Thursday, October 20, 2005

Forward to future with BT

A few years back I got an opportunity to work with Mark R. Anderson, CEO of Anderson Consulting Group ( based in Montgomery, TX, whose title on the visiting card read Healthcare IT Futurist. I was sort of intrigued by the title at that time. One of my friends then told me that organizations like British Telecom (BT) do hire Technology Futurists by the dozen to do crystal ball gazing. Based on that, the title made perfect sense, but I do not still know whether it is true. If it is true, these futurists are doing some tremendous jobs in BT. “Technology Timeline,” a report released by British Telecom in August 2005, stands testimony to that.

BT’s report covers all major areas affecting human life including Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Life, Biotechnology, Health, Business, Education, Home & Office Infrastructure, Life & Leisure, Materials & Electronic Devices, Processing, Memory & Storage, Robotics, Security, Military, Law, Shopping & Money, Space, Telecommunications, Transport & Travel, and Wearable Technology.

I will try to discuss some of the predictions here with my own views on implementation approaches, timeframes and value. The BT list contains probably about thousand predictions. Selecting a few for discussion is really tough. So I decided to start with Artificial Intelligence. (I have also decided to limit myself to five predictions being very considerate of the readers.)

Synthetic voices pop band gets in top 20 (2006-2010)
I think today’s technologies themselves are capable of producing songs which can reach top of the charts. Already synthetic voices emulating famous figures are being sold by many TTS product sellers. I have been in a Scansoft presentation where they got its TTS engine to read a paragraph in the voice and style of Bill Clinton. Hence flexibility of synthetic voices, I would say, is beyond question. Marrying it to AI and creating a band may be the only activity which is likely to take time.

First species brought back from extinction (2006-2010)
Here again, with cloning success rates fairly high, I cannot see a major technology bottleneck. But after having read and watched Jurassic Park I am not sure about the need or desirability of doing this.

Mood-sensitive home décor (2008-2012)
This would be fun to have. Some time back I had come across a gadget which if kept in your hand could change color if you are tense or angry. It has been scientifically proved that your moods can generate chemical and electrical signs which can be recognized and measured. What with Bluetooth and other technologies, changing the home décor based on your moods is only an integration and provisioning issue. Ofcourse it could be costly to begin with.

Addiction to on-line games seen as a national problem (2008-2012)
In the second week of August 2005, A South Korean man who played computer games for 50 hours almost non-stop died of heart failure, minutes after finishing his mammoth session in an Internet café. Apparently, the 28 year old man - Lee -had planted himself in front of a computer monitor to play online games on Aug. 3. He left his seat over the next three days only to go to the toilet and take brief naps on a makeshift bed. The cause of death was presumed to be heart failure stemming from exhaustion
So this is not a prediction anymore. It is a reality. Something especially developing countries (Where the young population is more than the old) should be really worried about.

Computers that write most of their own software (2013-2017)
Most software written by machine (2013-2017)
Well, as per the prediction we IT employees have some more time left before going jobless. But my premonition is that we could be hit as early as 2010. Already many of the MDA (Model Driven Architecture) based products are capable of doing half your work (It is true that most of us have successfully thwarted the introduction of these by refusing to use them on silly objections!). But mind you the day is not far away…

I will be back with more…

Friday, October 07, 2005

An act of conviction

In a rather dramatic act, the gentleman in his fifties picked up the potion and gulped it down !!!. (The act was very similar in many ways to the one performed by Socrates millenniums back) The potion contained a concoction of Bacteria which many of his peers believed could not survive the digestive acids in his stomach. Most of them also believed that they are not going to do any harm to his digestive system. In such a case this was neither an act of courage nor had any associated risk.

But the gentleman knew better. He knew that the Bacteria would survive; especially the Helicobacter pylori. He knew he was going to be sick…terribly sick. But he had to do it…to convince others…the doubting Thomases of the world who questioned scientific evidence collected painstakingly over a long period of time. He had a point to prove!!!

The gentleman succeeded…He fell ill…very very ill…

Barry J. Marshall who was driven to perform this act has won Nobel Prize for medicine this year along with his colleague J Robbin Warren.

To paraphrase the Press Release by The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet dated 3rd October 2005..

Robin Warren (born 1937), a pathologist from Perth, Australia, observed small curved bacteria colonizing the lower part of the stomach (antrum) in about 50% of patients from which biopsies had been taken. He made the crucial observation that signs of inflammation were always present in the gastric mucosa close to where the bacteria were seen.

Barry Marshall (born 1951), a young clinical fellow, became interested in Warren's findings and together they initiated a study of biopsies from 100 patients. After several attempts, Marshall succeeded in cultivating a hitherto unknown bacterial species (later denoted Helicobacter pylori) from several of these biopsies. Together they found that the organism was present in almost all patients with gastric inflammation, duodenal ulcer or gastric ulcer. Based on these results, they proposed that Helicobacter pylori is involved in the aetiology of these diseases.

Even though peptic ulcers could be healed by inhibiting gastric acid production, they frequently relapsed, since bacteria and chronic inflammation of the stomach remained. In treatment studies, Marshall and Warren as well as others showed that patients could be cured from their peptic ulcer disease only when the bacteria were eradicated from the stomach. Thanks to the pioneering discovery by Marshall and Warren, peptic ulcer disease is no longer a chronic, frequently disabling condition, but a disease that can be cured by a short regimen of antibiotics and acid secretion inhibitors.

It was to prove this Bacterial connection to the skeptic world that Marshall resorted to the heroic act mentioned in the beginning…

Now you must be wondering why I am talking at length on this particular incident!

I think what Marshall showed through his action was his confidence and conviction with respect to his work. That is probably what makes him great…great much beyond his Nobel Prize!

How many of us can say the same about ourselves and our areas of work???