Ask Dr. Tech: Tech of tomorrow begins with today

Dr. Jon Dorbolo

Heraclitus (Fourth Century BCE) wrote that time is like a river and no one can step into the same river twice. So it is with the flow of development in technology. Yet, all change has a history and thoughtful people may discern ebbs and surges within the turbulence. In this spirit of fluidic forecasting I offer my intuitions regarding potential trends to watch for in the coming year.


Changes may occur in our assumptions about reality itself as science and technology produce new ways to interpret what there is. In 2016 four new elements were added to the Periodic Table. Physics has a new model to explain some of the puzzles of reality in the “many interacting worlds” hypothesis (MIW), which posits that parallel exist and interact with our own and that we may be able to detect them. Oxford University philosopher Nick Bostrom published a paper in 2003 in which he gave compelling arguments that the reality that we experience is actually a simulation constructed of artificial information, much like The Matrix. Now physicists at the University of Washington have constructed a test for that hypothesis by measuring high-energy cosmic rays. However, these empirical efforts turn out the fact that these ideas have a place in science leads us to think about our existence in new ways.


The human urge to explore will expand as the European Union announces plans to establish a Moon colony by 2030 and Elon Musk’s SpaceX tests advanced rockets to put people on Mars.


Down to Earth we have some hard problems to face. Our planetary support system is shifting rapidly and our species must decisively adapt to the change and transform ourselves. Environmentally friendly energy sources are critical to a stable future and an international consortium—ITER—is exploring practical large-scale uses of fusion reactors, especially a major project in France. 3D printing—also known as additive manufacturing—helps our environment by creating much less waste than other methods. The Glowforge 3D laser printer is a great way to learn about this process, as are the 3D printing resources in Valley Library. What the Internet did for information, 3D printing is doing for matter. Every future career will involve 3D printing at some level, so this is a critical technology for you to learn about now.


Presidential candidates are sales representatives for interest groups vying for power. The more we are encouraged to focus on the personalities of candidates the less we attend to their agendas for our future. Pay attention the issues that they concentrate on and more importantly the issues that they ignore or avoid; particularly issues that do not even come up in campaign speeches and debates including mass surveillance by the government, corporate control of the Internet, deployment of “usable” nuclear weapons such as the B61, fracking, antibiotic resistant microbes, and the effects of drones on civilians. We cannot expect to learn about such potent issues from the people who command them, so please take responsibility for educating yourself about them.


A commonplace of contemporary technology is our expectation that hardware and software are quickly outdated and must be replaced by new purchases. Cordell Hobbes, Senior in Accounting, asked me what to expect in new smartphones in the coming year. One answer is shown in surveys which indicate that consumers are tired of the purchase cycle. When asked about smartphones, laptops, televisions, tablets, smartwatches, drones and other devices consumers indicate significant reductions in their intentions to buy new devices. If this trend holds the producers will need to compensate by expanding features, lowering prices or both. It may be a good time to wait a while before buying something new. All of our devices will begin incorporating voice command interfaces. Siri, Apple TV, Amazon Echo, and OK Google are primary instances of voice interfaces which will soon pervade our personal and work environments. Professor Bill Loges of New Media Communication is eager to see what consumer-level virtual reality will bring us. It seems that Oculus Rift will introduce a new model VR headset but without the afore-promised hand manipulation controls. Microsoft HoloLens may breathe new life into Augmented Reality development, as may the next generation Google Glass. Wearable and body implanted technologies are sure to be steadily in the news this coming year. For instance, University of Washington researchers are advancing well-funded research to develop neural fiber nets to be implanted into the brain in order to restore the ability of paralyzed people to move their own arms and legs.


Educational technologies are always progressing and you may know that OSU’s Information Services (IS) is a leader in educational uses of virtual worlds, interactive games, 3D anatomical models and learning space design. Consider too the University of Iowa “Creepy Study” in which cameras deployed in classrooms monitor and analyze the emotional states of students. There are so many fascinating books to learn from in 2016. Consider checking out “The Industries of the Future” by Alec Ross, “Inventology: How we Dream Up Things That Change the World” by Pagan Kennedy, “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World” by Adam Grant, “Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War” by Fred Kaplan and “Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies” by Nick Bostrom. In Fall 2016 Turning Technologies will introduce a new QT clicker model which will be sleeker and more ergonomic but will not increase in cost for OSU students. TAC continues to hold the line in keeping costs to students down as far as possible.


The long awaited adventure game, “No Man’s Sky,” is slated for release on PlayStation and PC in June. One of the great high-concept Sci-Fi stories, “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang will be released as a movie directed by French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve. Ta-Nehisi Coates is a powerful writer for The Atlantic magazine and is developing a comic book series for Marvel based on his character Black Panther, who will also have roles in the upcoming movies “Captain America: Civil War” and “Dr. Strange.” “Cryptocracy” is a graphic novel by Van Jensen and Pete Woods that exposes an ultra-secret society that is pivotal in every major historical conspiracy. In less happy circumstances, Paramount Pictures has sued to block a fan-funded and made film “Star Trek: Axanar” which is unfortunate because—you may confirm by watching the online prequel of “Axanar”—it is already a better Star Trek than anything Paramount has produced. George R.R. Martin will not make his 2016 deadline for his sixth A Song of Fire and Ice book, “The Winds of Winter.”

I offer a resolution for all of us in the new year: learn well the knowledge and skills that equip you to make positive change in our world and study the enduring ideas that brought us to our present and illuminate our paths to future excellence.

Dr. Jon Dorbolo is the associate director of Technologies Across the Curriculum (TAC) and a philosophy professor at OSU.

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