Reminiscing some of the key technologies with professors of leading universities and predictions on focus areas for future

Singapore-20140731-00308I happened to meet informally Professor Thomas Maganti (President SUTD, also Dean of Engineering with MIT for 43 years), Professor Richard DeMillo ( Chairman of ISTD Advisory Board, Professor of Engineering and Computer Science at Georgia Tech, Earlier CTO of HP and Professor of Computer Science at Purdue University), Professor George Cybenko  (Member ISTD Advisory Board) Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Dartmouth, Professor Aditya Mathur (Dean ISTD Pillar at SUTD and earlier Professor of Computer Sciences at Purdue) and Professor Lionel Ni (Professor of Computer Sciences at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology)during the ISTD advisory committee of Singapore University of Technology and Design at Singapore. During a very informal dinner discussions centered around how technology has helped human being and what are significant milestones in the same.

The biggest one came from Tom Magnanti among the top 4 inventions ever was the idea of water purification to avoid water borne diseases. This was first proposed in the US when a lot of people were affected by water borne diseases. River water was purified and supplied to house hold in pipelines. Prior to that untreated river water was used for drinking. Before that was invention of cooked food, which helped mankind digest and absorb high protein diets and increase the nutrient absorption and kill bacteria in the food, however exact origins of this are still debated.

Discussions moved around whether an environment like a university and specially a multidisciplinary university is really needed for such inventions and impact on humans being of the same. It was agreed that such Universities definitely helped increase the pace of inventions as well as application of technology for betterment of human beings. The evolution of technology and it applications has definitely accelerated and what was achieved in the first million years, similar achievements subsequently happened in shorter and shorter time cycles of a 100,000 years, 1000 years and 100 years. So we may not be able to recognize our current set of technologies and same may become obsolete in the next 10 years.

We called out things that we as a generation were still using and which are obsolete in the next generation. Many objects got called out like – watch is more of an ornamental piece for older generation but not so for the young.  Email is becoming obsolete as chats pickup. Currency or carrying money is becoming obsolete as smart cards emerge.

We also called out the emerging areas which will see a huge focus, not in any specific order-

  1. Man Machine Interface – it will be important to simplify and design interfaces to machines which are easily operable and can be used by a large population.
  2. Cyber Physical Security- Most industrial controls carry equipment which can be remotely managed and hence need to be protected against any malicious intentions. It is no longer only relevant to protect data and information but also the equipment which are interconnected and controls through remote access.
  3. Internet of Things- Many Household appliances are becoming intelligent ( are controllable, have logic build into them), earlier Industrial automation is continuing to increase and more and more industrial products are becoming intelligent and controllable. Examples- transformers can tell when their cooling oil properties are deteriorated or it is too hot so that oil can be changed and transformer serviced, same with cars, their diagnostics logics can show when brakes are to be changed, oil is to be changed , lamps are fused or air pressure in tyres is too low or engine not burning efficiently. There is also a lot of automation from Industry being put to use in Common Business and Personal applications , for example today we can track flights in the air, correlate traffic to reach airport with Navigator etc. so in a way all things are getting connected which is widely and generally known as internet of things.
  4. Robotics , Unmanned Arial Vehicles – Machines will be used to do common mundate repetive works for humans and humans will get into more thinking led innovative work. This is true in every field. Example in restaurants we see robots cooking, robots as waiters, amazon is looking at package delivery to homes using unmanned Ariel vehicles.
  5. Bioinformatics and Biotechnology – Human being is also a very complex intelligent computer, so complex that it will be decades or millenniums before the computers can even reach its prowess. Industry is beginning to use the pieces of such techniques called bio-informatics and biotechnology to apply to the benefit of mankind. Example in memories, signal processing, heuristics representations of information etc mimicking biological systems. After all , humans and biological systems are also made from atoms and molecules and what gives them ability to be animated and have cognitive senses. Such knowledge is being used and applied more and more into business and industrial applications.
  6. Machine Learning – Related to how humans learn and can that same principles be applied to machines, so that mistakes are not repeated and machines can also learn from the same in course of their operation and continue to improve over a period of time. Also associated is how learnings from one machine could be transferred to others, and learning happens as a collaboration and evolution. If such structure could be achieved the progress would be exponential and soon surpass all productivity and quality norms, even if the starting point is very basic learning.
  7. Big Data- for all of the above initiatives 1 to 6, ability to process information in very large volumes, instantaneously in real time is required. This is called big data and big data machines are huge information crunchers. The focus is on information and not just on data – includes, audio, visual or any other sensory, reliable or contradictory information , correlated with fuzzy logic.

Some very exciting times are coming for the industry and human beings and it is going to bring another big revolution in our lifetimes, similar or bigger than the industrial revolution. Keep tuned and watching!!!

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