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3. Smart bodies. When you take your car into the shop, the mechanic plugs in a diagnostic computer that analyzes a log of performance data and immediately pinpoints the sources of problems—problems you are aware of, and problems you are not. When you visit your doctor, she says “Where does it hurt?” Why is your body not as well instrumented as your car? It will be. The jock market will drive this, but it will become ubiquitous.
4. Smart robots. In the 20th century the U.S. led the world in four great waves of technological advancement: electrification, automobiles, airplanes, and computers. The first large technological wave of the 21st century is shaping up to be robotics. Robots are migrating from structured environments (assembly lines) to unstructured environments (homes, offices, battlefields). The potentials are limitless.
5. The data deluge. The rapid emergence of inexpensive high-bandwidth sensors is transforming every field from data-poor to data-rich. The challenge is to develop automated tools – based on approaches such as data mining and machine learning – to extract knowledge from this mass of data. Whether you are a scientist, an eCommerce site, or a sports team, your future competitiveness depends upon this capability. “eScience” is the buzzword.
6. Virtual and augmented reality. It’s been just so much yap for the past decade, but it’s going to become real in the next. For example, think about Google Street View or Microsoft Photosynth, but with all the world’s photographs from a few billion smartphones. New breakthroughs in computer vision are making this possible.
7. Smart crowds and human-computer systems. Computers are great at multiplying large numbers. Humans are great at recognizing images. What if you need to do both? UW biochemist David Baker, working with UW computer scientist Zoran Popovic, has augmented his Rosetta protein structure calculation software with a web-based videogame providing human guidance. (Teenage gamers are beating the pants off of Ph.D. biochemists – there’s such a thing as too much education.) See it here. More generally, crowd-sourcing, a development of the past decade, will explode, enabling the rapid construction of small, innovative companies.
Note that these are not “just applications” (although there is nothing un-cool about “just applications”). They require fundamental advances in computer science.
Thanks to Tom Anderson, Jean-Loup Baer, Rodney Brooks, Jon Froehlich, Pat Hanrahan, Peter Lee, Hank Levy, Pat Lincoln, Shwetak Patel, Steve Seitz, Sebastian Thrun, and Dan Weld for sharing their ideas with me.
[Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of posts from Xconomists and other technology leaders from around the country who are weighing in with the top innovations they’ve seen in their respective fields the past 10 years, or the top disruptive technologies that will impact the next decade.]
Ed Lazowska holds the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, where he also serves as the founding director of the University of Washington eScience Institute. His research and teaching concern the design, implementation, and analysis of high performance computing and communication systems, and the techniques and technologies of data-intensive discovery.
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