By : Jim Pinto,
By : Jim Pinto,
The full-length article was published in
Turn of a year, decade, century and millenniumLast year at this time, there was excitement - tinged with uneasiness - in the air as we moved over the threshold of a new century. The purists insisted that the new millennium did not start till 2001. But still, in the blink of an eye we have fast-forwarded to the brink of that new era, by any definition. As you read this, we will already be in a New Year, a new century and a new millennium.
That pesky y2k bug did not really happen, except in isolated incidents. This means that either our preparations were effective, or the warnings were overblown.
The stock market, that visible indicator of growth and success actually went up in the first few months of the new year, but has gyrated nervously since then, as tech-stocks and dot.coms deflated from overblown valuations. And during the last few weeks of the year, the stock market slid to the extent that all the major indices declined for the year, for the first time in a dozen years.
The US elections did not produce a President for more than a month and the result is an uneasy victory for a man who did not win the popular vote, but squeaked in through the quirks of an outdated system. In the most technologically advanced society in the world, the recount fiasco related to voting with thirty-year-old punched-card mechanisms. To cap it all, the House and Senate are evenly split between the political parties, which we hope will now bring a new mode of bi-partisan cooperation.
We enter the new age, somewhat uneasy, but still with a self-assured and balanced perspective that all these changes, though unexpected, are exciting.
Everyone & everything is getting connectedThe passing of the century is behind us and the signs of a new age are unmistakable. The Internet continues to expand inexorably, to a level where a high-speed cable or DSL connection is offered as a utility in new homes, along with water, gas, electricity and telephone service. Today, almost 60% of Americans are connected and the ratio is catching up fast in the rest of the world. Soon, a billion people will be connected - and the results in a global economy will be nothing short of revolutionary!
Cell phones, almost a luxury just a couple of years ago, are plentiful, ubiquitous and part of today’s scenery. Many people have already given up the disadvantage of being anchored to a landline and have quickly adopted a single mobile telephone phone-number which can be accessed from almost anywhere in the country, and soon the globe.
Connectivity infrastructure is moving very quickly to connect everything to the Internet, not only through high-speed modems, but also soon through third-generation wireless. Within the next year, silicon will become available to allow broadband wireless connections at a speed exceeding what is possible today with twisted pair land-lines, and rivaling that of cable connections.
The personal-digital-assistant (PDA) has emerged as a common appendage and soon cell phones and PDAs will merge as high-speed wireless access becomes available. With third-generation wireless connectivity (including the new, local-area-network technology called "Bluetooth") virtually everyone and everything will be simply, effectively and economically connected.
Wireless mobility and information services already bring voice, entertainment, Internet access and safety services into cars and trucks. The automobile is quickly becoming the center of a complete range of connected appliances. GPS displays not only serve to provide maps and traveling directions, but also to locate hotels and services. In addition, our appliances and automobiles will serve to locate us, so we’ll be positioned as advertising targets : “Why not have dinner at Ronnie’s Restaurant on the next block?”
Intelligent appliances everywhereWith the steady reduction in the price of processing power and memory, embedded processors will continue to penetrate and populate virtually every product - making each an intelligent "appliance". Most equipment and machinery will not remain “dumb” any more, as connected intelligence becomes the norm. When a single machine cannot cope with a problem, it will quickly download upgrade and service instructions from the hierarchy in a connected world.
Consider what we need from the products we use: instructions on how to operate the buttons, features and capabilities; history; location; part number; where purchased; when installed; by whom; key characteristics; specifications; diagnostics; availability of spares; replacement alternatives; repair instructions - to name a few. In the past, this information would reside in printed documentation - the manuals - or with trained experts. In the future, the appliance itself will contain all of the required "knowledge", embedded within it and always accessible.
Industrial automation trendsIn the past, factory automation and process control related to plant and machinery that was big, bulky, static and represented several years, if not decades, of investment. New technology is moving too fast, and the rate of change of performance is increasing too rapidly, to play by the old ground rules. New equipment will be small, cheap, reliable, flexible, expandable and disposable. Operation will be intuitive and training quick and effective.
We will have smaller, distributed factories built near the source of raw materials and dismantled when the source is depleted. Operator knowledge, training and assistance will be distributed over the Internet. Coordination of worldwide production and process plants will be through real-time information networks.
Software growth arenas of the past were SCADA, data acquisition and HMI - simply emulating the functions of a DCS at a reduced price. Today, those functions are integrated inexpensively in most equipment, and growth is in the arena of manufacturing execution systems (MES) software and integration of factory and business-wide functions and logistics. Tomorrow’s software will operate multi-processor systems to coordinate peer-to-peer I/O and controls.
The Future is hereThe coming decades will bring excitement and change as never before. Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and Nanotechnology will bring miniaturization down to the atomic level, with production techniques more like chemistry than mechanics. Quantum computers at a sub-atomic level will yield processing power that will make today’s Pentium seem like a toy. Bandwidth will be plentiful, to connect everything to everything.
The central control hierarchies of the past will give way to new self-organizing peer-to-peer networks, where intelligence resides directly in the sensors and actuators. Chaos-theory based complex adaptive systems will yield results, robustness and operating effectiveness never dreamed of in the past.
Soon, startling new advances will come from bioengineering, as scientists play with DNA - altering chromosomes, adding and subtracting genes, mining the results of the vast efforts that have already been invested in the Human Genome Project. This will bring revolutionary changes in our lives. In agriculture, custom-designed crops will eliminate shortages and genetically developed foods will yield superlative nutritional value. The genomic profile of individuals will be tracked, allowing medications to be targeted specifically for the ailment, resulting in the increase of average human longevity well beyond a century.
Social changeIt will be interesting to see how human society will adapt in a connected world. National political boundaries will give way to geographical clusters - trade alliances at first, but hopefully quickly expanding beyond that to genuine political alignment. Within a decade, effective language translation should be a function of every pocket PDA, which will perhaps melt that significant barrier. But, how the advances of the century will affect religious and spiritual differences is something that we can only wait for, and wonder.
Growth & SuccessIn the new century, each decade will be punctuated by accelerating technological developments and revolutionary changes. In this new age, the people who win will be, not scared, but excited about the technology tools that emerge and the new effectiveness and opportunities for growth that this will bring in a shrinking world.
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