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A Vision, from the Motor City and Beyond

Sept. 30, 2015
The future is impossible to predict, of course (Nostradamus has revisionist history to thank for his current seer stature), but it sure is fun to look ahead.

DETROIT A little more than 50 years have passed since Gordon Moore first noted in a paper that the number of transistors on a computer chip had doubled every year or so and that, based on the exponential trend, they would continue to do so. Moore later revised the terms of that technological expansion from every year to every two years, right around the time he founded Intel with Robert Noyce, but the nucleus of his theory remains and is now, of course, Moore's Law.

There are few technological ideas that are simpler and more beautiful, and few that make it so difficult to predict what will be possible in the next two years, much less the next five, or 10, or 20. Doesn't mean we won't keep trying to peer ahead, though.

Veteran technology writer David Kirkpatrick gathered dozens of bright minds one morning last month to do just that at the latest edition of his Techonomy events, which blend tech with the rest of the world. This one unfolded over 10 hours inside the Wayne State University Law School in downtown Detroit and flooded over with ideas.

Detroit mayor Mike Duggan answered questions about how he and his staffers have implemented mobile apps to respond more quickly to residents. Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini, who proudly discussed his eight undergraduate years at Wayne State, dived into the technological backend of medical records. And Autodesk CEO Carl Bass, an additive leader for years, shared his thoughts about actually doing.

"If you think about all of our customers, they make stuff," he said. "They're making automobiles, they're building medical devices, they're building buildings and civic infrastructure. And it's all about taking some idea and turning it into something. … The problems we deal with are ones of design and engineering. What we're really trying to do is help all these people who, at heart, are trying to take their ideas and turn them into things that solve problems."

The Industrial Internet of Things has been around for more than a quarter of a century, but has only recently gained traction for general use. Smartphones are still less than a decade old. Few among us would have predicted the sudden rise of wearables as recently as five years ago. Predicting the future? Good luck with that. Whatever comes, just keep an open mind and, whatever you do, figure out how to put it to good use on the floor and, more important, in your life … and do it before the next big thing comes around two years later.

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