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Feature Article of Monday, 4 April 2011

Columnist: Awuah, Lawrence

Current Impact of Information Technology and Future Implications

By

Lawrence Awuah



ljawuah@ieee.org



Ashburn, Virginia



Introduction: Technology has come to stay with us with accompanying ramifications and mixed blessings. The influence of current and future Information Technology and their applications is beyond human imaginations. How pervasive or beneficial is information systems and technology? Well, this is a question worth discussing. Throughout my secondary education in my beloved country—Ghana—I never had the chance to practically see, touch, or work with computers until my first year in a college; however, the good thing was that I was literate enough to read and understand some basic computer technologies. My first experience with computer occurred during my first year as an electrical engineering student at School of Engineering, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology (KNUST) back in 1996. Theoretically, I did understand some computer concepts but practically it was a nightmare. What do we all see today, just a little over a decade? Well, the answer seems obvious. For instance, my five-year old now uses computer as a learning “tool” to play all of his computer games, watch movies, and to study kindergarten level math and reading online.

Some of us must change our mind-set to embrace the proliferation of technology, and if possible, embed it in our DNA; we must however be aware of the negative consequences associated with technology. In a nutshell, being current and immersed in information technology concepts and applications is a catalyst to be able to siphon the good part of technology for our daily needs. Some of these state-of-the-art technologies include digital and multimedia convergence; intelligent applications; embedded systems; mobile, satellite, and wireless communications; and distributed computing among others. Today, technology finds useful applications in medicine, legal systems, and in almost every facet of our life, as shown in figure 1in the appendix. We need to be inquisitive of Information Technology and its vibrant applications in shaping our future together. The next sections delineate a few contributions of IT in our world today.



Software Applications and Social Media: A computer without software or relevant applications is like a car without fuel and loses its real value. Software planning and development is ever-changing the phase of businesses, organizations, and human-computer interactions, for instance. Here are a few examples. Everyone may agree with me that software applications continue to change in a more innovative way without our explicit understanding of these changes. Of course, software applications need to be aligned with current and future changes and adjusts to these changes accordingly. Typical examples are the embedded operating systems (OS) in smart-phones, PDAs; and applications like online calendars, word processors, and spreadsheets that we have at our disposal toady. Also, Web 2.0 (or Web 3.0) applications such as blogs, wikis, and social networks, as well as Web-based e-mail clients (such as Yahoo or Gmail) can be provided via cloud computing or some relevant means. It is fascinating to see the e-Government application in global politics today. Yeah, prospects are high for Web 2.0 and its subsequent technologies to be the mainstream for transparencies globally. Additionally, we see how social networking establishments like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Myspace, Orkut and others continue to galvanize global politics. A typical example is what we are witnessing now in some part of the world where social media is perceived to be powerful tools in politics. Fortunately, it helps to maintain transparency while exposing the tyrants characterized by all sorts of negative behavior paradigms. Evidently, greedy and autocratic leaders in certain parts of the world are being exposed and “teardown” day after day. At the time of writing this article, some tyrants are struggling to cling to power while others have been “crashed downhill” previously. Well, let's hope others follow like it seems to be happening now. I think social media tools must take most credit because without them, the United Nations or the World would have little or no evidence and sanctions and other forms of punishments could have been difficult to implement —does this sound familiar? What a world of High-Tech are we in! Well, I leave this part for readers to evaluate.



The World Peace and Security: Who else does not want to see peace and security permeate our society? If for some reasons, individuals or certain groups of people distance themselves from the peace and security then, probably, they do not belong to us. How can technology maintain international peace and security? Recently, the United States Ambassador to United Nations, Susan Rice, hosted a session of the United Nations Security Council titled, “Voices of a New Generation," that sought to open new doors of opportunity to the world’s youth (ages between 13 and 21 years old) on matters concerning international peace and security. I watched the video that genuinely touched my heart. Unfortunately, I’m yet to know if such a program is or can be extended to the older folks. The point is, we see how technology can help “fuel and energized” such excellent initiatives. As the speaker noted, “they poured in by e-mail, on YouTube, and through Facebook. And some were even written by hand” (para. 7). Again, as I illustrated earlier, this certainly demonstrates the power of social media. In the next year or so, I hope to embark on a behavioral science research studies that thoroughly investigate effects of human behavior on advances in technology and society in general.



Medical Applications: As medical practitioners continue to face complex medical systems, the emerging technologies continue to relieve them of such complexities. There are currently advances in wireless devices with accompanying advanced processors, memory chips, and relevant operating systems implementations that are found useful in medicine. Typical examples are Bluetooth and smart-phones technologies. To delineate further, Bluetooth wireless technology has helped in areas of remote patient monitoring, wireless biometric data, and medicine dispenser. The use of smart-phones has also become an important technology in healthcare establishments. A smart-phone, for example, has advanced capabilities and functionality much like that of laptop computers. Medical doctors can remotely monitor their patients’ lifestyle changes like their daily exercises (Marshall, Medvedev & Antonov, 2008). The use of this technology can help patients manage chronic diseases from home, regardless of their locations.



Business Opportunities: The aviation and transportation industries have come a long way. Today’s airline industry has been deeply rooted in complexity of Internet technology in terms of e-services, e-communications, and e-business for day-to- day business operations. Also, Bluetooth technology has paved the way for electronic boarding pass to be issued for air travelers and thus eliminating the need for a traditional paper boarding pass. Technology has over the past decades influenced many organizations’ internal and external IT operations in alignment with strategic business goals. There is mounting business imperative to make strategic decisions when it comes to investing in information technology. We have already seen the interplay of business and technology in the horizon. We see how Wal-Mart makes use of Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to provide automatic tracking of its inventory systems. The RFID, as an emerging technology, has generated enormous amount of interest in supply chain initiatives and others. Wal-Mart is not alone; according to Potgantwar and Wadhai (2009), “RFID technology has been used in many organizations and agencies such as the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)” (p. 154). Also, RFID technology has useful applications in wireless systems. Research notes that “There are several approaches in location-sensing systems that use RFID technology” (Potgantwar & Wadhai, 2009, p. 154). Moreover, Technology has become a huge drive for e-businesses through such implementations as data integration, network storage systems, and database systems. E-commerce, for example, is a striking technology for businesses and their respective customers due to the growth and proliferation of the Internet. Now consumers buy all sort of items such as books, music, videos, toys, and games online than shopping in a traditional setting. In a nutshell, all these together tend to “ignite” business initiatives.



Judiciary Systems: There may be contentions between governments, citizens, and judicial systems but the contribution of science and technology to our legal systems cannot be overemphasized. For instance, DNA has served a good purpose in this direction: using DNA to solve crimes, to protect the innocent, and to identify missing persons. According to the Department of Justice "since the creation in 2000 of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) Convicted Offender DNA Backlog Reduction Program, more than 493,600 offender samples from 24 states have been analyzed"(p. 4). This was an effort to solving criminal cases. So one can imagine what impact technology may have on the judicial systems in the coming decades. It’s imperative to know how these advances influence the court’s interaction with the public now and in the future. Consequently, future technology innovations in decision-making process in our legal systems are quite beyond imaginations.



Sports and Entertainment: There’s no doubt that the world of digital entertainment and high-tech sports are here to stay with us. Technology has shaped the way we human plan, organize, analyze, or do business with sports and entertainment. Technically speaking, technology helps, or may replace, human involvement in sporting events. Using lasers for instance is believed to limit sporting controversies as this became evident during the FIFA World cup 2010 in South Africa. This advancement can well relieve referees and linesmen of attacks and humiliations. The future of home entertainment is likely to be software related than hardware like the one already seen in Microsoft's Media Center or the Apple TV. It’s obvious the “soft” part will certainly need the support of the “hard” counterpart or the underlying hardware components. It is amazing to see how digital entertainment has been transformed from CDs to DVDs technologies, and now to Blu-ray technology. This technology is a high definition media format designed to supplant the DVD format we are familiar with today. Fortunately, Blu-ray designers were smart enough to make disc drives backward compatible to allow ease of smooth transition from the traditional DVDs and CDs technologies. Well, this is just a piece of how technology seems to be driving innovations in the world of entertainment and sports.



Future Trend: The above discussion so far is just a tip of the iceberg viewing from both current and future lenses. The future of technology looks promising now than ever before. Practically speaking, our world may very well be dictated thoroughly by computers due to advances in information system and technology with accompanying human-computer interactions. In the future, information systems and technology would be expected to be evolving, converging, and ubiquitous technologies in all facets of human needs. Likewise, we can’t even think of the innovations that space exploration, military technologies, online education, world of sports and entertainment could bring. For instance, some plans for space exploration have been announced recently by both government agencies and private sectors. According to El-Rayis, Arslan, and Erdogan’s (2008) study on space technology, space computation challenges are projected to confront future space missions. Evidence notes that “rapid developments in semiconductor technologies have lead to progression in sensors technology and enormous increase in their capability and accuracy addresses the architectural requirements and processing demands for future space missions” (El-Rayis et al., 2008, p. 199). In short, IT is believed to play a vital role in convergence of computing and application in science, engineering, business, aviation, entertainment, politics, culture, and medicine as well as other disciplines. Intuitively, computers might be viewed as a central home storage containing full stream of digital information where many of these demands could be met at home. For instance, we do not know for sure—thinking of a virtual world—if physical office buildings and traditional brick-and-mortal classrooms in our educational systems today will continue to exist in the future.



Conclusion: In summary, it is a fact that advances in information technology is dynamic and continues at an ever increasing rate. We all need to be conscious of this, and to continue to explore innovative ways that advance and transform our neighborhood in particular, and the world as whole. In this discussion, the author outlines a few ways that these advances can promote opportunity for us to become successful in our society now and in the future. Also, these innovations may well put us in a metaphorical dilemma beyond human imaginations. Therefore, to be able to siphon the good part of technology for our needs, we need to be inquisitive of technology with a drive in shaping our future together. In any case, the advantages that technology brings outweigh the disadvantages. It is vitally important to promote state-of-the-art research in future IT disciplines. In the final analysis, we need to be current and immersed in information technology concepts and applications going forward.



References



El-Rayis, A. O., Arslan, T., & Erdogan, A. T. (2008). Addressing future space challenges using

reconfigurable instruction cell based architectures. Adaptive Hardware and Systems, 2008. AHS '08. NASA/ESA Conference on, 199-203

Evans, A., Martin, K., & Poatsy, M. A (2011). Technology in Action (7 ed.). Pearson Learning

Solutions). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall

Nielsen, J. (1998). Nielsen's Law of Internet Bandwidth. Retrieved from

http://www.useit.com/alertbox/980405.html

Potgantwar, A. D, & Wadhai, V. M. (2009). Internal location based system for mobile devices

using passive RFID and wireless technology. International Journal of Computer Science and Information Security, 6(3), 154-159. Retrieved from http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1001/1001.2258.pdf

United Nations Security Council: UN Webcast (2010). Questions from young people. Retrived

from http://www.unmultimedia.org/tv/webcast/2010/12/sc-open-meeting-english.html

US Department of Justice. (2010). Advancing justice through DNA technology. Retrieved from

http://www.justice.gov



Appendix





(a) A doctor manipulates controls that move the robotic instrument tips inside the patient and shows what surgeons might see as they operate on the patient.



(b) The BrainGate Neural Interface is implanted in the patient’s brain



(c) A signal converter recognizes patterns and then translates them into commands to a robotic arm



(d) Virtual Courtrooms are on the cutting edge in our Judicial systems

(e) Online storage and backup uses the Internet as an alternative to external hard drives



Figure 1. The action of information systems and technology in medicine, judicial systems, and storage systems. Adapted from “Technology in Action,” by A. Evans, K. Martin, and M. A. Poatsy, 2011.

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