Monday, November 3, 2014

Societal Implications: Getting Ahead of the Future That’s Already Here

It seems a news story appears in front of me at least once a week that gives me pause – nanotechnology, drones, 3-D printing, the Internet of everything, and countless other developments demonstrate the far and distant future is already here.  A movie that pulls much of it together for me is Transendence.  Whether or not you like Johnny Depp or the movie itself, it has a number of futuristic applications of technologies that exist today – pulled together to demonstrate a particular scenario for how all of this may someday coincide. Nanoparticles that regenerate on their own; bio-engineering that heals wounds and illness; smart machines that anticipate human actions and emotions; all notions that are currently in the research labs of today – likely to be part of our daily lives in a matter of years through an ongoing series of disruptive innovations.

The future is here.

What’s amazing to me is that two of the most disruptive and eventually ubiquitous industries of the 21st Century (and beyond!) are likely to have their core here in upstate New York and the Mohawk Valley specifically.  Nanotechnology is already changing our world through faster and more powerful computer applications and personal devices that are providing new horizons for education – just think of how many apps are already employed in the life of our students.  Additionally, drones are increasingly in the news.  Beyond the highly touted Amazon deliveries, I’ve included a brief link here for the top ten non-military uses of Drones.

While our FabLab is being constructed this fall, 3-D printing is evolving at an incredible rate.  The technology has gone from printing fun little prototypes to real-world useful products in a proverbial blink of an eye. Bio-printing creates human body parts like ears, noses, fingers, and human skin.  The idea was a TED talk two years ago and had people dreaming of the future…the first surgery using a 3-D printed body part has already been successfully completed!  Edible cookies and other food applications; countless manufacturing applications (including an entirely functional automobile!); and just about whatever anyone can construct in their mind are already being produced.

The dynamics and intersections of all these elements are hard to track in some confluence that lays out a clear path of action for us.  What we do know is that it’s all coming together in some fashion to create a very new and complex future for us and our students.  What gives me hope and confidence is the history of MVCC and this organization’s ability to evolve and meet a changing future in productive ways.  Our challenge is how to create an ongoing dialogue across the College to scan, process, and derive meaning from everything going on around us to take the innovative practices happening at the fringe of our enterprise and scale up by bringing them to the core.