Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Future of Computing and Communication: Theorems of Proportionality, Duality and Wearability

The desktop personal computer has seen its greatest challenge with the emergence of laptop personal computer. Laptop has seen its greatest threat with the emergence of tablets. Smart phones and phablets are yet another favored range of mobile devices for communication, becoming more powerful even in certain business applications progressively. The question people and experts alike have is whether the last word has been said, or is about to be said, on personal computers and laptops. Would they be soon extinct or irrelevant is the question. As of now, tablets have become ubiquitous because of their portability and simplicity; yet they seem more suited to media and milder documentation. Its inability to take a standard USB port for seamless data transfer across all devices is an impediment to tablets completely overshadowing personal computers and laptops.  Microsoft has made the first move towards making tablets more powerful, and hence more universal, with the launch of Surface Pro 3 which overcomes some of the shortcomings of typical tablets.

Doubtless, computer engineers would continue on their quest to make tablet computer the only personal computer of the future. In so far as business applications are concerned, tablets have, as of now, become supplemental devices rather than substitute devices. The future direction would depend on six principal factors: the weight factor, form factor, power factor, system factor, memory factor and portability factor. Other factors such as aesthetics, display intensity, water and dust resistance, color combinations are likely to be relevant but only of secondary importance compared to the primary factors. If the technological power that is getting packed in a smart phone is an indication, it would be theoretically possible for a tablet to pack all the power of a current desktop or laptop in a not too distant future. This does not mean that that desktops and laptops would be extinct. As with every other product, from camera to movie, whereby the older products have staged decisive comebacks on the back of new technological developments so could be the desktops and laptops. This blog post discusses the potential direction and options, and choices of the communication and computing industry, and the possible impact of human race.
If technological development is secular, as usually it is, the principle of proportionality works to keep most products relevant, provided they are duly updated technologically from time to time. It was thought once that with the advent of televisions, home theater systems, and more recently, home cinema systems, the movie halls would become orphaned. On the other hand, leveraging the wide format, 70 mm and IMAX screens, hi-fidelity surround music systems and digital streaming of movies, movie halls continue to hold sway with films of more epic proportions getting made. Similarly, even though camera features have got ported into smart phones, the main line cameras remain the choice for everlasting perfect photos with the lens, aperture and zoom options and high pixel densities. By the same token, if the tablets of tomorrow would pack all the capabilities of a desktop or laptop, there is no reason why the desktop pr laptop would not pack all the capabilities of a mini-mainframe or the mainframe itself.
Today, a CPU clock speed of 2.8 GHz, a RAM of 3 GB and an extendable memory of 128 GB is standard for a top-of-the-line phablet; these specifications being the mainstay of a laptop until recently. The future laptops would surely have processing clock speeds in excess of 4GHz, SDDR 4 RAMS of 16 GB and memory capability of 2 terabytes. While portability of mobile computers together with laptop like features could make them anywhere-business choices, the proportionate increase in the power of the laptops and desktops would create a new pool of fixed computer-centric intellectual entrepreneurs. In not so distant future, the mainframe capability would sit in the home computers making it easy for individuals to carry out complex tasks such as mathematical modeling, business simulation and high speed algorithmic stock trading. This wave would be akin to Apple’s Mac bringing desktop publishing and animation within the reach of aspiring self-employed entrepreneurs. If the principle of proportionality with universal technological development is applied there would be paradigm shifts in how computing and communication could create intellectual and employment opportunities.
The personal computing product design is at crossroads. The trend of packing more features and power and hoping to make devices completely universal has limitations. Some such limitations are hardware related aspects such as capacity and bandwidth which are in turn limited by energy generation and heat dissipation issues. Some others are operating system related issues such as one system being inadequate to meet the extremes of business (or professional)  and social (or personal) demands. Keeping business and personal needs in one device but distinct is more complex than either offering dual-SIM technologies or pan-device operating systems. A completely different way of looking at product design is probably called for.  Cloud offers an intermediate solution making weak devices strong by on-demand use of cloud power and storage. This would certainly help to the fullest extent when the entire globe is seamlessly wifi connected. That could be an elusive dream for a long time, making cloud a selective option.  Fortunately, the relentless progress of technology, in terms of materials, chips and machining or forming, offers new vistas of product development.
There was a time when a computer, even a laptop, was one inch in thickness and a tablet half an inch in thickness, with corresponding high weights. Today, both have halved in thicknesses with corresponding reductions in weight. It is not difficult to imagine a future when the mobile computers would be virtually  paper-thin, in a manner of speaking (probably, another halving of thicknesses is technically feasible!). this would open up the opportunity to have a common chassis, with business device on one side and social device on the other side, together the combination phone not exceeding a 6 mm thickness and a 200 gm weight! If this is coupled with other exciting options like extendable screens for laptop-like readability there would be a universal device that caters to diverse business and social needs through different devices but as one innovative chassis-integrated device. In a corresponding manner, laptops could also be conjoined dual devices with the top being a business device and the base being a social device. This also needs to be combined with customized operating systems for business and social applications while ensuring certain commonality in both systems for shared applications.
Hitherto, the technological approach to merge electronics and human endeavor has been to create robots. The early approach has been to create robots that could mimic the human in mechanical movements and perform operations that are difficult, and even impossible, and unsafe for humans. The more recent approach has been to embed artificial intelligence in robots so that they can even think and act. This has, however, been an enormously challenging task with high cost and time lines. Even if it becomes progressively feasible, such robots or humanoids would be niche, customized products rather than mass, universal products. The concept of wearable computers offers a dramatically different approach to making humans more intelligent, nimble, flexible, efficient and effective. This dramatic development of wearable computers is being led for the moment by Google Glass and, in a more basic sense, by Smart Watches. The potential is far greater than that indicated by such smart glasses and watches.
At a very simple conceptual plane, let us imagine what dramatic transformation would occur if artificial intelligence is embedded in a human being instead of in a mechatronic device like robot. Granting that embedding may not be possible biologically, artificial intelligence can surely be used to supplement native intelligence of a human being. Textiles which adjust to different levels of warmth and chillness, chips that can monitor the functioning of vital organs on a real time, smart phones which analyze speech and agility patterns to warn of impending strokes, emotion moderating bands, gloves that enhance grip, memory banks to fight Alzheimer’s disease, headbands to migraine, brain defibrillators and emotional rejuvenators, ….. the list could be endless!  In fact, every organ of the human body, both external and internal, could be rendered more effective and less disease prone by wearable computers. And, as an ultimate transformation, Google itself may be bionically implanted and web search may be thought search of a bionic Google!
The human race, as we know, is governed by genetics. Each human being has a unique genetic code, the DNA. With the computer assuming a ubiquitous and all-encompassing role in life, and if the future of communication and computing industry develops as discussed in this blog post, each human being would have a supplemental DNA, which would be the computer DNA (or the cDNA). The future of communication and computing industry, if it evolves as per the theorems of proportionality, duality and wearability as discussed herein, would certainly promote a genetic reinforcement which overcomes the weaknesses of, and adds to the strengths of, biological genetics. Each person, by the choice of his computers for his professional and social lives, would have the ability to choose his or her cDNA even if he or she is not destined to choose his or her biological DNA. Correspondingly, the biological human abilities in future may move from intrinsic innovation to extrinsic adaptation, and from native survival and competitive instincts to chosen life design strategies. For those who can foresee the future of communication and computing industry as discussed in this blog post, the future would be full of endless and exciting possibilities!
Posted by Dr CB Rao on July 20, 2014

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