Saturday, September 20, 2008

ConnecTech Meeting Tackles Disruptive Technologies

ConnecTech Meeting Tackles Disruptive Technologies
by Matt Roush

The disruptive technologies of tomorrow will change the way we live and work every bit as much as the Internet has the past 15 years.

Thursday night, nearly 200 people packed the lobby of the Fox Theatre in Detroit to hear from Gartner analyst Jackie Fenn and other local and national tech figures talk cloud computing, security, three-dimensional printing and more. The event was sponsored by ConnecTech, Automation Alley's organization for technology professionals.

Fenn kicked off the event with a 50-minute presentation on several disruptive technologies.

First, cloud computing: Fenn said it's an evolution of a trend ongoing for many years, the desire to not own IT assets but to get IT servies as needed from an outside source.

Also disruptive: social platforms and virtual worlds. Fenn siad virtual worlds like Second Life and Club Penguin and social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook represent "the most successful collaboration tools we've ever seen," becuase they've replaced e-mail among the young. She said they'd also influence future user interfaces for other applications. There are also other advances in the user interface for the first time in years, chiefly touch-screen tabletop computing.

She also said that other industries may become disintermediated from consumers, the way Craigslist has hurt local classified advertising. One possibility -- peer to peer lending sites, that may do the same to banks.

Fenn said we're headed for a "Real World Web" with the ability to get the information a user wants wherever a use needs it, which depends on devices that know identification, location, their owners, history, safety and envrionment.

There's also a trend toward "augmented reality," information overlaid on actual pictures -- for example, a cell phone that overlays directions or other information on a picture you're taking with the phone in real time. "You could point it at a movie theater and the phone would tell you what movies are playing there," Fenn said.

Users of all these technologies will also leave more and more data trails that could be used to track them, Fenn said.

Fenn also mentioned three-dimensional printing -- devices that bulild three-dimensional objects one thin layer at a time using powder and glue shot out by the same technology that powers a two-dimensional printer. It's been used in industrial prototyping for a decade, but is now coming down in price -- from $200,000 to $10,000. Eventually, Fenn said, "we'll all have these things in our basements" and our kids' kids will be trading three-dimensional representations of their online avatars.

The devices also have lots of implications for retailing -- why go to a store when you can build that replacement part yourself from CAD-CAM data?

Finally, Fenn mentioned human augmentation, technologies that don't just bring an injured person back to normal human function -- but which, like those artificial legs that look like leaf springs, put function over form and make a person improved over normal human function.

Fenn wrapped up by discussing how to pick new technologies, backing a process in her new book, "Mastering The Hype Cycle," called STREET -- for scope, track, rank, evaluate, evangelize and transfer.

The meeting also featured three other brief presentations. Uma Subramanian of IBM talked about Big Blue's view of cloud computing, saying that it consists of elastic scaling, rapid provisioning, advanced virtualization and elastic pricing -- and requires capacity, security and proper licensing.

Eric Eder, president of Royal Oak-based Intelligent Connections, outlined a couple of interesting concepts, including "tightly coupled processes," a series events that cannot be uncoupled once they begin, and which may lead to serious adverse events if the couplings are not known, and "semantic data," data that gets transferred to various locations to create cloud applications. As for security -- his firm's key business -- he said it's a matter of careful content management, ID management and 24-7 monitoring.

Finally, Bob Moesta of Troy-based Edutronix Inc. showed off his company's 3-D printers.

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