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Shell Technology Futures 2004

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Shell Technology Futures 2004 - This is the summary of two sets of weeklong discussions that took place in Amsterdam and Houston, each of which included around 20 experts from across multiple disciplines all looking out 20 years at how technology may, or may not influence society. This was the first run of the Technology Futures programme and was followed in 2007 by similar discussions in Bangalore and London.

This first 2004 programme took a very wide view and covered everything from mesh networks, natural language processing and nano-technology to adaptive systems, automated sensing, tissue scaffolding and 3D printing.

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Shell Technology Futures 2004

  1. 1. The technologies which have had the most profound effects on human life are usually simple. A good example of a simple technology with profound historical consequences is hay. Nobody knows who invented hay, the idea of cutting grass in the autumn and storing it in large enough quantities to keep horses and cows alive through the winter. All we know is that the technology of hay was unknown to the Roman Empire but was known to every village of medieval Europe. Like many other crucially important technologies, hay emerged anonymously during the so- called Dark Ages. According to the Hay Theory of History, the invention of hay was the decisive event which moved the center of gravity of urban civilization from the Mediterranean basin to Northern and Western Europe. The Roman Empire did not need hay because in a Mediterranean climate the grass grows well enough in winter for animals to graze. North of the Alps, great cities dependent on horses and oxen for motive power could not exist without hay. So it was hay that allowed populations to grow and civilizations to flourish among the forests of Northern Europe. Hay moved the greatness of Rome to Paris and London, and later to Berlin and Moscow and New York. Freeman Dyson Infinite in All Directions, Harper and Row, New York, 1988 Technology Futures 2004 Inventing Hay
  2. 2. Contents Background and acknowledgements 1 Foreword 3 Introduction 4 Scenarios and forecasting 6 Technology forecasting 8 Key themes Continuous interaction and connectedness 10 Small and distributed 20 Sensing and making sense 28 Cultivating chemistry 38 Energy 46 Technology development maps 54 Potential impacts People 58 Transport 68 Infrastructure 76 The future of business 84 Key challenges 94 Society 102 Technology impacts: summary 110 Critical technology development pathways 112
  3. 3. Backgroundandacknowledgements 1 This report draws on work undertaken by Shell during 2003 and 2004. This programme was led by Shell’s Group GameChanger team with the support of the Scenario Planning team in PXG, Innovaro Ltd and the Eastbury Partnership. The process relied heavily on the contributions of leading sources of technology insight – CEO, CTO, R&D Director, Head of Innovation, Corporate Demographer, Chief Scientist etc – from a wide range of companies and organisations: a global civil engineering firm Europe’s leading media organisation a leading US pharmaceutical firm one of the world’s leading aircraft firms a global telecommunication company a major global food and grain supplier a sensing technology start-up a major chemical company a major European internet bank a leading multinational automotive company the world’s leading IT company the leading microprocessor supplier a major US based food manufacturer one of the world’s largest software firms a major US food ingredients company a key telecommunications manufacturer a major European food and drink supplier a leading Nordic telecommunications firm a top 3 defence technology firm a leading household products company the world’s leading pharmaceutical firm a top 3 automotive manufacturer a global business newspaper a leading technology publication a top UK university the leading centre of new technology a major US research institute a top 5 UK research university a leading German research institute a leading business school a pre-eminent US research university All of the contributors from outside Shell gave their time freely and as individuals, and on an unattributable basis. Without their contributions, the exercise would not have been possible. However, none of the participants shares any responsibility for the opinions and conclusions reported in this document. Background and acknowledgements
  4. 4. The world of technology is a world that is moving fast. It is an opaque world, due to an overload of information coming at us. It is a world that seems to grow endlessly in all directions. It is a world that creates wave after wave of new hypes. In essence, it appears to be a huge, misty swamp through which a network of trails exists, but only for those who make an effort to find them. Sometimes, trails join up and become a path, sometimes several paths join up and become a motorway: a disruption occurs; a new technology area is born. At the end of 2003, GameChanger started on a long journey to identify these technology pathways. The intention was to identify the onset of possible new technology waves, identify possible disruptions and indicate possible threats or opportunities for Shell at a very early stage. In short, develop an Early (technology) Warning System. This Early Warning System will have several benefits. It will warn Senior Management of possible disruptions that may offer a threat or opportunity for Shell, and it will inform technology managers and innovators of trends to come and areas to focus on. More than a hundred upcoming technologies were identified, more than 30 technology thought-leaders from academia and industry interviewed and three major workshops were held, in Amsterdam, Sheffield and Houston, each bringing together a broad range of academics, technical experts, businesspeople, commentators and thinkers. This resulted in a wealth of information that has been summarised in a set of possible technology futures. Possible means that they are technically possible. To turn the possible into probable will depend on their acceptance by society. This booklet is to my knowledge the first attempt to create long-term technology futures, at least in Shell. They are designed to challenge our thinking so that we can make better business decisions today. They can help us focus our Research and give direction to our Innovation efforts and provide insights in the technology world outside Shell. It is in that spirit that we offer these to a broader audience than the GameChanger community, as we know that by engaging with the views of others we improve our own understanding. We hope you find these futures thought- provoking and look forward to hearing your views. Leo Roodhart Group GameChanger Foreword 3 Foreword
  5. 5. processes which make life better or more fun. At the same time, we fear technologies such as genetic modification or nuclear power, and have unfocused anxieties about privacy or new diseases. The world seems dangerous: will technology make it safer? or more dangerous still? Our world exhibits massive disparities of health, wealth and happiness. Millions of people in the so-called developed world have greater freedom, opportunity and affluence than ever; and suffer more stress, obesity, civic dysfunction and alienation. In the less-developed world – and in many countries where Shell operates – millions starve, or lack the most rudimentary amenities such as clean water. Will technology help eliminate these disparities and improve the lives of the disadvantaged wherever they are? Or will it deepen inequality, between the West and the rest, and between the privileged and the excluded in the developed world? Shell is one of the largest industrial groups in the world. Our products and services touch the lives of millions of people in every continent and we are directly responsible for tens of thousands of employees and their families who depend on us. Shell is also a high-technology company. We employ thousands of scientists, engineers and technologists. Our core operations – exploration for oil and gas resources, extraction, processing, refining, production – as well as our other activities in renewable energy or hydrogen fuels depend on the application of leading edge technology. No business can afford to take its operating environment for granted. In Shell we have a responsibility to look ahead, to try to foresee and anticipate the context in which we shall be doing business in the decades to come. We need to understand how the needs and desires of our customers, shareholders and other stakeholders will change over time; how the way businesses function may change; how changes in social attitudes will impact on our business. Crucially, we need to explore how technological change will both drive and be directed by broader social and economic trends around the globe and what that will mean for how we do business – and for the business which we do – in 2020 or 2030 and beyond. This report reflects a process of engagement with such issues undertaken during 2003 and 2004. This was a conscious attempt to review cutting edge developments in technology across a range of fields, from biotechnology to artificial intelligence to communications technology. How were these technologies likely to develop? Were there any core themes which could be discerned? What would be their impacts? By exploring the likely pathways of technology development over time was it possible to identify critical nodes or points of inflexion? What were the potential implications and how should we respond? At one level, the stimulus for this exercise was corporate self-interest. Was it possible to identify critical threats or opportunities arising from future developments in technology which should be reflected in Shell’s long-term planning? Were there any key technologies where we should be directing R&D now to ensure competitive advantage in the future? At another level, though, the impulse was more general and disinterested. What are likely to be the most significant medium-term impacts of technological developments on all of us as citizens, consumers and individuals? We live in an age where technological change is both rapid and wide-ranging. It is often difficult to understand individual developments and form considered judgements on their implications. We value new gadgets, products and Introduction Introduction 54 This report is a response to these issues of technology, business and society. It does not aspire to be definitive or comprehensive. But it does attempt to map some pathways to the future which are more likely than others, and explore their possible implications. One of the dangers of such an enterprise is that of reading the future through the perspective and preoccupations of the present; of reflecting current concerns and aspirations – on global warming, say, or terrorism or AIDS – in projections of technological development. A sense of historical perspective can go some way towards guarding against this, but it is impossible to avoid completely. This report, then, should be read with an awareness of its contemporary context – the first half of 2004 – and in the understanding that it is a snapshot, intended primarily as a stimulus to further discussion rather than a definitive set of predictions of the future. “Nigerian mobile phone users have been anxiously checking who is calling them before answering them in recent days. A rumour has spread rapidly in the commercial capital, Lagos, that if one answers calls from certain ‘killer numbers’ then one will die immediately. Experts and mobile phone operators have been reassuring the public via the media that death cannot result from receiving a call.” BBC News 19 July 2004 “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Arthur C Clarke
  6. 6. create technology/innovation weather maps, and thereby to link the global forces encapsulated in the scenarios with an analysis of likely technological developments to forecast their potential impacts on people, society and business. Although in practice, inevitably, the process has thrown up surprises, dead-ends and the need to revisit earlier conclusions, the work of the last year or so has followed a logical structure: ■ the first task was to identify 120+ key technologies with potential for major impacts, and prepare initial overviews and assessments based on desk research ■ the next step was to identify a range of authorities in the relevant fields – academics, businesspeople, commentators – and carry out in-depth individual interviews with each of them ■ these experts were then brought together in a series of workshops, each deliberately addressing a range of technologies and potential applications, and attempting to reach a consensus on potential key themes, impacts and timetables ■ the results were formalised into likely technology pathways and impacts ■ it became apparent that there were critical enabling technologies which sat at the nodes where a number of pathways intersect: the identification of these technologies, and the exploration of the social and economic forces which may drive – or block – their acceptance, are a key output of the whole process Shell has a deserved reputation for its scenario planning process, which has been informing the Group’s business strategy for more than 30 years. The origins of scenario planning are generally traced back to US military planning after the second World War. Subsequently, pioneering ‘futurologists’ such as Herman Kahn developed the technique as a tool for businesses to forecast the future and reduce uncertainty. Shell’s early success in using scenario planning to forecast the OPEC oil price crisis in the early 1970s is now a classic business school case study. Since then, Shell has published global scenarios every three years, and applied them to help decide policy in a wide range of situations. Shell has also used scenario planning in work with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change. These global scenarios are intended to provide a broad overview of, typically, two contrasting narratives of how the future may develop. They explore the forces driving change in the wider business environment, helping to challenge current perceptions of how the world operates and encouraging the Group to maintain flexibility in anticipating change. They provide a general framework for discussions of business development, and stimulate debate, but are not designed to determine medium-term planning decisions. In the context of the current exercise, a metaphor has been developed in which scenarios have been likened to meteorological jet-streams: powerful, gross and high-level forces which drive global weather systems. The aim of this study is to map the technological forces operating at a lower, finer level of detail. To extend the metaphor, it is to Scenarios and Forecasting “Shell did not buy oil fields when the price was $30/barrel, they bought when it was $15. Scenarios gave them a huge long term advantage.” Peter Schwartz “Although futurologists make their living in claiming to predict coming events [this] is at best an exercise in scientific wild-ass guessing. Unless taken to heart and acted upon, most such attempts are harmless, and may even offer some minor insights. But the future is and will remain uncertain.” US Col Harry G Summers “People have an innate ability to build scenarios, and to foresee the future.” Peter Schwartz ScenariosandForecasting 76 The exercise has yielded important new insights into the likely impacts and timing of technological developments on business and society, insights which complement Shell’s scenario planning and ground it more directly in business strategy and future R&D and investment decisions. In so doing, both the process and the output break new ground in the field of technology forecasting.
  7. 7. Technology Forecasting Many scientists working at the forefront of technology get carried away by their own hype, predicting fundamental changes that in the event will not happen. However, it does seem that technology is enabling the acceleration of innovation. Technology is creating a virtuous circle – more technology enables faster innovation, which creates more technology, which enables faster innovation etc. In the 1980s, computer games were only just beginning to appear. Now they are a multi-billion dollar global business that is driving large swathes of innovation, especially in computer graphics and the human-machine interface. The user interface in computer games makes the interface with most corporate web sites look clunky. But there will be spillover and the games business will take other applications of computing along with it. One underlying conceptual problem in technology forecasting is that while technology is a well-defined term (the application of science and engineering knowledge to develop tools, materials, techniques, and products) a technology is not. The key outputs of technology are tools, materials etc which perform various functions and meet various needs. Every time a new piece of science or knowledge is brought to bear on creating a tool or product to solve a problem, a new technology emerges. So ‘a technology’ may refer to (the manufacture of) a silicon chip, its combination with radio technology in a mobile phone, the combination of mobile phones and internet technology to create 3G mobile phone technology, and so on. This project has therefore adopted a necessarily pragmatic approach to the identification and definition of technologies, and has avoided spurious differentiation between technologies and applications. The focus has been on forecasting the likely applications and impacts of technological developments, understood in a commonsense manner. By concentrating on development pathways, uncovering which developments will be necessary before others can succeed, and identifying critical nodes within that framework, a more robust and insightful set of projections can be made. All new technology is potentially disruptive of existing taxonomies. Since the essence of technological development is the combination of new and existing technologies and/or their application to different fields, the field is neither linear nor coherent. In presenting the results of this project, we have found it helpful to explore five key themes which emerged as it developed: ■ continuous interaction and connectedness ■ small and distributed ■ sensing and making sense ■ cultivating chemistry ■ energy We also discuss potential impacts in six areas: ■ people ■ transport ■ infrastructure ■ the future of business ■ key challenges ■ society Given the essentially integrated and interdependent pattern of technological development under review, these discussions are less discrete accounts of separate issues and more complementary perspectives on a broad process of change. Finally, we propose a number of important technology development pathways, and identify critical points on which they depend. TechnologyForecasting 9 It is not of course literally possible to forecast the future. If it were, we should in fact not know what to do – and there would be no point in doing it. Everybody would doubtless become an instant billionaire, which would be entirely worthless; our notion of free will would be destroyed; life would become unsustainable. Despite this, we have to plan for the future, anticipate likely trends, and take steps to promote valuable developments and avoid or ameliorate undesirable outcomes. For governments and policy makers, technology forecasting helps in social and economic planning. For businesses, it can inform strategic product planning, R&D and capital investment. Effective forecasting of technological disruptions or discontinuities can reduce risk and reduce competitive threats. Since technology has such a profound and pervasive impact on our lives, it is no surprise that forecasting the way it will develop is a massive industry: a Google search for “+technology +forecast” yields 2,990,000 hits. But the value of much of this effort is debatable: a lot is froth and speculation; some is more akin to science fiction; and yet more is corporate hype or PR aimed at attracting development finance. Even responsible and academic work in this field is of variable value. A recent study of Kahn and Wiener’s well- known “One hundred technical innovations very likely in the last third of the twentieth century”, published in 1967, concludes that fewer than 50% were judged accurate and timely. However, deeper analysis reveals wide variation between forecasting accuracy in different fields. In particular, forecasts in the field of communications and computers were judged to be 84% accurate. The primary reason is that technological trends in these areas – such as Moore’s Law for the exponential growth in the number of transistors per integrated circuit, or trends in semiconductor density and performance/cost – were already well-established in 1967. The most well-founded forecasts are those based on growth trends that will be sustained for long periods or where the growth in enabling technologies will have a spin-off effect: “With careful study and analysis it is possible to find strong under-pinning trends for many of our technology forecasts” Richard E Albright, 2002 It is more difficult to forecast discontinuities or critical nodes on technology pathways in isolation. In Megamistakes: Forecasting and the Myth of Rapid Technological Change, Stephen Schnaars argued that ‘technological wonder’ is at the root of many failures: forecasters become enamoured with an innovation’s underlying technology and fail to consider its ultimate application: “Most growth market forecasts, especially those for technological products, are grossly optimistic. The only industry where such dazzling predictions have consistently come to fruition is computers.” 8 “Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons” Popular Mechanics, 1949
  8. 8. 10 Continued rapid development of computing power, communications technology and data management software will enable a world where communication and information devices will be ‘always on’, and where individuals can be ‘continuously connected’ – and continually monitored. Issues of trust and identity will become prominent. The rapid development of mobile computing and communications technology is bringing about a world of permanent connectedness and continuous interaction. The laptop and the mobile phone were the first significant devices to allow computing and telecommunication on the move. Their impact has been both enormous and widespread: 80 percent of European adults, and 60 percent of Americans, are now believed to own a mobile phone; there are a quarter of a billion mobile phone users in China. Within a few years, these technologies have revolutionised the worlds of business and leisure. It is already possible to send and receive email and surf the internet virtually anywhere. But developments over the next 20 years are likely to be more profound again. If Moore’s Law is sustained, we will see a massive increase in computing power by 2025. The capabilities of a desktop computer will be astonishing; and computing power will be so cheap that any artefact can have significant computing power built in. In parallel, there will be major advances in presentation and visualisation, such as the use of polymers to make ‘roll up’ displays. These advances will bring very much smaller and cheaper digital video. Video could be put everywhere and anywhere. Two barriers stand in the way of a continuation of Moore’s Law: limits on the way electronic circuits behave as they get smaller and smaller; and the dramatic increase in the capital cost of the plant needed to produce each new generation of electronic devices. But nanotechnology may find a way round these problems by enabling entirely new architectures for logic and memory devices. Molecular computing and quantum computing may be delivering these objectives by 2025. 3G mobile phone technology (and 4G and 5G) provide for much higher data transfer rates, catering for bandwidth- hungry applications such as full-motion video, video- conferencing and full internet access, deliverable to phone or computer alike. The distinction between them will continue to blur, and new devices will combine different functionalities for business, entertainment or information. These developments promise an environment in which people will be able to access computation and information anywhere at any time. Wireless networks using developments of technologies such as Bluetooth, DECT, ultra-wide band and wi-fi, combined with ubiquitous networked devices, will provide continuous IP based connectivity and communication. Continuousinteractionandconnectedness 11 Continuous interaction and connectedness
  9. 9. Smart sensors will transmit location details; someone interested in antiquarian bookshops or fitness centres will automatically be notified of facilities in the vicinity. All our interactions will increasingly be monitored and the data captured and analysed. Companies – and governments – will know more and more about our habits and our preferences. Businesses will be able to deliver better customer relationship management and personalisation. Fraud detection will be enhanced. Governments will use data mining and knowledge discovery technologies to identify and apprehend terrorists. Already, call-centre software can ‘pop up’ customer details on agents’ screens before a call is answered, recognising the caller’s number. The same principle will allow, for example, automatic number-plate recognition at banks and filling stations, so that management can greet customers by name and offer specific additional products and services. These developments will depend on a small number of critical technologies. Better battery devices and power management systems will be crucial. More efficient bandwidth management will be necessary to cater for the massive increase in transmitting and receiving devices. In a continuously connected world, the quantity of data and information communicated will be enormous: more effective technologies for storing, managing, searching and filtering such material will be required. A further critical issue will be data storage technology itself. Historically, storage technology has taken second or third place in IT behind the development of computing power and communications. These latter two have reached – or are reaching – the point where they are ‘good enough’; for example, doubling the power of a desktop computer will not now make much of a visible impact on Natural language processing – enabling software systems to understand, process and respond to language as it is used by human speakers – is one of the most complex challenges in computing. The problems range from simple input and interpretation, such as the accurate segmentation of words or phonemes, to complex philosophical issues of grammar, semantics, ambiguity and cultural interpretation. The crude performance currently achievable by automatic translation systems demonstrates the difficulties of handling even well- formed written input effectively. Speech recognition systems are a generation behind in their ability even to understand and reproduce accurately spoken language. Success will come through steady incremental improvements across a range of fronts: in computing power, in probabilistic systems for parsing and in the creation of more effective and accessible encyclopedias of human knowledge and culture. But qualitative breakthroughs in theoretical linguistics will also be necessary. Language is the most complex and creative product of the human brain; true natural language processing will eventually require computer systems with equivalent creativity. Continuousinteractionandconnectedness 13 Today’s computer networks require extensive – and time- consuming – monitoring, support and maintenance. IBM estimate that up to half of all IT expenditure is directed at implementation and repair rather than productive operations. Their promotion of autonomic computing as the future of systems development is part of an industry-wide trend going under various other names such as self-healing systems and self- managing software. The concept is simple: to create systems which operate largely or completely without human intervention, monitoring their own operation, adjusting their own processes to reflect the systems environment and modifying themselves to cope with errors or problems. Autonomic systems rely on continuous control loops to monitor system activities and adjust the system to pre- determined operational objectives: ■ they re-configure themselves, adding new features, system resources and software updates while the system continues running ■ they heal themselves by discovering, analyzing, and remedying the causes of system disruptions ■ they protect themselves against unauthorised intrusion and corruption of data ■ they optimise themselves dynamically, monitoring and tuning systems components such as databases, networks and servers continually In the next five years, such systems will: ■ increase IT responsiveness ■ improve business resiliency ■ improve operational efficiency ■ help secure information and resources 12 Autonomic self-healing systems People will soon enjoy seamless roaming and access to all the information they need when and where they need it. Wireless communication between these computer-based devices – and between human beings – will be enhanced as ‘software defined radios’ and other technologies enable efficient use of the radiofrequency spectrum, deliver true international connectivity, create more opportunities for virtual private networks and provide freedom of choice over the applications we use. We will be able to participate in any number of ‘virtual private networks’ depending on our interests – everything from chess clubs to ad hoc networks formed by the crowd attending a football match. We will never be ‘out of touch’ with each other. Advances in computing power, bandwidth and data management (supported by data mining) will allow ‘mass customisation’ of communication. Individuals will be able to receive information directly relevant to them personally and to their current circumstances. Databases of individual preferences, habits and interests will allow targeted communication of news, recommendations, advertisements. Natural language processing the average user. By contrast, the technology to store vast amounts of data and a wide variety of data will become increasingly important. It is one thing having enormous storage capabilities, it is another having the software and systems to manage and access that knowledge. If we do not get the content management, data mining and knowledge discovery tools
  10. 10. writing and reading ‘surface’ to a point measuring nanometers at its tip allows massively increased storage density. Many other basic enabling technologies already exist, in terms of communications, security, cryptography etc. Biometrics needs further development. But the key developments will need to be in binding everyday objects to identities, and identities to credentials. For example, most current purchases do not depend on a verified identity. Continuousinteractionandconnectedness 15 have some way of processing all the data we have recorded. This may mean adding even more data through automatic indexing systems, generating the need for even more storage. Nor is the sheer volume of information the only issue; the nature of the information may also pose challenges. In particular, the degree of knowledge we will have about our current and probable future health may be intimidating. We will need intelligent computers to deal with the information, computers that understand our interests and needs, can digest the raw information and provide what we want in a form we can readily assimilate. The principal developments will occur with the combination of advanced data storage capabilities and advanced techniques for archiving, management, retrieval and processing. A few areas of IT (eg modelling of weather or financial markets) will still require massive raw processing power. But in the main, the limiting factor will increasingly be storage. Current generations of storage technology – using magnetic and optical devices – have experienced massive growth, but are reaching saturation as they come up against physical limits. New technologies, and cheaper technologies, will replace them. Historically, every time that magnetic storage has been challenged by new technologies, it has responded with technological improvements. Now that the physical limits of magnetic storage are being reached, this is no longer possible. The most promising new technologies involve a combination of ‘probe’ technology emerging from atomic force microscopy with nanotechnology. Hitherto, all storage media (eg tape, CD) have been written and read using heads, with significant physical dimensions. Reducing the 14 Universal translation What they require is that the holder of that identity has verified credentials: in this case the money in the bank to pay for the purchase. So technology for validating and confirming credentials will become more necessary. The connected world will bring enormous advantages in business efficiency and in personal experience: we shall be able to do much more, much faster and more enjoyably. But there are also risks, in particular to individual privacy and freedom. right, people will be flooded by information and unable to function. Information will be stored in a variety of formats: we will need to be able to manipulate these different formats and bring material together easily. The issue will be how to process this content. The human memory auto- discards information so that we are not overloaded. But artificial memory will grow and grow. We shall have to Universal translation (UT) encapsulates the dream that eventually automatic real-time translation from one speaker’s language to another will be possible. The challenges are enormous. UT will depend on major advances in speech recognition, natural language processing (qv), dictionary management technology, semantics and cultural representation. In all of these areas, major conceptual and theoretical advances will be necessary before acceptable performance can be achieved. In practice, therefore, most UT developments focus on achieving ‘good-enough’ performance, taking more of the drudgery out of the translation task by incremental improvements to existing technology. Existing voice- recognition systems (eg IBM’s ViaVoice) and translation software (eg AltaVista’s BabelFish and Google’s web page translation tool) demonstrate both the extent and the limits of what is currently possible. However, the eventual prize is potentially enormous: not simply in practical terms of everyday business and personal interaction but in the more nebulous, but important, area of facilitating cross-cultural communication and understanding. Progressively more efficient and convenient devices will appear in the short and medium term. And in the longer term, miniature portable translating devices could be available to all. One of the key design principles of the internet is that there is no central network control. Each router on the system is independent and autonomous, and data split into packets have many millions of possible routes from source to destination. Wireless mesh networks will extend the same principle to radio communications. In such networks, each node will operate as both transmitter and receiver, and act as a relay point to other nodes. This promises significant benefits. Mesh networks are an order of magnitude more reliable: if a single node fails, many other nodes are available. And it also opens the prospect of creating robust networks in environments unfavourable to radio transmission, for example where there are massive steel or concrete structures; multiple, closely-spaced nodes can relay communications reliably across the network. Mesh networks will be able to re-configure themselves in response to the local environment, making new connections with adjacent nodes. So mobile mesh networks will allow cars to communicate with each other on the move; home automation and entertainment systems will configure themselves automatically; military communications on the battlefield will be transformed. Mesh networks
  11. 11. luxury available only to the affluent. Who will control access to the information recorded about individuals? Will it be controllable? Increasing urban populations, continuous connectivity, global personal tracking and high levels of advertising and media communication will increasingly mean that solitude for the individual is a luxury – one that can only be bought or earned. The ability to disconnect, physically and virtually, may itself become a commodity to be bought, sold and traded. A further threat is the issue of credibility and confusion. It is no longer true that ‘the camera does not lie’. It is now virtually impossible for the public to tell if a photograph has been artificially created. In a digital, wired world full of virtual communities and long-distance communications, how will people know what is true? There could be some very credible lies. Technology will in principle be available to allow people to exercise control. Communication can be encrypted. RFIDs can be disabled when they pass outside a defined geographical sphere. All sensing and communicating devices can in principle be switched off. But will people be allowed control? Where will the balance lie? Continuous communication and connectedness will raise new issues of identification, identity and trust. To what extent will we be able to choose and manage our own identities? To a limited extent we do so already by using different storecards with their reward points. We use different identities to participate in different communities, both real and virtual. How far will such identity ‘partitioning’ be possible in the future? Successful miniaturisation of RFIDs and equivalent systems will be key, not least as the technology behind validating and confirming the credentials that underpin the trend towards partitioning of money and identity. Continuousinteractionandconnectedness 17 Already, mobile phones transmit and record their location within a kilometer or two: any user’s daily movements can in principle be tracked. Credit card transactions track date, time, location and content of many purchases. Vehicle number-plate recognition tracks our cars at many points today, and future road-charging systems will be able to do this continuously. Internet service providers can track our surfing and purchasing habits. Retailers, financial service companies and government agencies – both on-line and physical – build profiles of users and target accordingly. RFID tags on products we buy, use and carry around will broadcast our identity and position all the time. In 2004, Legoland in Denmark began issuing children visiting the theme park with RFID tags. Ostensibly intended to ensure they could not get lost, it was quickly realized that there could be commercial benefits from the technology. An IBM VP who works with RFIDs commented, “Lego will now know exactly where each customer is, how long they are spending in each area and which products are proving to be most popular.” The critical issues in managing this world will be control over communication and connectedness, and trust. How much connectedness will be dis-connectable? We may be able to choose whether to opt in or out of information services, advertising programmes or affinity groups. But will we be able to insist on anonymity or privacy in our movements, habits, preferences? Privacy is already becoming a purchasable commodity: we have the option to choose certain basic services which reveal personal information and entail receiving advertising, or premium services which shield us. Perhaps privacy will become a 16 It is clear that computing, electronic devices and network technology are becoming both more powerful and more miniaturised. And that they are converging. These technologies will steadily extend their penetration into all aspects of daily life – to the point where we live in a world of ubiquitous computing. This does not imply ‘more of the same’, in the sense that computers as we currently understand the term will be seen everywhere. Instead, artificial intelligence and communications capability will be embedded in more and more everyday items around us, so that ubiquitous computing becomes simply part of the environment of daily life and work. Tiny, mobile transmitters, sensors and network devices will connect household objects, consumer appliances, buildings, highways and so on. New generations of smart devices will manage themselves, respond to their environments and communicate with people only when necessary: to receive instructions or transmit information when it is wanted. The potential benefits in terms of efficiency, productivity and freeing people to concentrate on what is important are obvious. Equally, though, exploiting these benefits to the full will require a degree of individual monitoring, tracking and potential control so far never experienced. Ubiquitous computing RFID – radio frequency identification – technology is rapidly penetrating many areas of manufacturing and business. Until recently, RFID tags were relatively large and expensive. But advances in miniaturisation, and improvements in power consumption, mean that RFIDs are set to invade many areas of everyday life. An RFID tag (or ‘smart tag’) can be applied to – or built into – any solid object. Consisting essentially of a receiving coil and a microchip, when it passes through the radio-frequency field produced by a tag reader, it will transmit its memory contents. These data can include basic identification details, and a potentially infinite range of other information: for example source RFID information, manufacturing history, inventory tracking information. The concept is similar to a barcode, except that RFIDs can transmit far greater amounts of information, at greater distances, much more rapidly and automatically. Advanced RFIDs are now being developed with dynamic read-write memory. In theory, any object containing an RFID will soon be able to have its whole life history – and by extension that of its owner – continuously recorded and monitored. Unfortunately, the first software which allows hackers to change the information held on the RFID – the price of the item it’s attached to, for example – has already been released…
  12. 12. Ultra-wideband points from different physical and on-line stores. We currently use different monies in different currency zones. In future, we may use very many more different monies for different purposes. The implications are more radical when we consider partitioning identities. Instead of one identity, we are already moving to having a number of identities, each with a different set of relationships and characteristics. We may have different identities in on-line communities and chat- Points to consider ■ Research shows that technology forecasting in computing and telecommunications has a high degree of accuracy: these developments will happen, and probably sooner than we expect. ■ But how able will we be to strike an acceptable trade-off between increased utility and individual privacy? ■ In virtual communities, how will trust be negotiated? ■ Who will control the ‘on-off’ switch? Continuousinteractionandconnectedness 19 Sharing and communicating information implies that both parties trust each other. Differential trust in the source of information and its protection of our privacy will determine which communities we feel we belong to and want to be part of. Governments, employers, business, social groups and voluntary associations will have to compete for trust or impose conventions. Given the choice, we may feel more loyal to a particular social group, retailer or virtual community than to a national government or local authority. How much choice will we have? New technologies will provide opportunities to ‘unpick’ digital identity and money, and rebuild them. The key trends over the next 25 years will involve partition. Hitherto, technology has been about aggregation. On the money side, credit cards, smart cards and electronic money have allowed us to make more and more expenditures with fewer and fewer physical devices: one card, or a single internet banking connection rather than a multitude of notes and coins. On the identity side, larger and more integrated databases tend to amass more and more information about a single person in one place. The majority of security and civil liberties concerns about digital money and identity derive from these aggregative characteristics. By contrast, partitioning will allow us to use different moneys and different identities for different purposes. It could be the key to resolving the concerns that derive from aggregation. For example, to a small extent we already use different ‘monies’ when we collect and spend reward 18 Extensible Markup Language (XML) is an application of the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) specifically designed for electronic publishing and World Wide Web publishing. A markup language is a metalanguage designed to describe aspects of the structure or content of a text in another, normally natural, language: Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is probably the best-known example, allowing the structure and formatting of World Wide Web pages to be described by tags inserted into the text. However, while HTML describes structure and formatting, XML is designed to describe content. So where the content consists of structured data – lists of products, categories, function for example, or address databases – XML can rigorously describe and define the meaning of any item. This means it is ideally suited for content-rich data communication. Although the early hype about XML revolutionising the internet has subsided – the great majority of web pages contain unstructured information – XML is progressively supplanting electronic data interchange for business data transfer. XML For a list of all the ways technology has failed to improve the quality of life, please press three. Alice Kahn Bandwidth is the key determinant of the capacity of any communications technology. Wireless technology offers the greatest ease and convenience of communication, and is obviously essential for portable devices. But the bandwidth capacity of the radio spectrum is by definition limited. The emerging ultra-wideband technology will provide very high capacity communications capability for short-range applications, typically up to some tens of metres. As its name implies, ultra-wideband (UWB) uses an extremely wide band of frequencies to transmit data: in the USA, the FCC has recently licensed UWB transmission from 3.1GHz to 10.6GHz. But to avoid interference, transmissions are limited to very low power. This combination of high bandwidth and low power means that UWB is an ideal technology for highly efficient, low-energy consuming communication between closely-located electronic devices. Cable connections between pieces of equipment could finally be a thing of the past; data transmission between transmitters and sensors will become massively simpler and more efficient. Standards are now being developed for combining wireless UWB with universal serial bus (USB) technology and for audio-video consumer electronics. rooms. Stores may track our spending habits and preferences, but we show different identities to each: you may shop at a supermarket for moderately-priced Chilean wine, and be recorded with this characteristic, but you may buy first-growth claret from a wholesaler by the case. The nature of citizenship depends on a continuing relationship between an individual in all his or her characteristics with a single state. In future, perhaps people might partition different aspects of their identity between different relationships. Their privacy, or their passport details, might be better managed by Shell than by the government. Voting might be partitioned: you have strong views on certain issues, and will vote on these accordingly, but are content to delegate other issues to the partners in trusted relationships.
  13. 13. 20 Technological advances are driving a wide range of applications in the same direction: miniaturisation, portability and customisation, combined with the dispersal and distribution of devices. Computing and communication power will become increasingly pervasive but – apparently paradoxically – less visible as they are seamlessly embedded in many everyday objects. We have seen that computing will become ever more pervasive. Assuming that Moore’s Law for computing power will continue to hold, the cost of computing power will fall dramatically, enabling ‘chips with everything’. Developments in nanotechnology will allow computer- based devices to be manufactured and deployed on a tiny scale. Computers will be embedded in everyday objects enabling our environment to adapt automatically to our individual needs. Large-scale automation will dramatically cut the cost of making computers and electro-mechanical devices. Manufacturing will become a commodity; many more businesses will be built purely on knowledge. Advances in bioprocessing will enable small scale manufacture in distributed systems to be economically competitive. No longer will countries and companies gain competitive advantage through their ability to access large amounts of capital. Vast amounts of data will be available. But storage technologies will advance so that we can carry around with us enough storage capacity to contain everything we will ever experience during the whole of our lives. The amount of available memory will be gigantic – more than enough to capture everything we ever experience. Advanced data Smallanddistributed 21 Small and distributed Fuel cell technology (qv) is well understood, and rapid advances mean they are becoming increasingly practical and competitive. For large power consumption devices, for instance automobiles, the major challenges centre round hydrogen storage and transportation: the weight and bulk of safe hydrogen tanks, and the need for extensive new fuel distribution networks are significant barriers. But for low power applications, such as in portable electronic devices, micro fuel cells could be replacing batteries in the near future. Such cells are already at the prototype stage. Typically, they will be fuelled by a methanol-water mixture. In contrast to conventional batteries for laptop computers, which last from three to five hours before recharging is necessary, the first generation of laptop micro fuel cells will last up to 12 hours. And no time-consuming recharging will be necessary: they will be refuelled by a quick squirt from a fuel can in the same way as a cigarette lighter. Shrinking the technology to fit in mobile phones will take a little longer. But not much. Micro fuel cells
  14. 14. Decentralised power supply Decentralised energy production – useful conversion of energy close to the consumer – has been familiar to humankind for thousands of years, from simple burning of fuel for heat to the exploitation of water, wind and animal power. Over the last century or so, the advent of large, industrial-scale energy production, especially electricity generation, has created centralised systems distributing power to thousands or millions of individuals. Small-scale local power generation has continued to exist, where its inherently poorer economics have been offset by other benefits. Increasingly now, though, technological advances in small-scale power production, coupled with growing awareness of the downside of centralised production, are driving a new generation of decentralised energy production systems. Significant advances in traditional internal-combustion technology, alongside newly commercial technologies such as fuel cells, offer the prospect of local or neighbourhood systems generating economic power close to its end use, with generators several orders of magnitude smaller than traditional power stations. Micro-generators exploiting renewable sources such as wind-power and photovoltaics are increasingly competitive. The massive infrastructure investment in centralised power production and distribution in the industrialised world means that a major shift to a decentralised paradigm will have to overcome stiff resistance. However, such distributed systems would have significant advantages in terms of reliability, low capital cost and overall system efficiency, including the potential for combined heat and power. Ambient intelligence Ambient intelligence is a term coined by the Information Society Technologies Advisory Group of the European Commission to draw together the themes of ubiquitous computing, pervasive communications and intelligent devices (qq.v.) According to the ISTAG vision statement, an ambient intelligent environment will be characterized by intelligent interfaces supported by computing and networking technology embedded in everyday objects such as furniture, clothes, vehicles, roads and smart materials – even particles of decorative substances like paint. Such an environment will respond to the specific requirements of human presence and personalities; adapt to the needs of users; be capable of responding intelligently to spoken or gestured commands; and eventually be capable of engaging in intelligent dialogue. Ambient intelligence will be pervasive and ubiquitous but also unobtrusive – allowing constant and effortless interaction and affording seamless transitions between different environments – home, vehicle, public space, etc. Its ambient characteristics will depend on major advances in smart materials, sensor technology, embedded systems, ubiquitous communication, I/O device technology and self-managing software. Its intelligent characteristics will include media management and handling, natural language interaction, computational intelligence, contextual awareness and ‘emotional computing’ that embodies systems to express emotion and respond to the moods of their users. Computer software and hardware will have to operate to currently unimaginable levels of reliability. Since computing power will be embedded in everything, safety- critical errors and ‘blue-screen’ crashes will have to have been eliminated. Every new item of software and hardware will be ‘plug and play’. Software itself will be much simpler, built up of modules; all of us will be familiar with customising and upgrading our software packages. ‘Software-defined radios’ (SDRs) will enable devices to use the most efficient part of the wireless spectrum as they need it. SDRs will accommodate the many international standards, frequency bands and applications by offering end-user devices that can be programmed, fixed or enhanced by ‘over-the-air’ software. In principle, this will enable true international connectivity; freedom of choice over the applications you want to use with your device (MP3, DAB, FM etc.); virtual private networks, closed user groups, combined delivery of voicemail, messages and faxes, and so on. Personal area networks, in which wireless technology enables us to hook into and out of smaller communities, will be created. Ad hoc area networking will be common – Smallanddistributed 23 mining and knowledge discovery tools linked to intelligent human interfaces will always enable us to access the information from these enormous databases. The word ‘forgotten’ will lose its meaning. We may all carry a number of network devices around with us. The parts of a PC will no longer be all together in one box. It will fragment into a number of small units: the memory, the CPU, the display, the user-interface will probably all be separate. All technology will be compatible. So we could carry around our miniature memory and CPU and ‘plug it into’ (although the connection will be wireless) any display, CPU or input device at home, in the office, in shops, the airport. We might even carry virtual reality displays in the form of spectacles with us. We will see fewer visible computers of the type common today. Tomorrow’s computers will be embedded in everyday objects – just as the telephone today enables access to a ‘computer’ (the digital phone network). The end-user’s requirement is not for a computer as such: it is for a responsive, automated environment, such as a house with touch pad or voice recognition controls, computerised safety systems in cars or automatic ticket machines. 22
  15. 15. extent that tiny sensors may be everywhere. Individually simple, networks of these sensors could communicate with each other to form sophisticated systems, taking action on their own or reporting back to central computers. They will be able to perform a wide variety of functions – monitoring machinery, tracking components through the supply chain, monitoring environmental impact, providing security, even, perhaps, monitoring us. The word ‘lost’ would cease to have any meaning – everything could be traced (and nothing could be stolen). Companies will be able to use sensors reporting to their computer systems to track products through their entire life cycle. They will be able to understand better how people use their products, enabling mass customisation. Products like washing machines will be linked to enhanced services. For example, if sensors in a washing machine indicate a breakdown is likely to happen, the manufacturer could proactively send a service engineer before any problem arises. This would build enormous trust with the customer. Smallanddistributed 25 with all the crowd entering a football stadium, say, connecting to a temporary network. Networks will be able to scale to the number of users. Successful miniaturisation of radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags will reduce costs to the point where they are insignificant, paving the way for massive deployment of tags on a wide range of products, goods and commodities. These tags will also be ‘always on’, capable of transmitting data about their situation, position, state and local environment. There are obvious potential benefits in supply chain management, transport, logistics and delivery systems. RFIDs can bind everyday objects to identities. In the future, if every object contains a chip, it will be impossible for anything to be lost. Sensor technology will develop to the 24 The high capital cost of large power reactors and public perceptions of risk are prompting a move to develop smaller nuclear reactors of 300MWe or less. Small reactors potentially offer simpler designs, reduced siting costs and economies of scale through their production in greater numbers. Many of the designs currently being worked on include passive safety features that rely on physical phenomena to protect against accidents, rather than the active operation of engineered systems. Some small reactor concepts are intended to operate in remote locations for small loads (including floating nuclear power plants); others are designed to operate in clusters to compete with larger units for supply to a transmission grid. Small reactor designs ranging in size from 5kWe upwards are at an advanced stage in Russia, Japan, Argentina, the US, South Korea, France and South Africa. A wide range of technologies are being explored using a variety of coolants, including pressurised water, high temperature gas, liquid metal and molten salt. Small nuclear reactors If nano-technology (qv) is to result in microscopic devices which can operate at the molecular scale, they will need comparable power supplies. In 2003, a team of US researchers was awarded a patent for a method of making nano-scale batteries, about a millionth of the size of conventional car batteries. Although there is a long way to go before this technology is practical and can be commercialised, it holds out the prospect of powering nano-technology machines to operate at molecular scale. These micro-batteries are made by partially dissolving an aluminium sheet in acid solution, leaving a very fine honeycomb structure which is subsequently filled with a polymer electrolyte. Each side of the sheet is then sealed with a film of conducting particles to act as individual electrodes. An atomic force microscope charges individual cells, which produce a tiny current – about a millionth of a milliamp. Elsewhere, researchers are working on inserting copper molecules into the crystal lattices of carbon nano-tubes. The next challenge for both of these approaches is to solve the problem of assembling a complete device with wires and connections. Nano-batteries Nano-technology of a metre), and are often loosely called nano-technologies. By contrast, the original sense of the term implies the development of nano-scale manipulators and assemblers controlling physical and chemical reactions atom-by-atom. If such an assembler could be created, complete with its own instructions, power and machinery, it could form the basis of a self-replicating system – a nano-replicator. But individually guiding separate molecules into a specified place in a structure may never be possible. As one authority has claimed: “self-replicating, mechanical nanobots are simply not possible in our world. To put every atom in its place – the vision articulated by some nanotechnologists – would require magic fingers.” Nano-technology essentially deals with the field of engineering structures smaller than 100 nanometres (one nanometre is one billionth of a metre). Two rather different technologies are involved: the manipulation of matter at the atomic level to position individual molecules precisely where they are wanted; and – what is much more difficult – the construction of functional machines on a similar scale. Chemical and biological processes can already manipulate individual atoms and molecules, of course; thin films, super-fine fibres and sub-micron lithography all involve manipulation at the nano-scale (a micron is one-millionth
  16. 16. New social behaviours will evolve from the combination of distributed technology networks and human networks. In the US, taxi drivers in a couple of cities can already view and keep updated in real-time a web site that shows where the cheapest gasoline can be bought; this is a public web site that helps everyone. Social groups have rapidly realised the ability of mobile phones to coordinate social and political gatherings. They were instrumental in organising people to help overthrow the government in The Philippines; in the UK the same phenomenon occurred when farmers were co-ordinating their protests at an increase in duty on certain types of diesel. Distributed technology, portability, customisation, ubiquitous computing can enable networks of people to do things that they could not previously do. Smallanddistributed 27 Constant monitoring of equipment will mean maintenance can be conducted as and when necessary rather than happening on a fixed schedule (even when it is not necessary). Many routine maintenance tasks will be carried out automatically as the sensors ‘talk’ to robotic devices like painting machines. Intelligent buildings will interact continuously with their owners and inhabitants. They will sense the presence and 26 More than a billion people in the world lack a basic water supply, and 2.4 billion – about two fifths of the world’s population – do not have access to adequate sanitation. On present trends, by 2025 as many as 5.5 billion people will be suffering from water shortages. Technology for water purification is readily available in the industrialised world. But it tends to be too complex and expensive for mass deployment in the third world. Appropriate and effective technology need not be advanced technology: in this case the need is for a solution which is cheap, simple and easy to use. The McGuire Water Purifier was developed by Duvon McGuire, an Indiana inventor and missionary. It is made of plastic tube and is powered by a car battery. The 12- volt design was chosen deliberately because while third world villages may not have a power supply, there are normally at least a few people with a car, whose battery can power the purifier. Using a few salt tablets, the system can produce up to 55 gallons of potable drinking water a minute. Coupled with large tanks and pumps, safe drinking water for up to 10,000 people can be produced relatively quickly; smaller units are available for locations with limited storage. McGuire purifiers are now in use in nearly 40 countries, providing safe drinking water to orphanages, clinics, villages and refugee camps from Indonesia to West Africa to Ukraine. Point of use purification of water Smart dust needs of occupants. They will learn behaviour and response patterns and configure domestic and workspace environments automatically. Control of domestic systems such as lighting, heating, entertainment, refrigeration will be simple and transparent from remote locations. Other forms of miniature sensors will be used in a wide range of applications, from traffic monitoring to weather measurement to pollution control. The UK government has recently announced plans to introduce within 10-15 years a road pricing system which will track the position of 30 million vehicles at once, and tax their users variably according to where and at what time of day they are driving. Points to consider ■ As sensing, communication and computing become all- pervasive, but less obtrusive, will we become less aware of what they are doing? ■ Will we value the benefits more than the potential for increased surveillance, social control and misuse? ‘Smart dust’ is a catchy term for self-contained, millimeter-scale sensing and communication devices. The aim is to combine sensors, computational ability, bi- directional wireless communications, and a power supply within a device about the size of a grain of sand; and to manufacture them cheaply enough that they could be deployed in their hundreds and thousands to build massively distributed sensor networks. The basic technologies are all available. Current research and development focus is on integration, miniaturization, and energy management. Each dust ‘mote’ is controlled by its own microprocessor, which periodically receives readings from a sensor measuring one of a number of physical or chemical stimuli such as temperature, ambient light, vibration, acceleration or air pressure. It also turns on its receiver at regular intervals to check if another mote, or a base station, is communicating with it. Distributed intelligent technology allows a large number of motes to operate as a coherent single network. Current prototype motes are about 5mm in size, and cost about $50. Once devices as small as 1mm, and costing less than $1, become possible, it will be feasible to use ‘smart dust’ for remote sensing, meteorological, geophysical or planetary research, and – inevitably – for a range of military purposes.
  17. 17. 28 Continuous connectedness and widespread distribution of small computing and communicating devices will transform the nature of our interaction with the world and how we make sense of it. Intelligent sensors will allow new generations of intelligent devices, at the same time as new visual and oral technologies transform the way we interact with them. As we have seen, sensor technology will mediate many of these interactions. By 2025, use of sensors will be widespread. We can expect significant miniaturisation and cost reduction to have occurred. Sensors will be cheap enough for extensive use throughout industry. Anything and everything will be able to be monitored by sensors that can talk to each other and to the central network accessing the data analysis. Each individual sensor might be simple, only carrying out one or two functions (measuring vibration, or heat etc.) but taken together, they will provide comprehensive coverage. Sensingandmakingsense 29 Sensing and making sense Micro-sensors will monitor the performance of the machines throughout their life, either communicating with each other to optimise performance, or escalating issues to some central location if external intervention is needed, for example to replace a part that has the potential to fail. As a result, no longer will aeroplanes fall from the sky through metal fatigue or trains crash because the rails are buckled or cracked. Small sensors will be used extensively in large structures and machines to continuously monitor and optimise safety and performance. Failures will be predicted and avoided. Actuators will be applied on bridges to provide active control of the structure and keep them stable. Overall, we are likely to see a huge increase in the safety and performance of a wide variety of machines and systems. Companies will install sensors in their machines – including domestic white goods like washing machines – that continuously monitor the condition of the machine and report back to a centralised network, providing data to the manufacturers on how their products are used, enabling mass customisation. Faults will be predicted in advance and an engineer sent before the machine breaks down. Manufacturers will extend their offer into providing highly efficient lifetime service, enormously strengthening their customer relationships. Service providers themselves will make use of the new technologies. For example, sensors in cars combined with GPS technology will alert the AAA automatically in the event of a breakdown. “By 2025, use of sensors will be widespread. We can expect significant miniaturisation and cost reduction to have occurred.”
  18. 18. These sensor networks could also be linked to the Internet, meaning that in principle anything that moves, grows, makes a noise, heats up etc., around the world could be monitored. The combination of fairly simple biosensors, known technologies and chemistries will create robust diagnostic tools. The combination of advanced technology and advanced data handling will make medical diagnosis less invasive. Examples include using optical tools such as smart endoscopes to look at tumours in the body; in vivo Raman spectroscopy; and Optical Computer Tomography. All of these will provide non-invasive diagnostic techniques. Electronic nose technology, comprising multiple gas sensor arrays, has been around for a long time. But in conjunction with advanced data handling it will produce a very strong tool for diagnosis of diseases like TB. It will be possible to build up a global picture of a disease and then readily identify which microbacterium is causing a specific Sensingandmakingsense 31 Technology will both enhance our perception of the world and enable the world to respond automatically to us, for example in the form of car seats and houses that automatically recognise who we are and adjust their shape, temperature etc. accordingly. By 2025 ultra-small ‘Smart Dust’ sensors will have been improved. Smart dust devices are tiny wireless microelectromechanical sensors (MEMS) that can detect everything from light to vibrations. These motes could eventually be the size of a grain of sand, though each would contain sensors, computing circuits, bi-directional wireless 30 Artificial intelligence Text mining Forgoing the attempt to ‘understand’ a whole piece of text, text mining concentrates on generating, for example, an automatic summary of an article by extracting the most common and prominent nouns and noun phrases. Or it might extract the author, title and date of publication of an article, the acronyms defined in a text or the articles mentioned in the bibliography. The use of statistical analysis, collocation analysis and simple phrase-structure grammar can recognise and distinguish with a high degree of accuracy the significant content of a text. Already programmes exist which can read in CVs and extract people’s names, addresses and job skills with accuracies in the high 80 percents. communications technology and a power supply. Motes would gather data, run computations and communicate that information using two-way band radio. Potential commercial applications are varied, ranging from catching manufacturing defects by sensing out-of-range vibrations in industrial equipment to tracking patient movements in a hospital room. Hundreds of tiny sensors can be scattered around a building to monitor temperature or humidity. Or a network of minuscule, remote sensor chips could be deployed, like dust, to track enemy movements in a military operation. It will be many years before it is possible to develop systems for automatic ‘understanding’ of natural language text (cf natural language processing). Text mining has more limited goals – and is therefore achieving comparatively more success. Text mining is a form of data mining, the technology of finding meaningful patterns in large databases. Text mining techniques search for regularities, patterns or trends in natural language text which fit predetermined criteria and which point to useful knowledge. Where data mining typically extracts patterns from highly structured databases, text mining focuses on unstructured or semi- structured text. precisely defined rules. But many apparently simple tasks carried out by humans with hardly a thought turn out to be immensely subtle. Sight is not passive reception of visual signals, but a complex process of interpretation, recognition, understanding and creation of meaning. Natural language processing (qv) is similarly complex. Since we do not at present understand what consciousness is or how and why it operates, it has so far proved almost impossible to create machines to mimic any but the most simple cognitive processes. Although progressively ‘cleverer’ machines are constantly being developed, the real limit on the progress of AI is the rate of our understanding of the human brain. “There is much that we do not know about brains: including what they do and how they do it.” Aaron Sloman, School of Computer Science, Birmingham University. Artificial intelligence (AI) has become an extensive and ill-bounded discipline embracing developments in everything from robotics to expert systems and chess- playing computer programmes; some of its important ideas and techniques have been absorbed into software engineering. Underlying all these activities, however, is the aim of understanding the mechanisms mediating human thought and intelligent behaviour and replicating these in machines. This can be interpreted equally as the study of information: how it is acquired, stored, manipulated, used, and communicated, both in artificial systems and in humans and other animals. The history of AI to date has revealed an apparent paradox: it has proved relatively easy to develop programmes which undertake superficially complex tasks, like playing chess or carrying out complex calculations. Such tasks are well- suited to a computer’s ability to operate on large numbers of precisely defined symbols very rapidly, according to
  19. 19. As the technologies of virtual reality evolve, the applications become unlimited. VR will reshape the interface between people and information technology by offering new ways for the communication of information, the visualization of processes and the creative expression of ideas. A virtual environment can represent any three- dimensional world that is either real or abstract. Uses include training, education, design evaluation (virtual prototyping), architectural walk-through, human factors and ergonomic studies, help for the handicapped, entertainment etc. There will be two main modes of application: personalised displays (on the head – as ‘sunglasses’ for example – or held in the hand); and centralised displays (for example in control rooms). Personal displays will obviously have entertainment applications, but they can also be used for such tasks as navigation – if linked to GPS – and the provision of personal information systems (e.g. the personal display could be linked to the Web or other computer or communication systems). The advent of cheap digital video linked to wireless communications is likely to result in a profusion of monitoring cameras, reducing the level of street crime. This ubiquitous video monitoring, together with the data available from all the communication and electronic transactions we conduct, will be combined with data mining, knowledge discovery and artificial intelligence tools to identify criminals and track their movements. Genetic fingerprints and retinal scans will make individual identification foolproof and help to reduce the risk of fraud. Our relationship with computers will change. Intelligent computerised customer support will transform the help-line as emailed questions are answered automatically in real Sensingandmakingsense 33 outbreak. The electronic nose can also be used in renal dialysis, ‘sniffing’ blood in real time as it is being processed so that precisely the right amount of dialysis takes place (currently dialysis is based on blood tests that are done off- line perhaps weeks before). Making sense of this world will need to go hand in hand with its effective management. Much of this will be automated. But human intervention and control will depend on effective visualisation, representation and problem avoidance. The use of virtual and enhanced reality systems in control rooms and elsewhere will drastically reduce the amount of human error problems historically associated with the man-machine interface. Networked users at different locations will be able to meet in the same virtual world, seeing the same environment from their respective points of view. Users will see each other, communicate with each other and interact with the virtual world as a team. 32 Complex adaptive systems importance to fields as diverse as artificial intelligence, network configuration and management and neuroscience. At its most theoretical, such work involves identifying and exploring properties common to all such complex adaptive systems, using cellular automata, Boolean networks, neural networks, genetic algorithms and similar techniques. More practically, the study of complex adaptive systems has led to deeper understanding of phenomena such as the self-organization of neural cell tissue and the development of altruism and cooperation in human societies. The deliberate creation of complex systems which can organise and adapt themselves will represent a step change in the development of goal-directed, problem- solving tools. time and only those questions the computer does not recognise are escalated for human response. As the computers learn, the amount of time-consuming escalation will be minimised. Healthcare Fabrics coated with conducting polymers have already been incorporated into items such as sports bras, knee braces and socks. As these materials are stretched, conductivity changes in the polymer coating allow them to operate as sensitive strain gauges, with the resulting data transmitted to a remote base-station. This can provide real-time biomechanical feedback during movement over extended periods of time. The application of such technology to investigate neuromuscular pathological conditions – such as stroke, rheumatoid arthritis and peripheral neuropathies – is already being developed. In future, such functional clothing will be able to monitor breathing and heart function, and track body movements, providing data for carers and health professionals. Environmental monitoring Miniature instruments are being developed to monitor pollutants in water – including ammonia, phosphates and heavy metals. A chip with a network of micron-sized channels mixes water samples with reagents. Resulting colour changes are measured using low-power LEDs and photodetectors integrated into the chip platform (cf lab- on-a-chip). Inclusion of wireless communications capability will allow water quality data to be gathered from remote locations. Applications of automatic sensing If recognizable and functional ‘intelligence’ is to be developed in man made systems – for example massive networks of distributed sensors or teams of self-organising robots – then they will have to be designed to behave much more like natural and biological systems. In such systems, the actions of simple, locally-interacting components give rise to coordinated global behaviour. In these complex adaptive systems, whether they are galaxies, human economies or insect colonies, structure and organisation emerge from inherent qualities of the system rather than external constraint; successful systems achieve equilibrium by adapting to their environment. One of the most obvious examples of such a system is the human brain itself. The study of complexity, and of how adaptive systems arise, operate and develop, is therefore of critical
  20. 20. Sensingandmakingsense 35 But computers find it very difficult to understand spoken human language. By contrast with developments in computer graphics – which have achieved astonishing progress in just a few years – developments in using spoken human language to interact with computers have been slow and tortuous. So, by 2025 we will see voice applications in certain areas – like elevators, cars and cellphones – where specific voice commands and responses can be applied. But we are unlikely to see the science fiction world of effectively having a conversation with a computer until much later. Currently, computers are very bad at recognising human facial and other expressions (and easily fooled). Even the monitoring of blood pressure, respiration, sweat etc. is not a foolproof way of telling how we are feeling because individuals vary so much. However, people cannot control their micro-expressions, the fraction of a second muscle and other responses that give the game away. Computers are good at reacting on that time frame. So they can be responsive to our moods and emotions and adjust our environment accordingly. 34 Data visualisation representation of information has been implicated in major disasters. The Chernobyl nuclear accident occurred in part because control engineers had hung up a sign obscuring a warning lamp. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board into the US Shuttle disaster directly attacked the use of PowerPoint slides in technical analysis and briefing: When engineering analyses and risk assessments are condensed to fit on a standard form or overhead slide, information is inevitably lost. In the process, the priority assigned to information can be easily misrepresented… The Board views the endemic use of PowerPoint briefing slides instead of technical papers as an illustration of the problematic methods of technical communication at NASA. If we are to make sense of the data that new technology makes available, the challenges will become progressively greater. Greater progress will be made in the area of written language. For example, computers will act as virtual secretaries, scanning incoming material, prioritising, summarising and prompting. Intelligent computerised customer support will allow computers to recognise the nature of an emailed question and provide a response (at least nine times out of 10). This will provide a huge cost saving for companies. The longer term will see significant advances in the brain- machine interface to mediate our perception and understanding of the world. There are two key issues. First is the representation issue. How does the brain go about representing the outside world? The brain consists of billions of neurons. Any one neuron is not that important because it is populations of GPS The key developments in GPS will not come primarily from improvements in the basic technology (power, signal accuracy, interoperability of the GPS system – developed by USA – with the parallel European Galileo system) but from the rapid spread of applications. Already, GPS systems are driving automobiles, ships, farm vehicles, aircraft and military systems. For business, GPS technology will allow completely accurate tracking of goods in transit, and facilitate precise targeting of advertising and promotion to mobile users depending on their location. In transport, GPS systems will lead to completely automated aircraft landing systems. GPS opens the prospect of a future in which everything – and everyone – could be tracked and located with pinpoint accuracy. GPS (global positioning system) technology is widespread already, and some estimates suggest that the market for GPS devices is doubling every year. Frost & Sullivan estimate the US market alone to be worth $4 billion dollars a year. The technology is conceptually simple. A network of 24 satellites each contains an atomic clock, and transmits a continuous stream of time-stamped data. A GPS receiver compares the time taken for signals to reach it from four separate satellites and ‘triangulates’ the results in three dimensions to calculate a relative position. Cross- checking against an almanac of satellite time-space coordinates yields position and altitude coordinates accurate to a foot. The massive amounts of data made available by new technologies and the digital revolution pose exceptional challenges for human cognition and interpretation. The development of automatic systems for evaluation and decision-making can go some way to coping with large amounts of information. But for critical applications human analysis and judgement remain essential. The development of new techniques of data visualisation and representation will have a key role to play. Automatic tools for visualisation can represent data to people in ways which provide information which can be acted on. Such tools need to become more intuitive and easily understood. In order to achieve this, more sophisticated analytical engines and algorithms will be required, working behind the scenes to recognise and extract significant patterns, collocations and correlations. These are not ‘mere’ presentational matters. Poor visual
  21. 21. Sensingandmakingsense 37 neurons that do the work. For example, to represent an external object in the brain may involve a couple of billion neurons – how does the brain spread out the external data amongst these neurons for the processing to take place, and how does it then bring it all back together? 36 Leading banks are looking at software for a new generation of cash machines that personalise transactions, allowing ATMs to greet customers by name, automatically offer their usual service and even remind them about important dates or bills outstanding. The scene is a high street. A man in a suit approaches a cash machine, inserts his card, and begins reading the screen. ATM Good. Now you weren’t thinking about underwear were you? Dave presses yes. ATM Dave, Dave, Dave. Shall I give you some options? Dave presses yes. ATM Luxury chocolates; a pashmina; perfume; romantic dinners; Sleepless in Seattle on DVD? Dave selects romantic dinner. ATM That’s more like it. Here’s another £50. Now have you paid the car insurance? Dave presses no. ATM How many times do I have to tell you? Do you want me to do it? Dave presses yes. ATM Have you read Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus yet? Dave presses no. ATM I though not after tonight’s episode. You should. It really nails the gender gap. Do you want £10 for it? Dave presses yes. ATM Here you are. I’ll expect you to have read it by the next time. Dave moves to retrieve card. ATM Before you go, Dave. That tie… it’s so last year Financial Times 28 July 2004 Currently available sensors are relatively large – and hence costly – and of limited capability. They simply record or report the physical phenomenon they are aimed at: temperature, gas concentrations etc. The convergence of nanotechnology (qv) and micro-electrical-mechanical systems (MEMS) will allow the development of miniature, low-cost sensors using minute amounts of power. Although such sensors will only have a small range, the development of intelligent self-managed networks will allow them to form large, robust sensor networks of potentially thousands of nodes. The range of potential applications for these intelligent sensor networks is enormous, from real-time monitoring over wide areas, automated control of industrial processes, automated utility meter reading and intelligent building control. Applications such as flood warning, weather forecasting and earthquake prediction will use low cost sensors in their thousands. The very large number of data sources involved means that sensor technology will come to share many of the features of pattern-recognition and complex adaptive systems (qv). Low cost sensing Second is the computation issue. There is no single place in the brain where ‘seeing’ is done or ‘hearing’ is done. Different parts of the brain carry out different elements of seeing or hearing. One part may be responsive to curves or straight lines, another to colour, yet another may respond to movement. The information – in the form of electrical codes – flows from the external input to site A, then from site A to site B, then from site B to site C and so on. If a patient has a stroke and loses site B, we cannot just wire up site A directly to site C because the whole process requires site B to exist. We must replace site B with an artificial equivalent and wire it up between site A and site C. Understanding the information processing capability of neurons and networks of neurons will be a key step towards allowing the replacement of damaged or dead neurons with artificial equivalents. Points to consider ■ The potential applications of these technologies will be immensely widespread. In which directions will economic drivers direct development? ■ Which will be the ‘killer applications’? ■ Will we simply be seeing cleverer gadgets and more entertaining toys? or will ‘real-world’ applications predominate? ATM Good evening Dave. Your usual £150? Dave presses yes. ATM How was last night? Did you get completely ratted? Dave sheepishly presses yes. ATM I’ve had enough of this. I’m not giving you any more money if you’re just going to waste it. So: £150? What do you want it for? CDs? New shirt? Dave presses CDs. ATM You’ve spent enough on them this month. It’s two weeks until payday. Dave angrily hits return card. ATM What are you doing Dave? Okay, okay. We said £150? Dave presses yes. ATM So we’re not bothering with your anniversary this year? Dave looks a little panicked. ATM You forgot again, didn’t you? Dave presses yes. ATM So how much more then? Dave presses £20. ATM £20! £20! Do you like sleeping in the garage? Dave presses no. Taps in £30. ATM Come on Dave. Don’t be a schnorrer. Seven years of marriage and all she gets to show for it is a £30 gift. Dave taps in £50.
  22. 22. Despite three decades of rapidly expanding global food supplies thanks to the original Green Revolution, there are still an estimated 840 million undernourished people in the world. The new biotechnology revolution has the potential to help alleviate this suffering and bring major health benefits to everybody on the planet. Over the next twenty years, increases in nutritional and energy content per grain will improve crop yield per acre, widen the conditions under which particular crops can be grown economically (bringing currently unproductive land into production) and enable more intensive use of existing land without further depleting its resources. All this will mean greater food security and should enable some developing countries to significantly boost their food production. These countries will begin to see significant economic growth as surplus food is sold and resources are freed from the land to create wealth in other parts of the economy. In China 20 years ago, anyone wealthy enough to buy a car could not do so, because none was being manufactured. Now much of the population has been freed from the simple need to work on the land to grow food, and the economy is booming. In the developed world, as global competition increases, agriculture is likely to become increasingly focused on niche, high value products. Biotechnology will also enable food to be tailored to a specific purpose. Food companies will be able to offer more choice at affordable prices – e.g. grains with more starch in to produce better cooking oils. Food development will enable the inclusion of specific healthy ingredients – such as antioxidants that help protect against cancer, heart disease, cataracts etc. – targeted to specific groups of people. Because of this technology, combined with advances in regenerative medicine and the use of stem cells, we will be Cultivatingchemistry 3938 Cultivating chemistry Biodiesel is produced by the esterification of fats or oils, such as rapeseed, sunflower, soybean, palm or olive oil. In a well-proven process, a fat or oil is reacted with an alcohol, like methanol, in the presence of a catalyst to produce glycerine and methyl esters (the biodiesel). Biodiesel is used either in pure form – currently available at petrol stations all over Germany – or as a blend with mineral diesel, which is available in such countries as the US, France and Italy. For the combustion of pure biodiesel, cars need to be slightly modified. Blends of up to certain percentage can be used in every common diesel engine. The use of biodiesel results in a substantial reduction in unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and particulates compared to conventional diesel fuel. Biodiesel
  23. 23. adapted to combat viral and other disease. Further modification of corn genetics may make the corn more susceptible. Failure to understand the deep biology of the relationship between genes and proteins is a potential blocker. Outside the technological field, the main threats to agribusiness relate to the potential impact on its social and political acceptability of campaigns by activists and Cultivatingchemistry 41 able to lead healthier – and even longer – lives. These medical developments will be supported by advances in food made possible by combining our knowledge of genetic structure with a greater understanding of how what we eat acts on the individual cells of our body. Nutrigenomics and knowledge of each individual’s gene structure could allow optimisation of the food individuals eat to suit their particular genetic make up. For example, people whose genetic structure suggests a predisposition to a particular disease may be given a special diet that helps protect the body against that disease or limits the impact of the disease. Even if our understanding of how food and the body interact at the cellular level fails to improve as expected, foods may be specifically tailored to treat particular groups of people, like the elderly, or those with high blood pressure (cornflakes for children, cornflakes for the elderly, cornflakes for pregnant women). One of the key technical challenges to be overcome in meeting these objectives is the adaptability of germ plasma to the changes. Over 60-70 years of development the existing varieties of hybridised corn have become well 40 Bacterial fuel cells Nutraceuticals opponents resisting the adoption of new technology. There is great potential. But realising it will depend on the ability of science and industry to convey its message effectively, and on governments’ responses to the challenges. In general, politicians understand the issue, and in certain areas are trying to be helpful. But it is not currently making a lot of difference. For example, Monsanto’s ‘golden rice’ is not being adopted in Africa because politicians resist GMOs. Researchers have found ways to generate electricity from the energy created when bacteria feed on sugars. In one route, the hydrogen produced when microorganisms like E. coli metabolise carbohydrates like sugar in the absence of air is captured and used in a fuel cell. A special conducting polymer anode is used, which allows hydrogen to diffuse through but blocks larger molecules. The polymer also helps cleanse the anode of excreted metabolites that might otherwise clog up the process. In another route, a marine sediment bacterium has been found to directly transfer to an electrode the electrons generated as it feeds. This is much more efficient than the hydrogen fuel cell approach. Bacterial fuel cells offer the promise of renewable electricity produced at the point of need. However, they are currently much less powerful than conventional hydrogen fuel cells and years of work remain to make them a practical reality. Nutraceuticals – also called functional foods – are generally defined as foods marketed as having specific health effects, other than the purely nutritional. Key health risks being addressed include heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, gut health and obesity. Spreading fats currently constitute one of the biggest functional food sectors, certainly in the UK. Manufacturers are incorporating mono or polyunsaturated fatty acids, credited with reducing the risk of heart disease by changing levels of blood cholesterol. Some spreads provide omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils. In sufficient quantities, these can lower triglyceride fats in the blood. Another large functional food area is that of dairy foods containing friendly or probiotic bacteria, which are claimed to promote gut health. There is evidence to support the positive effects of probiotics, which have been found to help in fighting food-poisoning bacteria like E- coli, some forms of diarrhoea and certain allergies. Boosting the calcium content of cereal and grain products is also a common way to deliver a functional food. Kellogg’s, for example, is a leader with All-Bran Plus (also containing vitamins C and E) and calcium-fortified Nutrigrain bars. Finally, drinks are a fast-developing functional food. Some are fortified with the antioxidant vitamins A, C and E, and others with herbal extracts. They claim to help overcome problems ranging from PMS to a lack of energy. Nutrigenomics takes nutraceuticals one step further. It is essentially the study of how food might affect gene expression to combat human disease. For example, extracts from some orange peels have been found to enhance the expression of a cancer-preventing gene. This work is currently in the very early stages.

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