
A bodynet requires computing as well as transmission capabilities. A computer the size of a cigarette pack attached to the body works with low-power radio waves that transmit and receive messages that the sensory system of the body recognizes.

An invisible envelope around the body defines the moving bodynet. Applications of the bodynet include sending and receiving messages, monitoring vital signs, and even protecting the individual from anticipated risks. Economically feasible bodynets are years away, even if uncertainties in the system are resolved.

Virtual reality
Humans have been creating virtual reality for ages. Theater is a good example of this.

With the advance from theater to cinema, the attractiveness of the theater has not diminished. Electronic games engage concepts of virtual reality in their design. However, virtual reality applications are computing intensive and therefore limited in scope in the near future.

Virtual augmentation
In contrast, virtual augmentation, which involves superimposing virtual images on real images, has been feasible and has quickly gained acceptance, especially in medical applications such as brain surgery.

Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology, the macro-manipulation of materials at the molecular level, is much discussed these days. With this technology, a circuitry at the atomic level is closer to reality, where information can travel through solid substances without the benefit of wires. Although viable applications of nanotechnology are several years away, there already is a long list of potential uses. Examples include:
  • Nanomachines that could regenerate bone, skin, or other tissue; deliver drugs precisely to a target cell; or act as a diagnostic probe in the bloodstream.
  • Smart garments with computer power woven into the fabric, powered by body heat.
  • Paint that automatically changes color to match its surroundings.
  • Bricks that sense weather conditions and alter their molecular structure to control heat or humidity.
  • Molecular sensors to detect poison gases, chemical leaks, spoiled meat, or the first stirrings of cancer cells.

Low earth orbit satellites
Low earth orbit (LEO) satellite systems are much closer to reality. Communications technology is the latest ingredient that fires the engines of the new economy. LEO is a bold attempt to get away from land-based infrastructure to put the entire planet into a constant communication mode.

Technology and the individual
People’s lives will be affected directly and indirectly through forces created by technology—forces that are uncontrollable at the individual level. Job descriptions will continually change.

During the 1980s, career-counseling people referred to four to six career changes in an individual’s lifetime. No more. Change will be a constant determinant of job description; consequently, learning to learn will be the most important skill of thriving employees.

Flexibility—any time, any place—would be granted, but at the cost of mixing people’s private and on-the-job lives. Telecommuting is still not a very popular mode for many, but it is slowly catching on.

Oil prices seem to be never quite high enough to thrust telecommuting to its peak. Obviously, the technology for telecommuting exists; the missing ingredients include the economic forces and appropriate social engineering. I work a lot from home, but I also visit my kitchen a bit too often when working from home.

Hybrid realities are already here. One can download music, try it, and if one likes it, purchase it. Real Lego toys purchased online are supplemented with virtual Lego toys. A wide variety of distance education programs are now available, and their number is growing rapidly.

And let us not forget entertainment. For one’s golf game, automated caddies are now available; check out the right way to play a specific hole from this handy expert sitting on your golf cart! I am somewhat ambivalent on this idea, for fear that it may take the excitement and surprise out of the game, although one’s score will improve!

Finally, stay tuned for your kitchen toaster to have an IP address! It will be awhile before we see virtually integrated kitchens interacting with you to serve up your culinary pleasures.
This article first appeared in the Fall 2000 issue of Information Strategy: The Executive's Journal. It appears here under agreement with Auerbach Publications. To find out about other Auerbach publications, click here.
The corporate arena
The information marketplace has created a rapid shift into the knowledge economy. Established businesses of the industrial age are going through a major transition, and not everyone seems to be succeeding.

Knowledge-age businesses are nimble and leaner and are scaled much faster; thus, they pose a significant competition for the industrial-age businesses. The marriage of a Rolodex (conduit and the network) with content provider offers a unique synergy to both businesses; such mergers are likely to continue.

Probably, we will end with a handful of powerful players in each sector, causing the economic landscape to look like a collection of oligopolies. Of course, small businesses will continue to be born, and despite their high infant mortality rate, will be increasing in popularity.

It is clear now that the entire globe is a potential playing field for any business. Local legal, social, and institutional factors must be managed, but they are no more seen as major barriers to business worldwide. National and international laws need an extensive revision to align them with knowledge-age needs for the regulation of businesses.

Corporations that are likely to thrive in the new economy must stick with their core competencies and seek out collaborative alliances with complementary businesses. Global sourcing and global customer base are here to stay; issues and challenges are many, and new ones will surface over time. However, a return to domestic boundaries is no longer an option for a growing number of business entities.

Almost all of the foregoing is driven by technological changes. However, that should not lead us to the false perception that corporations will always be at the cutting edge of technology. Such dreams are invariably misplaced. The reality is that it costs money and effort to stay current, and it may not be essential to do so for the intended purposes. Consequently, the mosaic of mixed technologies will be a rule rather than an exception.

Socioeconomic outlook
Within five years, it is very likely that there will be a single stock market in the United States. Around-the-clock trading will be the norm, and stock prices will be quoted to the penny.

Businesses will offer mass individualization in their products and services. One will be able to order the tea or coffee of one’s choice to one’s exact specification, just as one likes it!

The knowledge age will take hold in both the tangible and intangible goods industries. Employees who add high value and are difficult to replace will be the most prized resource of a business.

Telecommuting will gain more ground and, hopefully, this will ease somewhat the burden on the physical infrastructure during the next 15 years. De-urbanization of the community is a likely consequence of there being an increasing number of telecommuters, assuming that those who telecommute would find the choice of staying away from the city appealing for their lifestyles and needs.

Obviously, technology alone is neither the brush nor the color that selects the painting. Add to the scene the aging population, for example, and one finds that there is more to it. Now add the new issues and challenges that these drivers of change will create, and one hopes for a genuine balancing act.
This article first appeared in the Fall 2000 issue of Information Strategy: The Executive's Journal. It appears here under agreement with Auerbach Publications. To find out about other Auerbach publications, click here.
New issues and challenges
No change is without downsides or side effects. The future will bring many old issues into a new light, along with many new challenges.

People now have more privacy, but are also more isolated from each other. This will continue and become more acute. There will be families, but no neighborhoods.

Moral values will be tested on new grounds. How can one distinguish between good information and bad information, and how is one going to measure and evaluate the consequences of spreading misleading data?

One of my clients is currently struggling with a situation in which exclusive rights to the client-developed software resource are now completely hidden behind the marketing agent’s Web site, and the agent is making unacceptable representations about the services and the software.

What could be done if one’s site is linked to a very profitable partner site and the partner decides to add distasteful content to its site? Issues of intellectual property rights will arise, and the legal system is far from ready to deal with such issues. Finally, political, economic, and social systems will be overwhelmed by the information warfare.

Confidentiality, privacy of information, security, and control of information systems will be hotly debated and addressed. These are not new issues, but their importance is heightened by the open environment in which future systems will operate. It seems that technology for control always lags behind the technology it is to control; however, there is now enough incentive to invest research and development resources in security issues.

The question of Internet taxation, how it is defined, and what solution is implemented will have far-reaching implications for the information marketplace and its players. Answers are not easy, and political forces combined with resource allocation choices will offer a final but debatable answer.

The Pandora’s box of litigious issues is on the horizon. What happened to the tobacco industry could creep into the technology arena as well. Potential impact on the human body or organs such as eyes (continuous online interaction) and ears (potential hearing impairment due to radiation exposures through the use of cell phones) may look as trivial as a hot cup of coffee at a fast-food restaurant or one or two individuals challenging a giant tobacco-processing firm. Moreover, gambling addiction may have a counterpart, virtuality addiction, which may require a hot line (1-800-virtual-off!).

Our educational system will also have to change. As we become more proficient in distance education, learning can be achieved equally or more effectively than in the traditional system. Expected class size may have little impact on choices (courses) offered, and the best of the subject matter experts can produce amazing learning resources in partnership with content delivery experts. The number and size of universities and programs will decline, and the requirements of on-campus stay will be lighter. Finally, the private universities (in-house corporate training and education units) will gain further ground, for employees will have to keep current on a short time cycle, for which universities have not yet offered a viable alternative.

A final point: Future Haves and Have-nots will be determined by information access. Evidence suggests that those who are already disadvantaged will fall further behind, for they are the ones who will have the most difficulty in accessing and leveraging information to their advantage. There is need to address this now to prevent a major social crisis of the 21st century.

I sincerely hope I have offered some food for thought. Again, it is necessary to dream, even at the risk of proving oneself wrong. Hopefully, the benefits will outweigh the miscues.

Vasant Raval is a professor of accounting at the College of Business Administration at Creighton University in Omaha, NE.

This article first appeared in the Fall 2000 issue of Information Strategy: The Executive's Journal. It appears here under agreement with Auerbach Publications. To find out about other Auerbach publications, click here.
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