Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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Tech time travel: Morley reflects on technology – past and future


September 19, 2011
By Dick Morley


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Manufacturing AUTOMATION is 25 years old this month. This special anniversary issue gives me an excuse to examine the past and the future of technology.

My journey through automation history will start before 1986 – way before.

It’s hard to predict the technological impact that something will have. I could mention a jillion examples of surprising social and technological breakthroughs – photography is just one, and that’s where I will start.

Image capture initially came from stone paintings as found in caves in France. Several lines conveyed the buffalo image and the spear. The signature was an outline of the hand of the hunter – the first PowerPoint?

Organic paint on parchment became the next contender. The artists of that age did use technology. Many used a large pinhole camera (camera obscura). Next was the Kodak Brownie (introduced in 1900), then the 1948 Land Camera, followed by the digital camera, the smart phone and, today, the iPad. What’s next? Full three-dimensional projection in full colour? Maybe. Keep in mind that these transitions were unpredictable when standing in any given year.

In 1901, a Japanese newspaper (Houchi News, Jan. 2-3) made some astounding predictions. The batting average for correctness was 70 percent. Some of the wrong predictions made were a green Sahara, extermination of fleas, natural disaster control and animal language literacy. But the newspaper was right in suggesting worldwide wireless telephones, worldwide colour photo instant transfer, the air conditioner, shopping by picture telephone, automobiles without horses and countrywide electricity distribution. Remember, this was written in 1901.

Now, the fun part. Allow me to make some predictions for the future of automation, society and culture. Most automation systems will use apps. These apps will be segued together like smartphone apps. A collection of these similar components connected will contribute to most of our system design. Other predictions include that marketing becomes a true science; there will be DNA applets; and we will have 5,000 channels on TV – all reruns. Social manipulation will be outlawed during elections; the United States will still not accept the metric system; the Dow Jones will be at 20,000; screwdrivers will still have funny heads; and everything will be connected by the future USB connection.

Some of my wildcards are centred on physics – I can’t help it. Fusion power will be running; entanglement applications will abound; and we will understand more about the universe and black holes. We will be more concerned about the science of being green and not the ideology. Computers will be the same price as today, but 10,000 times more agile. The World Wide Web will be everywhen – yes, when. Some of the hot items may be behaviour agents, quantum computing, more satellite communication, nanotech everywhere and the ending of today’s Cambrian explosion in conventional technology.

How is this useful to you, dear reader? Well, we know that technology improves productivity and that the technology treadmill will thunder on. Wireless, M2M and security will be of concern. Software will be user-oriented rather than sandbox open source. Most software will be embedded, adaptive, preemptive and with a million points of observation. The genome of design will define systems thinking (a genome is a logical arrangement of separate elements).

As I end this journey through history and peak into the future, I have this advice: Stay focused on innovation. Innovation is not the bringing of today into the future, but the bringing of the future into today. Think of what the future will be and bring it here.

This column originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.


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