I got to hear a variety of industry leaders and university professors discuss only a fraction of these technologies at Purdue University’s third annual Dawn or Doom conference. With its quirky name, the conference subtly suggests that new technologies could be both awesome opportunities and dire threats.
We hear about buzzwords like Big Data, cybersecurity, and nanotechnology all the time. But it takes time to cut through all the hype to fully understand how these innovations could change society. Here’s my disclaimer: I’m a geek. Many geeks like myself are obviously excited about what technology could enable us to do in the future. But others are hesitant. They’re reasonably concerned that we could put ourselves at risk to new threats, primarily cyber-criminal activity.
As I attended multiple talks throughout the two-day conference, I learned exactly how those two emotions are compatible. It all has to do with risk versus reward. It’s our decision to make. Are we willing to take risks in order to reap the rewards that technology could give us?
To that question, many of the conference’s speakers would say, “Yes!” They showcased the bright, innovative, “cool” side of technology. Both robotics and artificial intelligence were hot topics across the board.
He claimed that the power of our computers would soon “all be within the reach of our hands.”
He meant it quite literally, too. Ziro Robotics, a startup that he co-founded, has created robots that you can control via a wireless smart glove. But these robots are better than your basic toy robots. Using a smartphone app, you can program exactly how your robot responds to different hand motions you make. Ramani says that as this kind of interactive technology becomes more available to the public, people will demand more. They will prefer working with computers that allow us to interact with our natural senses rather than with a keyboard and mouse.
Several other speakers dove into the complex algorithms that computers use to make sense of large amounts of data. With Big Data and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies on the rise, we are demanding computers that can quickly and efficiently connect a wide variety of data. It turns out that computers work well with data that makes little sense to us. Yet they struggle the most with data we do understand: natural language.
They still can’t tell what sarcasm is. According to Julia Taylor-Rayz, a Computer Information Technology professor at Purdue, computers must first create an algorithm to understand what we know as “humor”. That might require computers scanning petabytes of data to understand sociology, linguistics, and other concepts we take for granted. Of course, that will take a while. So give Siri some time before she starts writing her own stand-up routines.
Of course, along with the rewards, future technology has its risks. Several speakers gave us a darker picture of risks that could occur if we failed to prepare for them. If we were to ignore the risks, we would leave ourselves vulnerable to various privacy and security threats.
As an example, let’s think about what we do on social media. Marcus Rogers, a Computer Information Technology professor at Purdue, spoke on how important cyber security should be for users on social media sites. “Surprise,” he said, “People love to talk about themselves!” We love posting lots of pictures, statuses, and videos for our friends to see. You are volunteering information to companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram free of charge! So much data, in fact, that social media companies can use your data to build what Rogers calls your “digital footprint”. Your digital footprint gives companies a portrait of your preferences and personality. Think that’s relatively harmless? Think again. Your data could prevent you from getting a job, cause your insurance premiums to rise, or (in extreme cases) threaten your civil liberties.
Mike Fong, a leader at IT security firm Privoro, spoke about the risks of proximity data. What’s proximity data, you ask? It’s any kind of data that is collected “in the presence of a device”. You can think about it in terms of your smartphone. Even when your phone is turned off, cybercriminals could still be pinpointing your location using your GPS, taking pictures through the phone’s camera, and analyzing your phone calls. Maybe you have nothing to hide. But I’m sure that you’d never want a complete stranger to know how you get to work every day.
What do we make of all of this? Is technology making things better? Or are we dooming ourselves with each new invention? I’ll give you the classic IT answer: it depends.
From my time at the conference, I learned that technology has both the power to enhance and destroy our lives. What we choose to do with it will determine how it will affect us. When something new comes along, there is always great risk. But with great risk comes great reward.
I hope that you’ll join me at next year’s Dawn or Doom conference! Technology is always changing, so we’ll always have new things to talk about. You can learn more about the conference by visiting http://www.purdue.edu/dawnordoom/.
Business Intelligence Developer
Tech enthusiast, musician, solo adventurer. Strives to make genuine connections with others. Can bake a mean batch of chocolate chip cookies.