Predictions of developments in Information Technology.
Direct links between brain and computer
Hydraulic chair for VR games
Personal wearable health monitor
Computer built into clothing
Artificial brain implants
Robotic devices within blood vessels
Study these predictions of developments in Information Technology.
Which, if any, have come true?
How likely are the others to come true?
What other possible innovations can take place in future with the help of computer technologies?
Give reasons for your decisions and compare answers with your partner.
1. Work in groups. Read the texts on recent developments in Information Technology (A, B, C, D, E or F) and present the main points of the text you’ve read to your groupmates.
Use the phrases in the LANGUAGE BOX to help you.
To start with …
It is important to say/ to note/ to emphasize that …
One must know that …
The fact is …
The thing is that …
As for …
Finally, I’d like to say that …
TEXT A. LICENCE TO CHILL
Barcodes in the packaging of groceries will soon be replaced with radio-frequency tags that can be read at a distance and with greater reliability. As well as indicating what the product is, the data in the tags will include additional information such as the ‘best before’ date and even nutritional data. Now, imagine that a fridge could read these tags and keep track of the items placed there.
If an item is about to exceed its ‘use by’ date, the fridge tells you, and you can either use it or throw it out. Fancy something different for dinner? No problem, ask the fridge to suggest some menus based on the ingredients it knows you have in stock. Or tell the fridge the menu you require and it will provide you with a shopping list of the items you don’t have or order the items via email. This is the Screenfridge from Electrolux.
But why ‘Screenfridge’? On the door is a touch-sensitive panel or screen that provides a means of communicating with the users.
For many households, life revolves around the kitchen. This is the assumption Electrolux made in designing the Screenfridge. The same screen is a messaging centre. Since the fridge is equipped with a microphone, speaker and video-camera, you’re not limited to textual information. The fridge is connected to the Internet, so it can be used to send and receive email or you could surf the Web to find a new recipe.
Many people have a TV in the kitchen, but if you already have a screen on the fridge, why clutter up the work surface with a TV? Call the Screenfridge’s TV mode and watch your favorite programme on the fridge. The Screenfridge can be interfaced to a surveillance camera to check out visitors or to keep an eye on the children. Finally, the Screenfridge can perform some of the household management tasks normally associated with a PC. For example, it has a diary, address pad and a notepad.
TEXT B. SMART FABRICS MAKE FOR ENHANCED LIVING
Imagine a handbag that warns you if you are about to forget your umbrella or wallet, and which you can later turn into a scarf that displays today’s pollution levels. Or how about creating a wall hanging that glows if someone tries to use your home’s wireless internet connection?
All these bizarre objects could soon be possible thanks to a system of computerized fabric patches developed by engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Each patch contains a functional unit of the system – a microcomputer and a memory plus either a radio transceiver, a sensor, a microphone, batteries or a display. Put the patches together in different ways and you can create a variety of information-providing or environmentally-sensing objects, say developers at MIT’s Media Lab.
To keep it waterproof, the circuit board inside a patch is coated with a hard transparent resin. It is then padded with a layer of foam and encapsulated in the chosen fabric. It can be populated with a variety of components, from Bluetooth transmitters to a cut-down PC motherboard.
The patches can be joined using Velcro which has been modified to enable electrical as well as physical connections. Wires from the circuit board are attached to silver-coated contacts in Velcro. In this way, data and power can flow from one module to the next. Using square or triangular patches the user can fashion, and refashion, useful objects such as bags, curtains or scarves. «You could wear a system as a scarf today and a belt tomorrow».
To make a bag that prevents people forgetting things, Nanda and Cable have equipped a module with a radio antenna and receiver. The unit is programmed to listen for signals from radio frequency identification (RFID) tags on objects like cellphones, keys and wallets.
A sensor module in the bag’s handle detects when the bag has been picked up, indicating the owner might be leaving. This triggers the reader to check through the objects the computer module has been programmed to look for. If it does not detect a required item, it uses a voice synthesizer module in another patch to warn: «Cellphone, yes! Wallet, yes! Keys, no!»
TEXT C. DAWN OF THE CYBERBABES
Stratumsoft are developing the first electronic virtual assistant, or EVA. If EVAs live up to the developers’ claims, they could provide the illusion of personal service without the cost. Call centres, online advertisers and Internet service providers are among the initial targets. Eighty per cent of call centre requests could, Stratumsoft argues, be dealt with by an EVA. E-commerce is another application.
The technology behind EVA combines two global trends in website design. One, developed out of the computer animation and gaming industry, is the ability to give Web images the impression of three dimensions. The other is the use of dynamic database skills and artificial intelligence-style searching to retrieve information from data banks.
Each EVA can be programmed with information such as a product catalogue, answers to frequently asked questions or an online encyclopedia. It is also equipped with a search engine to interpret customer requests made in colloquial language. Queries are typed in and answered via on-screen text boxes.
If the EVA does not have an answer, it will interrogate the questioner, record the response, and add the answer to its database for future enquiries. EVAs are not fully animated to imitate human features but they can be programmed to gesture and imitate different moods. An EVA is run via a Java applet – a small, self-contained program coded to download on to any type of personal computer rather than being transmitted over the Internet.
TEXT D. THE FUTURE OF CARS
Road traffic navigation systems will be much more advanced. We will be able to tell our computer what time we want to arrive and it will be able to negotiate slots with the traffic management systems for the appropriate roads to ensure we arrive there on time. With every car having automatic systems that communicate with those in other cars, it will be possible to more than double the capacity of the roads.
Electronic systems can automatically lock the brakes and accelerators of a whole chain of cars together to make for a much smoother and faster journey. All cars would brake together, with only microseconds delay instead of hundreds of milliseconds. Drive by wire systems could make it almost impossible to cut dangerously in front of another driver. It might be impossible to change lane unless there is a gap to move into.
As well as telling us which way to go, or taking us automatically, we will be able to get appropriate news and travel information as we travel through an area. Integration of the transport system into the net will make it possible to say ‘find the nearest cinema showing such and such a film’. Communication systems built into the car will obviously keep us in touch as today, but we might also be able to message to cars around us.
Many sensors will be in the future car, for example in tyres and exhaust systems. Our cars might even respond to our emotions, picking up when we are stressed and helping to calm us down. It might become the norm to have sophisticated identification systems built into cars which prevent unauthorized people from driving them, or take them direct to the nearest police station. Retina scans, voice prints, finger prints or several other biometrics could be used.
Cars might look quite different in terms of their materials and coatings. Because of the danger of distracting other drivers, it is unlikely we will see video displays on the bodywork though this would be feasible technologically. What is more likely is being able to change the colour of the car each day, or to use slowly changing patterns.
TEXT E. WALKING ROBOT CARRIES A PERSON
The first walking robot capable of carrying a human was unveiled in Tokyo, Japan.
Its creators at Waseda University in Tokyo and the robotics company Tsmuk hope their two-legged creature will one day enable wheelchair users to climb up and down and assist the movement of heavy goods over uneven ground.
The battery-powered robot, code-named WL16, is made of an aluminum chair mounted on two sets of telescopic poles. The poles are bolted to fiat plates which act as feet.
VVI.-16 uses 12 actuators to move forwards, backwards and sideways while carrying an adult weighing up to 60 kilograms. The robot can adjust its posture and walk smoothly even if the person it is carrying shifts in the chair. At present it can only step up or down a few millimeters, but the team plans to make it capable of dealing with a normal flight of stairs.
‘I believe this biped robot, which I prefer to call a two-legged walking chair rather than a wheelchair, will eventually enable people to go up and down the stairs,’ said Atsuo Takanishi from Waseda University.
Tsmuk chief executive Yoichi Takamoto argues that multi-legged robots will be more useful than so-called ‘caterpillar models’ for moving over uneven ground.
WL-16’s normal walking stride measures 30 centimeters and it can stretch its legs to 136 cm apart. The prototype is radio-controlled, but the research team plans to equip it with a joy stick-like controller for the user in future. Takamoto says it will take ‘at least two years’ to develop the WL-16 into a workingmodel.
TEXT F. SPORTING ROBOTS
Each year teams take part in an international football competition. The teams are organized into five leagues and the prize is a cup. Not just any cup, but the Robocup, for the players are all robots. They don’t play on turf but the objective is the same, to hit a ball into a goal.
The aim behind the Robocup is to promote the development of robots which can work together. Football is a good test of co-operation for any team and the robots are no exception. Although robot footballers are poor competition for a human team, each year their performance gets better and each year the standards expected are raised so that competitors must constantly develop better hardware and software.
The top league is the Sony legged robot division. They use modified versions of the well-known Sony robodog AIBO. A humanoid league will start as soon as there are sufficient two-legged players. The organizer of the Robocup is confident in the future of robotics, ‘By mid-21st century, a team of fully autonomous humanoid soccer players will win a soccer game, complying with the official rules of FIFA, against the winner of the most recent World Cup.’
Other sporting events for robots exist. For example, The British Association for the Advancement of Science organizes a two-a-side event called Robot Volley Ball. The players’ task is simply to return a ball within 60 seconds of its being served. The objective again, is to promote the development of robots which can work cooperatively. The advantages of having robots which can tackle a range of tasks together rather than constructing single expensive robots designed for one task only are obvious.
2. Look through the texts again. List the predictions, if any, in the articles you have read. Have any of them already taken place? How likely are the others to happen in the near future? Discuss your answers with your group mates.
TEXT A. LICENCE TO CHILL
TEXT B. SMART FABRICS MAKE FOR ENHANCED LIVING
TEXT C. DAWN OF THE CYBERBABES
TEXT D. THE FUTURE OF CARS
TEXT E. WALKING ROBOT CARRIES A PERSON
TEXT F. SPORTING ROBOTS
3. Use an appropriate certainty expression from the LANGUAGE BOX to complete these predictions. More than one answer is possible in some cases.
will, will not
could, may, might
1. Barcodes … soon be replaced with radio-frequent tags.
2. All those bizarre objects … soon be possible thanks to a system of computerized fabric patches.
3. If EVAs live up to the developers’ claims, they … provide the illusion of personal service without cost.
4. This biped robot … eventually enable people to go up and down the stairs.
5. Because of the danger of distracting other drivers, it is … we will see video displays on the bodywork.
6. What is more … is being able to change the color of the car each day.
7. By mid-21st century, a team of fully autonomous humanoid soccer players … win a soccer game against the winner of the most recent World Cup.
8. A virtual world populated by virtual humans … become a very tangible reality.
4. Search for the latest developments in one area of Information Technology. Make a summary of your findings to report to the class.
5. How do you think developments in IT will affect these areas of life in the next ten years? Compare your predictions with others in your group. Try to agree on a ranking from most likely to least likely.
– humans and computers
– nature and environment
6. Read the text below and answer the following questions.
1. How does the author justify his claim that we are ‘in the midst of convergence’?
2. What will be the difference between computers and humans after 2015?
3. What does he mean by a ‘positive feedback loop’ in computer development?
4. Why will knowledge of a major language be the only IT skill needed?
5. Which of the author’s predictions do you accept?
THE FUTURE OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
We are in the midst of convergence. At the hardware layer, computers, phones and consumer electronics are converging. At the applications layer, we see convergence of information, entertainment, communications, shopping, commerce, and education.
Computers have come from nowhere 50 years ago and are rapidly catching up in capability with the human brain. We can expect huinam: machine equivalence by about 2015. Rut after this, computers will continue to get smarter, there is a noticeable positive feedback loop in technology development, with each generation of improved computers giving us more assistance in the design and development of the next. Ultimately, they will design their offspring with little or no human involvement.
This technology development will push the knowledge forwards. It will be almost as though extraterrestrials had landed in 2020 and given us all their advanced technology
But we will never get far unless we can solve the interface problem. In the near future we may have electronic pets, with video camera eyes and microphone ears, linked by radio to the family computer. With voice and language recognition we will have easy access to all that the Internet can provide. We can tell the pet what we want and it will sort it out for us. It will be impossible to be technophobic about such an interface, and the only IT skill needed will be to speak any major language.
7. Find the statements from the text «The Future of Information Technology» you agree or disagree with. Give reasons to support your opinion.
8. Work in groups of three or four. Read the text extracts (А, В and C) and complete the table below. Compare the contents of the tables between groups in class.
1. Area of IT
Telecoms applications will soon be bundled together in much the same way as office application suites are today. A major example is the electronic marketplace, which will bring customers and suppliers together in smart databases and virtual environments, with ID verification, encryption and translation. It will then implement the billing, taxation and electronic funds transfer, while automatically producing accounts and auditing.
The whole suite of services will be based on voice processing, allowing a natural voice interlace to talk to the computer, all the AL
to carry out the request, and voice synthesis and visualization technology to get the ans-
Electronic money will be very secure but much more versatile than physical alternatives. E-cash can be completely global and could be used as a de facto standard. It does not have to be linked to any national currency, so can be independent of local currency fluctuations. Its growing use on the Net will lead to its acceptance on the street and we may hold a large proportion of our total funds in this global electronic cash. People will increasingly buy direct from customized manufacturers. Shops will be places where people try on clothes, not buy them.
Their exact measurements can be sent instantly to the manufacturer as soon as they have chosen an outfit. The shops may be paid by the manufacturer instead.
Employment patterns will change, as many jobs are automated and new jobs come into existence to serve new technologies. Some organizations will follow the virtual company model, where a small core of key employees is supported by contractors on a project by project basis, bringing together the right people regardless of where they live. The desks they will use will have multiple Hat screens, voice interfaces, computer programs with human-like faces and personalities, full-screen videoconferencing and 3D sound positioning. All this will be without any communication cables since the whole system uses high capacity infrared links. The many short-term contractors may not have enough space in their homes for an office and may go instead to a new breed of local telework
Of course, workers can be fully mobile, and we could see some people abandon offices completely, roaming the world and staying in touch via satellite systems. Even in trains and planes there may be infrared distribution to each seat to guarantee high bandwidth communication. One tool they may have in a few years is effectively a communicator badge. This will give them a voice link to computers across the network, perhaps on their office desk. Using this voice link, they can access their files and email and carry out most computer-based work. Their earphones will allow voice synthesisers to read out their mail, and glasses with a projection system built into the arms and reflectors on the lenses will allow a head-up display of visual information. Perhaps by 2015, these glasses could be replaced by an active contact lens that writes pictures directly onto the retina using tiny lasers.
Finally, by around 2030, we may have the technology to directly link our brain to the ultra-smart computers that will be around then, giving us so much extra brainpower that we deserve a new name, Homo Cyberneticus. In much the same time frame, geneticists may have created the first biologically optimized humans, Homo Optimus. It would make sense to combine this expertise with information technology wizardry to make something like the Borg, Homo Hybridus, with the body of an Olympic athlete and a brain literally the size of the planet, the whole global superhighway and every machine connected to it. Over time, this new form may converge with the machine world, as more and more of his thoughts occur in cyberspace. With a complete backup on the network, Homo Hybridus would be completely immortal. Ordinary biological humans would eventually accept the transition and plain old Homo Sapiens could become voluntarily extinct, perhaps as early as 2200.
9. Now exchange information with others in your group to list all the predictions made in the text. Discuss with your group the predictions made and add your own comments on the predictions in the last section of the table.
10. Agree or disagree with the following statements. Give reasons to support your opinion.
1. By 2015 scientists will have developed active contact lenses.
2. By 2030 geneticists may have created the first biologically optimized humans.
3. Some organizations will follow the virtual company model.
4. It’s possible that we’ll work from telework centers in future.
5. E-cash can be completely global and could be used as a de facto standard.
11. Make your predictions for 2020. You may wish to use these verbs:
? computing power
? machine intelligence
? the internet
? tele working
? speech recognition
? information exchange
12. Think of arguments for and against this statement.
Computers will catch up with the power and speed of the human brain by 2050. Some time after that they will start outstripping us and taking over from us.
Deliver a Persuasive Presentation to support your argument. But before, study some key tips on «How to make a persuasive presentation».