We Have So Much More Technology Than We Had – And So Much Less Than We Need
A Dramatic Escalation of a Trend Already Underway
One of the byproducts of the pandemic has been the dramatic increase in adaptation by Americans of video teleconferencing and other online communications tools.
I say “adaptation,” which may be too strong a word. Some have indeed become quite capable and comfortable with this new venue. Others are using it only under great duress and reluctance.
The idea of replacing live meetings with video teleconferencing (VTC) is hardly new. It has been a mainstay of business and other communities for years. Same for distance learning (DL), which incorporates VTC, but is much more.
But today millions of newcomers find this is their link or nothing at all. The usual bell curve of human learning has been on full display here. A few latched on and took off; some immediately drowned and bailed out; most float around a bit but are getting by.
Given what we now know about needs and capacities, what might we carry to guide us in the months and years ahead. I would suggest 3 key lessons. They offer us wonderful potential, if only we will learn from them.
Lesson One: Everyone Needs High Quality, High Speed Internet
I have written on this before, but the current situation brings this need to the forefront. We genuinely need a national commitment to ensure every household has a capable high-speed connection that is reliable and affordable. We did this before, first with electricity, then with telephones.
There is zero reason to justify the patchwork mess we have now. Too much is at stake. We could talk endlessly about what such a capability could mean for education, medicine, employment – on and on. No more excuses. Make it happen, America. We now can see clearly what a handicap we have today. It need not be so.
Lesson Two: The Time for Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality is Now
We hear complaints in the current environment about connections by technology. The connection feels remote and two dimensional. Complaints of “Zoom Fatigue” are common. Fair enough, although there are lots of little tricks and techniques that can help.
But imagine a Zoom Happy Hour during which you don goggles and find yourself in a room with your friends. You see each other in three dimensions. You walk through the room, seeing people as you would expect to see them in such a gathering – sitting, talking with each other, calling you over.
That artificial intelligence (AI) technology exists already. It is just a bit clunkier, more expensive, and less prevalent than it should be. We can close the performance and cost gaps quickly – if we establish the demand and grow the markets.
Imagine lonely seniors being able to visit with friends in this way or take a trip to visit familiar places from their past. Imagine classrooms that you feel you are in. Look around and see your classmates right next to you. Magic.
Think about seeing the room or lawn you actually occupy, but now augmented with historical figures, pieces of equipment – whatever you want for an enriching experience.
Such augmented reality (AR) is already an important component in many business and governmental operations. It could dramatically enrich people’s lives more broadly right now.
Lesson Three: Industry Needs to Get Off Its Butt
The first two lessons mentioned here need the tech industry to step up their game to make these things happen in useful ways. Two subsets are inherent.
One, security is unacceptable at today’s standards. The ease with which governments and criminals steal our data and seize our systems is unacceptable. It is also inexcusable.
Society and government need to sweeten the pot for major improvements and raise the pain for failing to improve. Make it easier to sue the companies for breaches and suddenly solutions will appear.
Two, none of the technology discussed here should be as complex for the user as it is today. Using any of these capabilities should by now be no more difficult than driving a car or making a telephone call.
It should make no difference if you are on Apple or a PC, a phone or a tablet. You should not be mystified by a smart speaker or a smart TV.
Industry seems to create for fellow technicians more than for the average citizen. Far more of this technology should be automatic, voice activated, and intelligent enough to work without you feeling the need to call Neil deGrasse Tyson for a lifeline.
What Has Changed is the Level of Urgency
Everything mentioned in this post has been true for some time. But the pandemic raised the level of awareness (boy, are we vulnerable and isolated!) and the need for solutions (kids are falling behind educationally, and people are dangerously cut off from society).
In the hope that we have a new, rational national government right after the first of the year, let’s expect that these issues are a core component of the new infrastructure that is being talked about.
I, for one, would like to see America lead again. In any thing. This seems like a heck of a good place to start. The dividends would be endless.
I would write more, but my watch just reminded me it is time for a Zoom meeting and Alexa just told me I have a package at the door. Bye.
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