Emerging Technologies

I attended a panel discussion on emerging technologies on Wednesday. There were a lot of points raised by the speakers, who included eminent CNM professors, visitors from Purdue University in the United States and the managing director of Cloudpic Incorporated. Each speaker talked about a different aspect of emerging technologies, which is kinda a broad topic. I will try to summarise some points they talked about and add a bit of my extra thoughts.

1. Technology and Disaster Relief

http://www.businessweek.com/videos/2012-11-27/battlefield-tech-hard-at-work-on-hurricane-sandy

There has been an increasing number of natural disasters ever since 2006. Thankfully, technology has also evolved to meet the demands of these disasters. The professor said the USA was good at disaster response, but bad at disaster prevention. Technology is now geared towards research into early warning systems and providing information about upcoming disasters as a public good, the duty of the government.

There has been a lot of work in augmented reality, linking it to disaster aid. Augmented reality, in case you are not sure, is something like Google Glasses, or Amazon where after scanning a book cover with your phone you can see its price, or when you try on clothes in a shop without having to step physically into the fitting room. It is a live view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. It is something like in Robotics;Notes, where after holding up your pocket device you can see information about your surroundings on the go.

So how does this relate to social work? Apparently if an invention goes through, assistance groups will be able to wear a special kind of glasses that point them to which routes are safe to traverse. I think augmented reality is an exciting concept. It has already been explored in 3DS games, like the one where you take a photograph of your face and then you must shoot helicopters bearing your face that appear around your room, reflected on the screen. It’s hard for me to describe but those who have the game will know what I mean.

2. Cloudpic

Cloudpic Global is a company that creates production systems for studios making digital content. It advertised the Cloudpic Droplet Beta, which is a program that allows digital artists to collaborate on projects over the internet without having to meet up physically. If I’m not wrong, a large number of people can edit a single file at one time and this will hopefully fulfill their dream of having virtual studios, where digital artists from all over the world work together at the comfort of their own homes. It sounds like work efficiency to me, and I do look forward to these “work at home” endeavours. I’m not one to like mooching around at home all day long, but the idea of getting stuff done from anywhere cannot possibly be a bad thing!

Plus, Cloudpic promises that the problem of “files not being the latest version when they are sent over” will be gone after the Droplet has had its way.

3. Media Effects

Sounds like a CNM topic, huh? Well, there has been theories, especially by some guy named Marshall McLuhan, that perhaps the medium itself is the message. That the media itself is responsible for changing and re-structuring the activities in our lives. Like how text has become less and less prominent in websites — the visual and the acoustic are senses that webpages are focusing on. It is no longer lines and lines of words (even blogging itself has become less text-based and increasingly filled with pictures and videos).

One effect of the media that I agree with is the decreased ability to delay gratification. We begin to enter a culture where we have to have everything now. One way to test this on children is the marshmallow test. Basically you hold a marshmallow up to a kid and say, “You can either have this marshmallow now, or when I come back later, you can get 2 marshmallows.” If the kid waits for the 2 marshmallows, it shows he has the ability to delay gratification. Kids who cannot delay gratification have been proven to grow up into juvenile delinquents, likelier to dabble in crime and substance abuse. Though some people have debunked the test, saying the relationship between the child and the adult figure is also an important factor here.

Also, some people would say we have acquired a greater ability to multi-task. Apparently that is not so. Some scientific research thing shows that when we are “multi-tasking”, we are really actually task-switching, focusing less on any one thing. This wastes time and reduces efficiency, naturally. I must say that even though my ability in multi-tasking- or rather, task-switching- is still (fortunately) lacking, my mind has definitely gotten better at wandering during exams or when I am doing work, especially on the computer when blinking MSN windows snatch my attention every few seconds.

And of course, I would say one media effect can be seen in a shift in emphasis by companies from nurturing writing skills to face-to-face conversational skills.

4. AndroidLost

AndroidLost is an app that was initially created for the helpful purpose of tracking down our lost or stolen handphones. However, parents nowadays are using it to track down their children instead. Because the app allows handphones to take photographs or record voices, and also provides a GPS tracker for you to find where the phone is, parents can find out just where their kids — who stick to their phones like glue — really are. What a loss of privacy, and I find the notion frankly disturbing.

Apparently those below the age of 13 do not feel the same. They do not have any concerns of privacy before they reach their adolescent years. I must say that even when I was 9 years old I had already devised means to avoid my family and hang out on my own, so notions of privacy were vital to me even then.

Quite a lot of verbal vomit today, but these are some of the interesting points I learned from the discussion! I feel great faith in technology and the new media of the future. There are pros and there are cons, but these are changes that will be interesting to watch indeed.

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