The future is calling
The future is calling
It’s a dizzying world out there. Technological research is moving fast. Gadgets and gizmos that just a few years ago were deemed revolutionary are moving swiftly from the lab onto retail shelves. It’s an exciting and dramatic time to be a consumer — so many advances so quickly, many with the potential to transform our world. Today, researchers at labs funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation across the country are evolving our technological knowledge in many fields, their advances laying the groundwork for the next generation of consumer technology. This in-depth report showcases some of that work and anticipates an exciting future.
In the digital age researchers are not only making the technologies of the future but also turning a critical eye to the important social and cultural implications of the electronic-age tools we are creating. After all, controlling our inventions has the potential to be much more difficult than developing them ever was.
Can society stay ahead of the techno curve?
In Andrew Feenberg’s view, we have changed the very environment of our lives. “We have created our niche around technology to such an extent that we’re remote from what we call nature,” says the CFI-funded Canada Research Chair in Philosophy of Technology at Simon Fraser University’s School of Communication. “Technology is now our environment — the one we have selected and created for ourselves. We shape it, and it shapes us.”
With that in mind, it’s more important than ever for us to understand that the new consumer technologies being developed cannot be viewed simply as tools without social context or implications. “A hundred years ago, technologies were much less present and much less dangerous, so the fact that people couldn’t control them made much less difference,” says Feenberg. “Now, it’s incredibly important that people have control, which means being able to express themselves freely.”
Do you own technology or does technology own you?
Many of Feenberg’s assessments are shared by Maria Bakardjieva, who studies the social ramifications of technology from her offices at the University of Calgary’s department of communication and culture. She says that while we’re increasingly surrounded by screens and devices and apps, it’s worth noting that we tend to use them in very human ways. Consider how much of our time is spent on Skype and Facebook, texting and playing video games in real time with our friends. So while we live our day-to-day lives in an increasingly “hybrid” way — part virtual, part in body — as humans, we still crave social interaction and tend to shape consumer technologies in ways that foster that collaboration. Technologies also let us link up with people of like-minded interests and be more active on political and civic issues. But with that power comes responsibility. “With every new technology, there is a period of taming and adjusting those new powers,” says Bakardjieva. “That must be done with an eye to our values and our ideas and how we want our lives and the lives of those around us to be.”
In this in-depth report, we highlight how Canadian researchers are both studying and shaping these consumer technologies of the future. Click on the stories to the right to learn about some of the work being done by leading researchers in the fields of wearable technology, flexible computing and smart appliances. And to understand the capabilities and limitations of 3-D printing, read the interview with Matt Ratto from the University of Toronto’s Critical Making Lab. Add our podcast to your playlist to find out how data mining will transform the shopping spree of the future, and watch the video to see how tomorrow’s gaming systems will be able to “read your mind.” So many consumer technologies are coming soon to a store near you, though in what forms only a futurist would try to predict.
Originally posted December 2013
Models demonstrate two examples of interactive electronic clothing developed as part of the Karma Chameleon project conducted at Concordia University’s XS Labs. The animated garments are constructed out of composite fibres that harness kinetic energy from the wearer’s body and use it to change colour and shape in response to movement. Photo credit: Ronald Borshan © 2012 Picture a future in which your clothing acts like a wearable computer, one that allows you to make a statement by changing colour — and might also alert you to relax if your breathing or heart rate signals stress....
6:30 a.m. The alarm clock launches its unholy clatter, slingshotting you out of the rumple of bedsheets and off to the bath. You grumble at the reflection in the mirror, then shuffle on to the morning paper, a few slices of toast, a chug of coffee, and you’re out the door. It’s the typical series of hurdles you might leap over to start your day. A grid of pressure sensors embedded in a bed sheet can monitor your sleep cycles, and a network of small vibration motors will shake you awake at just the right time. Photo credit: A. El Saddik But if the vision of researchers like...
While 3-D printing is not a new technology, the development of smaller, and cheaper, machines now allows people to buy a compact consumer version at Staples. And while the spectre of criminals potentially using the technology to print untraceable handguns has the 3-D printer very much in the news these days, that’s obviously not how most buyers are fantasizing about using this invention. From printed food to printed fashion, the media is overflowing with ideas for the brave new world of 3-D printing. Matt Ratto brings us back to reality with a more level-headed look at where the technology...
It seems so retro. Our future tablets will be designed to act more like paper: We’ll fold them, roll them up, maybe even stuff them into our back pockets. The innovative thinkers at Queen’s University’s Human Media Lab, which focuses on finding new ways of working with computers, were honoured at the World Technology Awards in New York City in November for their PaperTab technology, a series of paper-thin, flexible computer displays that can interact with your gestures and with one another. Picture this: instead of that clunky monitor sitting on your desk, cluttered with half a...
The holiday shopping spree of the future will be nothing like the crowded, stuffy gauntlet of today, according to Brian Greenspan, director of Carleton University’s Hyperlab. Greenspan and his students research the implications of a Big Brother culture that inevitably comes about when we live in the cloud. In this podcast, Greenspan takes listeners on a tour of the mall of the future, describing how marketers mine the data we continuously generate through our mobile devices to shape the way we shop....
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