Look Ahead, Tech Support

This Tech Will Blow Your Mind

Happy New Year everyone! As we welcome a new beginning, I’d like to introduce a few Techie Terms that you’ll be seeing soon, if you haven’t already. Future technology can be inspiring and fun, but it’s decidedly not zen. And it can be scary. However – it’s also unstoppable. Change comes no matter what.

Most of the time, this is a good thing. Just look at how we live today. In developed countries, even the poorest citizens enjoy modern amenities that just 100 years ago, the richest didn’t have. Indoor plumbing, thank you!

Why I Care

In the everyday, knowing what’s ahead helps me decide which technologies to embrace (when I have a choice), and what pitfalls to look out for (when I don’t).

On a larger scale, paying attention to technology trends also helps me be a more informed and thoughtful citizen of the world. This is especially important to me now that I have children. Do I want tax dollars going to alternative energy research? Is feeding our growing population a concern? (Yes and yes.)

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Good governance is important, but ultimately it is science and technology that will solve many of the world’s problems, particularly in resources.

So, are you ready to see what’s ahead? It’s going to be a wild ride!

The Internet of Things

With sensors embedded into everything from pacemakers to pets to toothbrushes, our physical world is becoming a network of information in itself. This is called the “Internet of Things”.

Add the ubiquity of smartphones, and this trend could also be called “Remote Control Everything”. With a sensor and a wireless connection, anything can be controlled from your phone.

first-keyThe first key and lock were made out of wood some 4,000 years ago, and we’ve been using them ever since. By summer 2013, “keyless entry” products will debut. Hear a knock on your door, see who it is, talk to them – and send a “key” via email to unlock it, from anywhere in the world.

Inside your home, if you can plug it in, soon it will include mobile phone control standard – like the Nest thermostat, introduced last year. Until then, Belkin sells a little accessory called the WeMo Switch that gives you control now. Turn anything on or off from an app, on a timer, or with motion sensor.

For all-in-one control from a single dashboard, Lowe’s recently introduced their “Iris” line of home automation products that let you do everything from check in on seniors at home, receive alerts when smoke or carbon monoxide is detected or your plants need water, track pets, and more.

TRAKDOTFrequent flyers, welcome the TrakDot luggage tracker, and always know if your bags made it to Mexico with you.

Shoppers at the mall, that mannequin you’re looking at could be looking back at you – with a hidden camera and facial recognition software inside her eye. She exists and her name is EyeSee.

You get the idea – the possibilites here to track and monitor everything around you is endless. (And a whole new category of cyber-crime, as well.)

Big Data

Humans are creating and collecting data like never before. In the last two years, we have created 90% of all information ever created by our species.

Finding patterns in this data to predict outcomes is one aspect of what is called “Big Data”, and it’s relevant to just about everyone. Big Data is being used to help insure disaster, fight crime, predict heart attacks, and even save premature babies.

Computer scientist Carolyn McGregor did just that when she discovered a way to predict infection using biodata collected from preemies in the NICU. The pattern she identified can detect an infection at least a day before symptoms develop, giving babies vital extra time to receive treatment and combat illness.

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Other patterns and predictions may have unintended or unwanted effects. Take for example, your “digital footprint”.

Every online purchase, Google search, and Facebook post leaves its mark. Online services like Mint.com (for your personal finances) and Simplee.com (for your health information) are free because, in addition to ad revenue, your aggregated data is extremely valuable.

Data mining companies buy and collect information like purchases (did you just buy hiking boots or video games?), Facebook posts (check out my scuba diving vacation pics!) and public records (do you have a hunting license, or boating permit?) and determine whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast or a coach potato.

Then they sell that profile to your life insurance company.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, some insurers are currently testing this “predictive model” against their traditional method (doctor exam, blood and urine testing) to measure health and life expectancy. They are finding it cheaper and just as, if not more, accurate.

Big Data will only get bigger, and bring big privacy concerns along with it. It’s worth keeping an eye on, and it’s why Rich and I frequently write about data and privacy protection here on Digital Zen.

3D Printing

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See this cute little espesso cup? It was printed. By a 3D printer.

A 3D printer is like a little black hat that you can pull anything out of. Software provides the three-dimensional data, and a precise layer-by-layer process builds the object from the bottom up.

30,000 people are already walking around with titanium hip replacements made with 3D printing, at significant savings over traditional manufacturing.

cookie-caster3D printing democratizes manufacturing, and fits nicely into the “personalize everything” era we live in. Custom design your own cookie cutter at CookieCaster.com and they’ll 3D print it for you for $27.

Find the Etsy of 3D printing at Shapeways.com. Here you can can design, buy, and sell 3D printed objects like jewelry, vases, the espresso rocket ($39.99), or this cute little button by JingaButtons for $3.20.

Where is this technology going? Shapeways CEO Peter Weijmarshausen predicts custom printed apparel within a few years.

Lose a finger – print a new one, using your own cells. Bones, bladders, kidneys – nothing is too far fetched for analyst Terry Wolhers, and you can listen to him talk about just that on NPR News if you don’t believe me.

Most analysts predict 3D printing will be a game changer. It also brings with it concerns about copyrights, patents, art, counterfeit currency, and more.

Take Heart

Change can be scary, especially change this big and transformational. With vigilance, good governance, and good intentions, let’s hope advances in technology work toward the better good for us all.

Hold onto your hats, though, because changes ahead in the next 100 years will make the last 100 look like a turtle race. We’re still 100% human (for now) so take a deep breath and head for the park with your kids and a kickball. Happy 2013 and beyond!

Now if you really want to knock your socks off, Google “the singularity“. Next stop – driverless cars

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