Community, GHC15

A Glimpse of the Future: Emerging Technologies at GHC15

This was a lively and insightful session  featuring Kate Boeckman, Obi Felten, Asta Roseway, Jess Kimball Leslie, and Vida Ilderem, who are all immersed in different aspects of emerging technologies. The discussion that touched on a lot of interesting emerging technologies, from smart homes and the Internet of Things, to self driving cars. Full notes from the session are available on the GHC15 Wiki page.

I want to highlight just a few topics and themes that I found particularly captivating.

Virtual Reality for Education and Policy

There was a discussion on virtual reality technology, which Vida pointed out is an older technology that has been around for over 20 years, but remains largely focused on gaming applications.

But what other uses of virtual reality will be used in the future?

Asta hopes that virtual reality technology will be implemented in schools for educational purposes. How cool would it be to recreate history in virtual reality so that students could land at Plymouth Rock,  walk down the streets of Paris in 1850, or see the pyramids in Ancient Egypt. Students would be able to see history through someone else’s shoes, and history would come (virtually) alive.

Virtual reality video is also maturing, with widespread implications from entertainment to journalism, and even policy. Obi highlighted a case where UN policy makers wore a virtual reality headset to walk through a refugee camp from the perspective of a young girl, and the experience helped to change and shape their opinions in the matter. In a world where policy makers seem more and more disconnected from the problems of their people, this transformative technology can be used to enable informed decision making.

The ability to virtually experience scenarios throughout space and time has implications far beyond video games. This technology is capable of changing our world for the better, and women can be a big part of this shift by bringing a new perspective.

Wearables, Emotions, and Bringing People Together

Wearable technologies are still in their early stages and the technology is still trying to catch up to what people want to do with their devices. Obi likened the gap to the differences between the early Apple Newton platform and the iPhone.

She also highlighted exciting opportunities for applications in healthcare, such as a contact lens for continuous monitoring of glucose levels in tears for diabetics, which would replace repetitive finger pricks for blood testing. While these are not the common fitness-related or “quantified me” devices most people associate with wearables, they are devices that can have a significant impact.

Asta highlighted another interesting perspective on wearables — how they will affect how we emote and how we interact with people. She hopes (and believes) that when we know more about the people around us, we will be more empathetic. If a coworker is stressed and has an elevated heart rate, we may be compelled to be more patient in our interactions.

As a silly diversion, the panel discussed a version of this that is currently available is the wearable cat ears  that respond to EEG and reflect your emotions, but as technology advances Asta can foresee a future where a fashionable headband or piece of jewelry may serve the same purpose more effectively.

Does anyone else think this sounds like a way cooler version of an old school mood ring? But I digress…

In a world where technology gets blamed for making people more isolated, it’s encouraging flip things around and consider the ways that wearables could bring us together and help drive a more compassionate society.

Emerging Technology Our World Needs

Asta used her closing remarks as an opportunity to shift the focus to the important topics of climate change and sustainability. We’re living in a weird bubble of extreme self indulgence, she said, while the world is facing a real impending crisis. People in Silicon Valley are busy in their offices writing code to meet every profitable self-indulgent whim, while the water in their own backyard is dwindling.

We need to refocus our technical skills and passions to solve these impending problems before it’s too late. Whether that means tackling renewable energy, electric cars, or engineered beef, as technologists we need to be thinking about these problems before it’s too late.

It will surely be a huge fall from grace when you can order your pizza by tweeting an emoji , but you can’t get a glass of water from your tap. And it may be coming sooner than we realize.