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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 douglas@welchwrite.com

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