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Ian Pearson of international company Futurizon in Ipswich on the technologies of the future and the economic and social backdrop.

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Engineers the high priests as futuretech brings need for sacrifices

It is always a nice start to the new year to see the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, even if only via press reports.

This year, we will see some more of the future appear. We knew long ago that we would enter an age of digital jewellery and this year with Intel releasing Curie, a button-sized computer to work with a range of wearables, it finally dawns. 

This will be a long trend that gradually replaces phones and tablets by bits of task-specific jewellery and head up displays. After decades of aggregating more and more into single devices, we’ll now see an explosion of more specific devices, for identification and security, for socialising, for life-recording, for interfaces – for just about everything you do there will be some device or other just as there are apps today.

The Intel CEO spoke about the need for diverse workforces. I agree totally. People from different ages, genders, backgrounds and cultures bring different ideas or viewpoints to the table and that helps ensure that products cover a wider range of wants and needs, hence larger markets for companies. If you have diverse ideas and diverse analysis of them, you’ll get better products.

Nike will bring in its Marty McFly power laces too. Hooray! It may be a trivial technology, but it is a clear demonstration that technology can now help in even the smallest areas of our lives, that imagination and engineering reaches everywhere now. 

Thought recognition headbands, smart watches and the like do pretty much the same. We all know the future does all that, this just brings it all one step closer. The future is still the future, but you can get a seat nearer the front now. That seat may well be in a self-driving car, summoned by your wrist watch.

2015 is the year of digital jewellery, the year of augmented reality, of fragmenting and dispersing technology. The word wide web allowed business to be fragmented and recombined in imaginative new ways, disrupting the business models of old and bringing in fresh ones. 

Now it is hardware that will do the same. Generic head up displays and dispersed jewellery-sized devices will be stimulative technology, creating new products for areas we’d never even thought of using technology for.

As always, there is a new wave of robots and robotic toys, remote controlled devices and so on. These are part of a powerful incremental trend. There are rarely major breakthroughs, just lots of small advances each year, gradually bringing us towards the all-purpose companion or home servant robot. 

Major breakthroughs such as the new wave of augmented reality headsets are important industry creators but those small incremental changes are just as important in the long run, even if we notice them less. You can travel the same distance in many small steps as in a few large jumps.

We’ll see lots more casual displays as costs fall, even as head up displays take off. It isn’t a simple fight between them; you can have both for little extra cost, so you will. Sensing will be added, monitoring will be added, remote control will be added. Why? Why not?

Lots more cameras are coming too, but today we also see warning by our information commissioner that most people are not concerned enough about all this coming blanket surveillance and its potential power. I can’t agree more. 

Even if it is used responsibly by some, it will be abused by others. Even if a benign government keeps all the data for wholesome reasons, a malign agency might get hold of it tomorrow. It is in areas such as this that I have warned that engineers should take the lead and ensure responsible development. Ordinary people simply don’t understand all the potential uses and abuses. Also, the world is becoming a more dangerous place. 

Those out there that don’t like us and our civilisation are becoming more adept at using asymmetric techno-dependence. There will be more cyber-warfare, more hacks, more fraud, more crashes. It won’t all be electronic fluffy toys and smart watches.

Engineers can and should make decisions to protect the interests of ordinary people in their place. When companies launch products that open new dangers, engineers should ring the alarms. If consumers can’t trust us, why should they buy our products and services? 

As all these exciting new products and services spring onto the market, and as their detailed workings and industry standards become ever more complex and mysterious to ordinary folk, engineers need to recognise the special responsibility that falls upon them. 

As the high priests and priestesses of the new technobabble, non-techies will increasingly rely on them to offer the right sacrifices and make the right chants to make it all work safely.



Superconvergence now the name of the game

I give talks in almost every industry about how future technology will affect them. When I first started in the 90s, I often had audiences of CxOs who were dismissive and preferred to hide in the corner and treat the future as a passing fad. They even boasted how their secretaries did all the emails and computer stuff because they were CEOs and shouldn’t be seen doing such things. They are all history now. Most of their companies died and any CxO who doesn’t know their way around a computer these days would be laughed out of town.

Futurizon’s top twenty inventions for the next decade

Futurizon works with almost every industry sector. When studying the new science and technology coming over the horizon all the time, it is hard for an engineer not to invent things. Here are just 20 of Futurizon’s inventions that could become real in the next decade, some are already starting.

What will fashion do with cheap displays?

It has taken far longer than it should, but we are now finally seeing flexible polymer displays being forged into wrist watch straps, bendy and curvy phones.

Are we there yet?

Like most people, I look at the world around me and see huge disconnects between cultures. There is no final straw, but seeing the recent protest in Saudi Arabia by women against the ban on them driving cars pretty much sums up how much global difference there is in value sets. We generally assume our own is the right one.

The future is made of Carbon

I have blogged quite often about the potential for graphene. It is a wonderful new material, and best of all is a British discovery.

Graphene is a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal mesh like chicken wire. It is hard to make in large quantity so is still expensive, but already its mechanical, electrical and chemical properties have been thoroughly measured. It impresses across the board.

Brain wave or bird-brained?

The race is on to build conscious and smart computers and brain replicas.

Henry Markram, director of both the Blue Brain and the Human Brain Project at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, is working on a nice project that aims are to make a working replica of the brain by reverse engineering it.

Drones: the fly on the wall could be a spy

Drones (autonomous flying vehicles), are becoming very routine equipment in warfare. They are also making market impacts in policing and sports. I first encountered them in 1981 when I started work in missile design.

Digital fluids, smart make-up, liquid computing and cloud nets

A long time ago it occurred to me that if ink contained small particles that could hold digital information, a signature by pen on paper could act as a digital signature, too.

There are lots of ways that particles small enough to be suspended in ink can hold data. But data storage is only one of several different potential uses.

Chips everywhere. Really?

Although I am definitely an engineer underneath, I’d be the first to accept that futurology is often more of an art, distinguishing the likely from the possible.

Roll on flexible electronics

We are not very good at keeping things simple. Computers get ever more complex and power hungry, but it doesn't need to be that way.

Microsoft v Acer v Apple v Samsung v Intel v Google v Amazon v...

It's getting interesting now, again. Not long ago, there was the bog standard PC in most homes and offices, running Windows, some Macs for those with a more arty streak, and a few IT enthusiasts running Linux.

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