In a year that started with only the third impeachment in history of a sitting President of the USA, a global pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, major unrest and justifiable demands for social justice and an end to police violence in so many of our towns and cities, and an unprecedented general election campaign that saw incredible voter turnout and post-election turmoil across my fine nation, I found myself drawing dark comfort from one of the most appropriate bumper stickers I’ve seen this year: Giant Meteor 2020. Just End It Already.
So what will 2021 bring? Here’s my viewpoints on technology, human civilization, and hope for an amazing year and decade.
Everywhere, the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT shows no signs of stopping its expansion into our daily lives, and that’s not a bad thing, either. Wearable devices, real-time contact tracing, and even cybernetic implants have made news in 2020. Remember that the whole point of IPV6 addressing was to make networking available for up to some 50 trillion individual devices by 2050, and I’ll be keeping an eye on that trend in this decade.
What’s also fascinating to me is the incredibly low-cost capabilities of IoT, made possible by cheap and reliable Raspberry Pi and Arduino computing nodes, sensors, and hubs. For example, today I’m putting the finishing touches on what I believe is a pretty sophisticated home security system, all built on IoT components. I’ve been able to build that with open-source software and a lot of help from online support communities. It’s not been without frustration, but I’ve learned so much from the experience that I’m ready to move on to more challenging tasks.
Machine Learning, AI, and Decision By Digital. All these IoT data sources offer our human civilization an incredible set of amazing opportunities, including more efficient agriculture, intelligent electric vehicles, “smart cities,” closed-loop recycling, cleaner air and water, and especially electric power infrastructure. But to clear the grain from the chaff, we’ll need ever-better machine learning algorithms, artificial intelligence, and digitally-driven decision making to take advantage of these exabytes of information.
Convergence, in Databases and Applications. 2020 clearly demonstrated that just-in-time supply chains have some weaknesses during times of stress from global events like the COVID-19 pandemic as well as local catastrophes like the Australian and Californian wildfires and a horrendous series of tropical storms and hurricanes. That means we’ll need to consider where our critical databases, applications, and infrastructure is located, too, so I’ll be watching trends towards converged solutions like Oracle’s Application Express (APEX) and its emphasis on its Converged Database strategy.
Emphasis on Objective Truth. Finally, if this past year has shown us anything – from the USA’s incredibly incompetent response to COVID-19 as well as the dramatically divergent political extremes about the reliability of the results from the USA’s general election – it’s the value of objective, verifiable, trustworthy facts and information. My country’s information infrastructure has been badly damaged, not just by recent nation-state actors’ hacking attempts, but by a deliberate rejection of expertise and knowledge provided by trustworthy professionals about everything from basic principles of public heath to how elections actually work.
It’s going to take at least a few years to restore that faith and trust in public institutions so that we can move on to tackle the enormous problems facing our human civilization in everything from climate change to clean energy transformation. But I’m optimistic that we can still get there because, as Jeff Bridges says in Starman, “When things are at their very worst, humans are at their very best.”
Bring it on, 2021! We are ready to be at our very best.