Issues for the future
by Douglas E. Welch
August 6, 1999
© 1999, Douglas E. Welch
As we head into the year 2000, I turn my attention to the future.
Over the years I have watched the personal computer industry progress
from infant to toddler to middle age. We have all seen great strides
in computer technology and they have changed our lives more than
we could have ever imagined even 20 years ago. That said, while
much has been accomplished there is still much to be done. The
task of accomplishing the next leaps in computer technology is
passing on to a new generation.
Focus on revolution
The most difficult task for this new generation of computer technologists
is moving beyond the evolutionary growth we have seen over the
last several years. There are many difficult problems that remain
unsolved today. The entire computer industry is waiting for great
minds to assault these problems and lead us into the next phase
of technological advancement. This will happen through revolutionary
ideas. Ideas that haven't yet been contemplated. These ideas will
come from you. I know that I will watch in amazement as these
new advances take place.
Top 5 list
Of all the computer problems currently facing us, I have selected
5 top issues that need to be addressed immediately. Any of you
would be wise to apply your energies to these problems, as this
is where both fame and fortune will be made in the coming years.
Along with that, though, you will be making a great contribution
to both the computer industry and society as a whole.
Computer Stability & Reliability
As we all know, today's personal computers are not as stable or
reliable as we desire or need. In order for computers to be integrated
into our lives and society they must be made more reliable. Systems
should have the intelligence and hardware to allow them to degrade
gracefully should any error occur. Systems that are networked
together should be able to call on other systems to pick up any
load that they can no longer handle in the event of a crash or
system failure. They need to notify human operators of errors
so that it can be repaired before a major problem occurs.
As computer systems move into more and more critical areas of
our lives, reliability and stability become critical as well.
None of us will be willing to turn over critical operations to
a computer system that doesn't have the ability to protect both
itself and us.
Make adaptable computers not adaptable users
The computers we have created so far require too much adaptation
and education from the end user. There is no reason we should
have to continue to jump through operational hoops. In fact, computer
innovation will eventually slow down to a snail's pace until this
one issue is resolved. Computers need to be able to interact with
humans using traditional human means. These innovations have to
occur, whether this is speech recognition, eye tracking, handwriting
control or a host of other technologies. We need to build computers
that help us escape the tyranny of the keyboard, mouse and screen.
Make computers ubiquitous
Once we break away from the current computer input and output
methods we will make a move to what has been described as ubiquitous
or "intimate" computing. These computers move from the realm of
desktop, laptop and handheld into something that is wearable or
integrated into consumer items. Advances in these areas yield
computers that we don't have to think about, upgrade or troubleshoot.
They either work or we replace them, much as we would a wristwatch
or eyeglasses. We have spent the last 2 decades developing computers.
Now we need to spend the next 2 decades on making them invisible.
Make recyclable, not upgradable
Since the dream of the upgradable computer has never been truly
fulfilled I would call on all of use to develop computer systems
that are easily recyclable. It makes no sense that thousands of
computers go into landfills every day. It is yet one more example
of technology creating a problem instead of solving it. We have
the knowledge to reduce the amount of waste involved in all areas
of our lives and computers should be no different.
Apply computer technology to societal problems
Too often computer technologists are so concerned about their
own work that they forget about society's problems. In some cases,
these problems are exacerbated by the very technology they are
developing. We all need to apply the great powers of technology
to both the old and new problems facing society. Computers are
no panacea but putting the power of computing into everyone's
hands, regardless of income or experience, can definitely lead
to benefits for the whole world.
Computer technologists also must be more involved with society
as a whole. The old image of the hermetic computer geek locked
away in a darkened office will no longer serve us in the future.
We all need to balance our work life with our personal and community
life. We need to get involved because we are developing technology
for people not for technology's sake alone.
Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant
in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with
other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on
Douglas' web page at: http://www.welchwrite.com/
He can reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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