October 20, 2015

SHEN | New Stuff and Why It Matters

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Time is such a weird thing. Am I the only one who feels like 2007 was only about three years ago? I feel like for the past five years, I’ve subconsciously set my intrinsic “How long ago” clock to 2010, and that makes it really interesting when reflecting upon what actually happened in those “three years.” Think about it: the first iPhone came out in mid-2007. Yeah, that was back when the selfie-tastic front camera was a novelty to be scoffed at and the base model had a mere 4 gigabytes of storage. This was back when Facebook and YouTube were still in their youth, many years before Snapchat and Instagram, and over a year before the first Android phone would be released – with a physical flip-out keyboard, no less. Yes, this was when people were criticizing texting by tapping on a glass screen because many thought it was stupid. The good ol’ days.

The point is that so much has changed in what feels like a fairly short span of time, and that makes me excited for what the future may bring. The amount of innovation happening each year is astounding. We’ve created self-driving cars, built quantum computers so mind-boggling that we haven’t discovered practical applications for them yet and pushed space travel into the commercial sector.

One of the up-and-coming technologies that has me most excited is Microsoft’s HoloLens, which is essentially a wearable visor meant to project digital constructs into our world. In a promotional video, people were shown putting virtual three-dimensional displays all around their house: setting up and resizing digital television screens on the walls, glancing at a to-do list digitally plastered to the refrigerator and building new worlds in a video game on the coffee table. At one point during the video, a woman’s HoloLens feed is streamed to her father’s tablet, which the latter is able to draw on in order to transmit explicit plumbing instructions to his daughter. There’s just so much cool stuff that is possible with wearable technology, especially when holograms are in the picture.

The only catch with HoloLens is that it must be capable of extremely quick digital rendering, since to create convincingly situated holograms in the visor’s field of view it has to match the positions of the holograms with the speed at which the visor’s field of view changes. So put more simply, it has to move all the digital stuff as fast as you move your head, but I’m sure Microsoft is capable of pulling it off.

So why does any of this matter? For one, staying up-to-date with technology is really useful in judging what is possible. 10 years ago, you couldn’t wonder what the most popular fruit in Russia was and search for it on the spot. With cellular data, Wi-Fi and all of our cool gadgets today, we can. And if there’s a breakthrough in innovation that matches the sheer scope of Wi-Fi, you can bet that it will be advantageous to you to be an early adopter. Secondly, it’s interesting to think about invention and improvement. What are we as humans capable of doing and how might we attain the goals we set out to achieve? Does technological growth ever stop, and if so, when?

And finally, let’s be honest: new stuff is cool. It’s cool because it’s new (compare the feeling of when you first got your phone/laptop/valuable to what you think of it now), and it’s cool because it’s cool. Think about how we are able to transcend geographical separation. I can Skype a friend in Finland and my family in China and make the physical distance a lot more bearable (this technology may be fairly far off for now, but now imagine your video chat buddy in HoloLens as a hologram). I can go to a forum and participate in civil discourse with millions of other living, breathing people. And there’s so much more that we haven’t touched. If in 20 years the world is as different from today as today is from 1995, we are certainly in for a treat. Here’s to living life to its fullest and staying on the cutting edge of progress.

Zhao Shen is a freshman computer science major in the College of Arts and Sciences. He loves music, movies, milkshakes and penguins, and is currently working on his doctorate degree in procrastination. He can be reached at [email protected].