Consolidation of Technologies

The coming decade will be dominated by accessibility and compatibility of technologies and devices

The past decade has ushered in a world of multimedia communication through an incredible choice of wired and wireless devices. The coming decade, however, will be dominated by issues of accessibility and compatibility of technologies and devices. For instance, today you need ‘compatible’ hardware to run the latest version of the operating system (OS) from Apple, Inc—the Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. And there are limitations to running any other OS, like Windows or Linux, on the same machine.

The Internet has provided us with an amazing network of clever humans and fast computers. To use this network to its full potential, we need to improve accessibility. To achieve this, we need devices that are smaller and cheaper and that can provide faster communication and enable better services like healthcare, education and e-governance.

Mobile technologies have leapfrogged a couple of ‘generations’ over the past decade. You can set up a video conference on a 3G (third-generation) network and save time and travel costs, but compatibility of devices and technologies remains a major challenge to unleashing the full potential of 3G.

Today, when you buy a ‘smartphone’, it comes with a pre-loaded OS. It is not possible to buy a mobile handset and install an OS of your choice. In the not-too-distant future, you can, perhaps, buy Apple's iPhone and install Google’s Android OS or Windows Mobile. This kind of flexibility will radically change the dynamics of the mobile-phone market.

The Internet is undoubtedly the biggest invention in centuries and to fully unlock its power, we will need compatible ‘smart’ devices in our homes and workplaces.

According to Wikipedia, a smart device is one that is “digital, active, computer networked, user reconfigurable and that can operate to some extent autonomously.” The term can also refer to any computing device that exhibits some properties of ubiquitous computing, including artificial intelligence. Take, for example, a ‘smart fridge’ that can ‘order’ milk and vegetables from your grocer without your intervention. Such refrigerators are already available from companies like Samsung, LG and Whirlpool, but they are currently too expensive for the ‘mass market’.

Nanotechnology is also set to become ubiquitous in the next decade. It has the potential to create many new materials and devices with a vast range of applications in medicine, electronics, etc. Today, there are many products that are sold as ‘nanotech’ devices. However, according to a study by David Berube, funded by the National Science Foundation, much of what is sold in the market as ‘nanotechnology’ is, in fact, a recasting of straightforward materials science, which is leading to a “nanotech industry built solely on selling nanotubes, nanowires, and the like” and that will “end up with a few suppliers selling low-margin products in huge volumes.”

Some very innovative technologies have emerged over the past decade that have transformed the way we live and communicate, but there is still much to be done to improve accessibility and compatibility of devices and technologies.

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