donderdag 27 maart 2008

Making the impossible possible

Modern technology, such as email and the Internet, has increased both our productivity and our workload. Wouldn’t it be great if we could use this technology to find a way to do twice as much in a day? It may sound like a dream but the reality is not far off, according to Daniel Burrus, a leading technology forecaster and author of the best-selling book Technotrends.

As Burrus explains, the already speedy rate of technology is about to dwarf anything we’ve seen so far and give us some exciting options in the years ahead.
“In the next five years, we’re going to experience more technology-driven change than we have in the last 15,” he notes. “Moore’s Law says that the technology behind most devices – such as processing power, bandwidth and storage capacity – doubles every 18 months. This has held up for 40 years but now things are moving incredibly faster.

“For example, it took 20 years to go from a fivemegahertz chip to a 500-megahertz chip but to double that took just eight months. And that was five years ago,” Burrus emphasizes. “The curve is now going vertical, which means we can barely fathom the technology that will come our way in the future.”

Twice the work in half the time
It’s this advance in technology that will make things even more interesting – and give us our very own virtual personal assistant, says Burrus. Soon you could wake up, turn on the television and be greeted by your assistant – available 24 hours a day, seven days a week without complaints. After outlining your schedule for the day, your assistant then updates you on a change in your travel plans – your morning flight was cancelled. But not to worry: your personal assistant has already re-booked you on another flight and printed your boarding pass. At the airport, your assistant tells you where to find a free spot in the parking garage. Not enough time to research the company you’re visiting? Not a problem, your assistant does the research for you – in a nanosecond.

Waiting for the right buy price on stock you’d like to own? The assistant can track stock prices and not only inform you when it’s hit the target price but also buy the stock for you – with a financial plug-in from your broker, of course. Anxiously awaiting lab test results? Just download the medical plug-in from your doctor and the wait will soon be over. As soon as the results are entered into your medical records, your assistant gives you the details. Eventually, your assistant will learn from your requests and begin to anticipate your needs, almost like thinking for itself. The best part: as our assistants take care of logistics, we can spend more time on the things we actually enjoy. “With this, we could do almost twice as much in one day,” Burrus notes. “And with the mountains of new information that will be available in the future, having an assistant will quickly become a necessity, much like owning a car.”

Best yet to come
In the healthcare field, there have also been tremendous advancements in technology but the best is yet to come, says Burrus. Besides e-enabled assisted living for patients and routine genetics mapping, we could soon have access to a virtual hospital that performs tests from the comfort of our own home. He offers the example of late-night heart palpitations: is it a heart attack or just indigestion?

Currently our options are limited, Burrus says. “If I experienced heart palpitations, I would have two options: I could call an ambulance to take me to the emergency room and after many hours and many tests, I could find out that I only have indigestion – and a large bill. But on the other hand, if I assume it’s indigestion and go back to sleep, I may never wake up.”

But a virtual hospital opens up the options, he explains. “I just turn on my television and choose the virtual hospital’s admissions desk and give them my symptoms. After pulling up my medical records using multiple biometrics for identification, they then ask me to attach an inexpensive bio-sensor to my chest so they can take my vital signs, like blood pressure and pulse, and an EKG reading – all virtually,” Burrus notes.

“The information instantly transfers to a real-life doctor for analysis, and the doctor either asks me to come in for further tests or suggests I take an indigestion pill,” he adds. “Imagine the time, stress and money a system like this could save. With the rate of advancing technology, we could see this within the next 15 years.”

Fraud-proof identification
Both the virtual assistant and ‘at-home hospitaling’ would use biometrics for identification but Burrus insists that neither privacy nor fraud will be an issue. “Biometrics will soon become so advanced that fraud won’t be a problem. We’ll see defense-industry technology pour into the public domain and new biometrics will be coming out that are almost impossible to steal, like the blood vessel pattern embedded in our hands. We’ll also use multiple biometrics like this to establish identity depending on the level of security required.”

Another hot topic these days is climate change. But will the new awareness impact technology? Actually, it could be the other way around, says Burrus. “Technology is only bound by the limits we give it as humans. If we decide to use technology to solve global problems such as climate change, then it can get us there. Technology has the ability to turn the impossible into the possible.”

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