[LINK] The shape of things to come
Mon, 10 Jan 100 23:31:22 GMT
Federal Computer Week
The shape of things to come
"Soldier 2025," the Army's vision of the warrior of the future, is one of
many ways federal agencies are working to connect technology and individual
citizens in the future
Twenty-five years from now, Americans will consider the changes that
information technology brought to government in the 1990s as quaint.
The technology that will be in use in 2025 will be similar to systems
portrayed in science-fiction dramas. But much of it is already under
development in research centers and IT shops throughout government:
computers that think like humans, sensors woven into clothes that assess a
soldier's wounds and virtual networks that meld federal, state and local
agency services into what is a seemingly single entity.
Advances in technology, particularly nanotechnology and telecommunications,
will shrink the size of government, make it more mobile and reduce the
distance between government and the public. Government will be anywhere,
The changes hold such promise that Americans' view of government could
begin to improve as services become more efficient and the public interacts
with previously faceless bureaucrats. Meanwhile, advances in technology
could change our basic notions of the republic, making it much more direct
Not too far into the 21st century, agencies will begin using embedded
chips, electronic sensors and miniaturized hardware to improve the way
government works and to make it easier for average Americans to talk to
federal workers and find out specific information.
In many ways, the computer network will be the face of government. For
instance, the Army has begun to develop a uniform that is a networked
computer that not only will provide protection from biological and chemical
weapons but also will provide a constant stream of information through
conductive fibers woven into the uniform's material.
The uniform of the Army's Soldier 2025 also serves as an antenna for
high-data-rate radios and feeds data to a Darth Vader-like helmet, which
projects onto the inside of the helmet such images as the position of
enemies and provides 360-degree vision (see sidebar, Page 26).
The Marine Corps envisions a future that includes more urban warfare, which
- as 1992's Operation Restore Hope in Somalia proved - can be perilous. At
the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, scientists are trying to make
urban combat safer for Marines and bystanders. One day in the future, a
Marine may be able to send cockroach-like robotic critters into a building
to send back video images of the enemy. The creatures could set off
nonlethal intoxicants that subdue the enemy.
"If there is a potential silver bullet on the horizon in urban warfare, it
is nonlethal weapons that incapacitate all people in a building - fighters
and noncombatants alike - for long enough for us to accomplish our
mission," said Brig. Gen. Tim Donovan, commanding general of the Marines'
Civilian agencies also will incorporate sensors. The Transportation
Department, for example, plans to help fund the development of
nanotechnology to make it possible to get drunken drivers off the road.
Sensors in a car will be able to measure the level of alcohol in a driver's
breath before the ignition is started. Sensors on roadways will detect ice
and send signals to cars that force them to reduce speed.
Miniaturized technology also could improve congestion on the roads. DOT is
considering developing a palm-size airplane that would send images of road
traffic to computer systems, which would use the information to change
stoplight timings to clear clogged roads faster or to send messages to car
radios suggesting an alternate route.
Chips also will find their way into ordinary objects, making federal tasks
that used to be gargantuan as simple as pressing pen to paper. The Census
Bureau, which has incorporated more technology into the 2000 decennial
census this April, could rely on even more advanced information systems in
2010. Census officials are looking at how a chip could be embedded into a
Census form so that when a person fills it out, the data is sent wirelessly
to the bureau, eliminating the need for huge data centers to scan the
All this "infrachatter" - as scientists at Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs
refer to information being sent between machines and objects - will make it
easier for agencies to distribute more real-time information to the public
or to everyday household objects. Bell Labs imagines a day when sensors in
a typical lawn sprinkler could call up the National Weather Service, check
on the day's forecast and turn itself on or off depending on whether rain
The technology needed to make these visions become reality is a
mega-network on which data could flow between government and citizens.
Bell Labs has begun work on such a network, or global skin, which is made
up of small, electronic measuring devices. The sensors will be plugged into
the Internet, which scientists predict will expand to handle the deluge of
data. Federal workers and the public will be able to connect to the
As more information becomes available, technologies will develop to sift
quickly through the data. Speech recognition will play a primary role.
Highly sophisticated search engine software coupled with hardware such as
car radios, desktop computers and servers in the back offices of federal
agencies may be able to act as a virtual operator to find information. A
scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency or parents looking for the
latest treatment for a childhood disease from the National Institutes of
Health could speak via a cellular phone or handheld computer directly to
information systems to find the data they want. Tiny radios the size of
this word or smaller likely will emerge, capable of transmitting
information wirelessly at rates of 20 megabits/sec or greater - almost 13
times faster than a T-1 Internet connection. Smart software will convert
speech into computer-readable programs to retrieve information that answers
a specific question rather than providing endless lists of data as today's
Internet search engines do.
Over the new year break, there was a whole swag of retrospective articles
in the print media and programs on the TV about advances in technology in
the past 10, 100, 1000, 2000 years. There were also pieces on forecasts
that were so wrong as to be hilarious. I wonder just how valid the above
article is, especially when it is technology based and probably does not
factor in practical issues such as acceptance by the community and
technology's ability to deal with ambiguous and error prone reality of
The only prediction that makes any sense to me is that the future will be
different but we humans will make all the same old mistakes.
Forecasting is like trying to drive a car blindfolded and following
directions given by a person who is looking out of the back window