TECHNOLOGY tends to cascade into the marketplace in waves.
Think of personal computers in the 1980s, the Internet in the 1990s and smartphones in the last five years.
Computing may be on the cusp of another such wave. This one, many researchers and entrepreneurs say, will be based on smarter machines and software that will automate more tasks and help people make better decisions in business, science and government. And the technological building blocks, both hardware and software, are falling into place, stirring optimism.
Michael R. Stonebraker, a pioneer in database research, is one of the optimists. Software used by companies and government agencies — in products sold by Oracle, I.B.M., Microsoft and others — descends from research done in the 1970s by Mr. Stonebraker and Eugene Wong, a colleague at the University of California, Berkeley, as well as a team of scientists at I.B.M.
Today, Mr. Stonebraker sees an opportunity for new kinds of ultrafast databases. The new software, he explains, takes advantage of rapid advances in computer hardware to help businesses and researchers find insights in the rising flood of data coming from so many sources, including Web-browsing trails, sensor data, genetic testing and stock trading.
“Now is the time,” says Mr. Stonebraker, who is an adjunct professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s computer science and artificial intelligence laboratory. “The economics and the technology are ripe.”
The case for optimism is by no means unqualified. The march of these technologies raises social issues, including privacy concerns, and the timing is uncertain. All of the bold predictions in the 1990s that the Internet would disrupt traditional industries like media, advertising and retailing did come true — a decade later.
But a series of related technologies, scientists and entrepreneurs say, has reached a critical mass — come to a digital boiling point, so to speak — so that new products and capabilities become possible. The technical ingredients, they note, include powerful, low-cost computing and storage spread across thousands of computers. The digital engine rooms of Google and Amazon are prime examples.
Another fast-improving technology involves inexpensive and intelligent sensors, which are crucial to a new breed of automated machines like experimental driverless cars and battlefield drones. Clever software — notably machine-learning algorithms — animates much of the current wave of smarter technology. Two well-known examples are found in Watson, the “Jeopardy”-winning computer from I.B.M., and the movie recommendations on Netflix.
ADVANCES in such underlying technologies are fueling the current excitement in fields like artificial intelligence, robotics and data analysis and prediction. “All parts of the technology pipeline are gearing up at the same time, and that’s how you get this explosion of new applications and uses,” says Jon Kleinberg, a computer scientist at Cornell University.
via The New York Times – STEVE LOHR
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