The Future of Science and Technology

On Saturday, Sept. 29, Duane Valz, a member of the Patent Team at Google, presented on “The Future of Science and Technology” at Dartmouth College. He asserted, “The future has already arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet,” a quote attributed to the novelist William Gibson. Science fiction is quickly becoming a reality, and Valz expressed his hopes to decipher the role of science in the coming future within the realms of social life and academia.

Smartphones, mobile communication devices reminiscent of the “tricorder” in Star Trek, are examples of almost evenly distributed and democratized products. Smartphones allow the common man to search for information on the go without a desktop or PC. Furthermore, with Google Glass, estimated to be available next year, people can “summon at will” the power of technology. Able to take in surrounding images and sense voice and gestures, Google Glass allows users to access the Web more seamlessly and conveniently .

Robots and cyborgs are transforming civilization on a more personal level. Self-driven cars, commonly seen in the California Bay Area, have dispelled the notion that robots are self-contained entities. These cars can draw upon Google Maps through the Internet to locate construction zones and process the information to find a detour.

Technology has even supplanted components of the human body for the physically disabled. Oscar Pistorius, an Olympic runner, overcame his childhood amputations through bionic legs. Stephen Hawking, a physicist, uses an electronic voice synthesizer to overcome ALS and communicate.

Military drones also have the potential to save lives, if properly adapted to civilian life, such as surveying accidents and rescuing burn victims. Valz predicts that, in the future, robotics and society will grow even more integrated. Technology will be a means of empowerment for humans.

Technological advancements can even have a philosophical dimension. Valv argues that we can achieve a “perfect (asymptotic) recall” of the past, present, and future through technology. Reminiscent of the film, Being John Malkovich, 3D videos virtually allow individuals to climb into the present experience of another person. Technology also allows for strong predictions of the future–the Google Map application can accurately anticipate building traffic and advise an earlier departure.

Technology is also a means for furthering knowledge in academia, especially in physics and biology. Previously, the paradigm for maintaining all the prolific data generated by society was to produce more supercomputers. It is more feasible, though, to achieve efficient organization by parsing complex data sets. If we can retain all the data from, for instance, astronomy studies, we can go back later in time and run infinite sets of hypotheses and test specific variables on these data sets to generate new postulates and models. Biologists may also find computational systems of great use. Given enough data about eukaryotic genome, we may, in the future, find some significance within the portions of DNA strands currently considered to be “junk” DNA.

Valv hypothesizes that these computational systems will be “the story of the century.” Technology is also becoming more readily available to the general public–Willow Garage, an open-source platform for robotics, allows ordinary amateurs and hobbyists to do robotics. With the democratization and increasing potential of technology, society will undoubtedly undergo significant transformations in the future.

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