Luddite: One of a group of early 19th century English workmen destroying laborsaving machinery as a protest; broadly: One who is opposed to especially change. <The Luddite argued that automation destroys jobs—Merriam Webster
I recently discovered that I’d become a Luddite. Sure, it was only in one very specific case, but as the IT guy for our home, I like to think I’m on top of technology.
Lately, my girlfriend Rita and I have been listening to her podcasts in the car, primarily “My Favorite Murder,” “Serial,” and “These are Their Stories,” which is devoted to tongue-in-cheek discussions of the entire “Law and Order” franchise. It turns out podcasts are all she listens to now, with the occasional exception of public radio. She has hundreds of podcasts saved on her phone. She even listens to podcasts that feature the stars of podcasts talking about podcasts.
So, I tried to set up podcasts on my phone. No dice. I followed the directions…I think. Finally, Rita took my phone, mashed a few buttons, and handed it back to me. “Here, you’re ready to go. Any questions?” At least she didn’t tousle my hair and call me “kiddo.”
Of course, as the editor of a technical magazine, I try not to get too far behind the technology curve. But if we’re not paying attention to every single tech news item, we might miss out on innovative new products and systems that can make our lives healthier, more productive, or just more fun.
These are just a few of the innovations we’ve seen in just the last few years:
- Google and Tesla made self-driving cars a reality. Google did so with a splash, but Tesla went under the radar with a software upgrade. The Autopilot update included a steering feature which allowed drivers to sit in the passenger seat, hands-free, and scare the hell out of all of the other drivers on the road. One Tesla driver posted a video of himself riding on the roof of his Tesla as it navigated through traffic.
- Robots are not only moving toward artificial intelligence—they’re learning to teach other robots. And they can teach other robots faster and better than humans can. Some swimming robots are now transparent, made up primarily of water and covered in a rubbery gel.
- Scientists have mounted tiny backpacks on dragonflies, hoping to eventually control their flight patterns and create a tiny air force that could launch tiny missiles at our enemies. (OK, I made up the last part. But it’s clearly not out of the question.)
- Doctors used genetically engineered immune cells to save dying cancer patients. Is this the beginning of the end of cancer?
- Researchers used genome editing to create fungus-resistant wheat. Can they eventually engineer plants with traits such as drought and disease tolerance?
- Now we can talk to our TV, and ask it what our schedule looks like for tomorrow night. My new laptop has voice-operated everything.
All of this would have been considered pie-in-the-sky nonsense a decade ago.
To read this entire column, which appeared in the February 2017 issue of The PCB Design Magazine, click here.