Forecasting Tech with Dave Farber
In this year-in-preview High Tech Forum podcast, Dave Farber and Richard Bennett continue their discussion (listen to part one here) about the technologies that are going to change our world in the coming year. Look for major advances in virtual and augmented reality, security, and the architecture of critical systems. The problem of funding basic research remains unresolved, but Dave has some ideas about how to address it.
Augmented, Mixed, and Virtual Reality
After many years of futzing around, we’re finally ready for virtual reality and its counterparts augmented and mixed reality to take off and make a real impact. As with other computer and network technologies, these will probably start with some form of porn before graduating to more mainstream forms of entertainment. That would be consistent with history, at any rate. Pokémon GO helped get AR started, but it’s fading a bit. Dave would like to play football via AR, and he sees Westworld as a good candidate for VR rendering. AR/VR was predicted by Alan Kay’s Dynabook, way back in 1968.
Virtual assistants like Siri and Amazon Echo will become more sophisticated and better able to cooperate with each other. When Cortana, Siri, Google, and Echo can talk to each other with a common protocol the sum becomes more capable than the parts. This is beginning to happen at the grassroots level with things like Home Remote Activator and Homebridge that link Echo with Apple’s Homekit. We’re at a stage that’s like assembling Heathkits without the manual. One of the barriers to the development of IOT ecosystems is limited hardware knowledge on the part of app developers.
Improving the Internet
The Internet still falls short of requirements in terms of security, flexibility, and performance. Dave gave a famous talk at Stanford about improving the Internet recently, and more and more computer scientists are urging new protocols and practices. The Internet we have is the result of a noble experiment in which we combined a number of unrelated features and functions that couldn’t be made secure. Dave doesn’t believe we can continue down this path. Dave says: “There are certain critical areas where we need better security. Let’s design a new generation of stuff that will be implemented and deployed in areas that are critical, such as finance and public safety. The rest of the hundreds of millions of people, I’m not sure what you do with them…We have all the pieces and we know how to do it, so it’s a matter of putting it all together and making sure we haven’t made compromises that have made it inherently insecure.”
As the Internet becomes more secure and consumers increasingly shift from brick-and-mortar retailers to online purchases, VR has another application and stores will take on a different role. VR enables us to have a touch and feel experience at home, so stores may become shipping centers instead of showrooms. The shipping itself could be done by driverless vehicles or drones. One of the jobs of the future will be the drone operator.
There’s nothing inherently defective about socializing with real people virtually. Dave says: “I find I’m in contact with other people much more now than I ever was. We now have a generation of people who are used to working, playing, and communicating with their mobile computers.”
The Internet and related technologies have already made profound changes in how we work, live, and socialize. While there are issues, on balance these changes have enabled us to do things we always thought were impossible before. But we need places where we can do the basic research that corporations are not very good at. We need revive some of the old federal grant programs that allow us to do fundamental research.