A cigar for monsieur Jules Verne

In the latest edition of TL Infobits, Carolyn Kotlas mentions a Special Report on MIT’s Technology Review, listing 10 Emerging Technologies for 2016. Unlike similar year-start hacking pieces one sees around, the MTR drives a message filled with chutzpah and visionary élan — “Technology Review presents our list of the 10 technologies that we think are most likely to change the way we live.” These people think big.

Before we look at some of this year’s predictions, are there any technologies, declared in the past, that are changing our lives already? In the 2001 MTR’s prediction, Usama Fayyad talked about Data Mining as an emerging powerhouse — he even read correctly the amazon.com famous on-sale-by-association mantra: “people who bought [your book name] bought also [a few more book-names].”

Ranjit Singh was another 2001 ‘futurists’ whose company ContentGuardset out to explore ways of keeping and Managing Digital Rights. ContentGuard is still around today, with clients and partners that include Microsoft, Time Warner, Sony and Xerox. Ranjit Singh, who was listed as ContentGuard President in 2001, is no longer on with ContentGuard —  I Googled him and found that Singh has been involved with various aspects of electronic rights management – obviously, the dream still lives on.

In 2004, MTR had Hari Balakrishnan talking his heart out about Distributed Storage — “Wouldn’t it be better to store data in the nooks and crannies of the Internet, a few keystrokes away from any computer, anywhere? A budding technology known as distributed storage could do just that, transforming data storage for individuals and companies by making digital files easier to maintain and access while eliminating the threat of catastrophes that obliterate information, from blackouts to hard-drive failures.” Today, this concept has been rolled into what is known as Data Cloud– one of the more magnificently poetic manifestations of modern technology.

And so, back to the 2016s. Which one of the 10 technologies looks like it might stay with us and change (even partially) our future lives? Eric Horvitz believes that vast amounts of data and ingenious data mining capabilities may help us to create better future models, which have been used extensively in various disciplines, such as economy, politics, social studies, weather and finances. Horvitz calls his technique “surprise modeling” — “We think we can apply these methodologies to look at the kinds of things that have surprised us in the past and then model the kinds of things that may surprise us in the future.” If this sounds surprisingly close to Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swans theoryI mentioned here a while ago – don’t be surprised. It appears that our best minds are arriving at similar models – from different angles. I, for one, find it extremely reassuring. After all – if it looks like a black swan and walks like a black swan and talks like a black swan…In the short term, Horvitz’s model sits behind SmartPhlow, a Microsoft-owned technology for mobile phones that is used for traffic-forecasting.

Kevin Lynch’s Offline Web Applications technology sits behind Adobe’s Integrated Runtime (AIR), enabling programmers to use Web technologies for the development of desktop applications, to be used both on and off line. Lynch – chief software architect at Adobe Systems – sees AIR as the answer to a problem caused by the other futuristic system
– known as cloud computing– the problem of having sensitive data stored externally, ‘somewhere on the web’. The entire system will be based on HTML and Flash technologies — thus making use of the wealth of knowledge and experience that exist in those areas, as well as the entire cottage industry built around these programming languages.

Naturally, I picked technologies that are close to my heart, I will therefore not mention technologies like Graphene Transistors , Probabilistic Chips, Wireless Power or Cellulolytic Enzymes (come to think of it, each of these sounds awesome, doesn’t it?)

As I was working on this piece, I have read that Europe upped its stake in the International Space Station when a new cargo spacecraft, set to regularly supply the ISS with fuel, oxygen and other logistical items. The first vehicle is called Jules Verne, in honour of the famous French sci-fi writer, who’s visionary stories included technologies that did not exist in his time (a submarine, underwater breathing apparatus and electricity-powered lights are just a few of his prophetic ‘imaginations’.) He must be having a ball, up there, puffing on his favourite cigar and observing the way new technologies keep making our world increasingly challenging, exciting and adventurous – in short, a Jules Verne world.

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