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Ever Faster Technological Change

Fri, 02/08/2013 - 8:47am
Tim Studt, Editorial Director

Tim Studt, Editorial Director

I am constantly amazed at the speed at which technology seems to be changing and how fast we're catching up with the future. Two recent publications bring this fact home: in a Brookings Institution research article, the authors describe multiple body parts that future researchers will use to track individuals. And in “The Future Issue” (January 14, 2013) of Fortune magazine the editors document a number of future technologies and events, including an interview with one of my favorite futurists—Ray Kurzweil, on reverse engineering of the human brain.

The Brookings' article describes research primarily supported by DARPA (the Dept. of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency), the Dept. of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency and the FBI. As astounding as it may seem, many of the tracking technologies described are already in use. These include identifying people of interest by their ears (97% accurate and possibly better than fingerprints), odor (distinguishing 300 chemical compounds), heartbeat (which cannot be hidden), voice (developed by Russian researchers and already in use in Mexico), iris (already in use worldwide, but enhanced to identify 30 people/min), advanced fingerprints (from 20 ft away), gait (99.4% verification rate), sweat (to determine harmful intent), facial recognition (from fragments imaged at more than 750 ft away), DNA (in less than 90 min) and periocular (areas around the eyes). Of course, most of this research and tracking capabilities came about as a result of the 9/11 terrorist events and continue to be well-funded, despite tough funding times. They are also supported by the rapidly accelerating capabilities of high performance computing systems, without which many would not be possible.

In the Fortune Future issue, the topics discussed include more about the increasingly rapid capabilities of high performance computing systems (supercomputers), where systems at U.S. Dept. of Energy national laboratories continue to hold a strong advantage over systems in Europe and Asia. Kurzweil states that the development of artificial brains (as described in his latest book, How to Create a Mind) will be a reality by 2029—a scant 16 years from now. He also states that by the 2030s, average people will have small computerized devices in their blood that provide gateways to the cloud. Humans will then be created who have hybrid biological and non-biological intelligence. Other sections describe the evolution of cities into mega-“urbanopolises,” the expansion and education of drone pilots and the development and production of bionic suits to augment human capabilities with exoskeletons.

Of course, this issue of Laboratory Equipment has its own view of the future with its coverage of new products being introduced at the Pittcon Conference in Philadelphia. Hundreds of products showcased at Pittcon 2013 are described on the following pages. Still more products, that the developers have kept secret until their formal unveiling during Pittcon-week, will be described in our show review coverage in our March and April issues and also—in a more timely manner—in our Lab News Daily (morning and afternoon LateWire versions) and on our website—www.laboratoryequipment.com.

On the other side of the coin, as new technologies are being developed, they create threats. As described recently by a panel of forensic and mobile data experts convened by Cellebrite USA, these threats will include a greater number of compromised mobile devices (cell phones and portable computers), increased encryption of data (to prevent data breaches), multiple mobile operating systems to prevent massive failures, exponentially increased malware episodes, and even then, still larger numbers of mobile-based data breaches.

The established Chinese Curse, “May you live in interesting times,” appears to be ever shortening in its time frame as technological change accelerates.

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