The Technology Century
The world of technology is changing fast, and is changing the world as a result. For instance, the latest amazing breakthrough concerning the draft mapping of the human gene system – the genome project – carried out jointly by thousands of scientists worldwide, would never have been possible without advances in technology. It will change the world in many fundamental ways, some too early to predict now.
Other examples of technology advancement abound, and this chapter summarises where the world is in many areas of technological change. But one inescapable fact is that, increasingly, companies in this hi-tech world have to rely on branding to differentiate themselves in these cluttered and fast-moving markets.
Si Ying, who is in primary 4, asked her mother about her English homework, which was due the next day. Her teacher wanted her to define the word margay. But neither her mother nor her father knew what the word meant, so they asked her to look it up in the dictionary. The young girl countered that the word was not in any of the six dictionaries they had at home. Noting that the library was already closed by this time, the couple decided to call a friend who was known to have a good command of English. Unfortunately, he did not know the word’s meaning either.
“Maybe the school wants your child to be creative in defining a new word, as the Ministry of Education is pushing the concept of ‘Thinking School, Thinking Nation’ hard,” the friend said jokingly. Perhaps the word means “martian gay” he added, throwing everyone into a fit of laughter.
Still groping for a definition of the word, Si Ying hit upon an idea: “Why don’t we try the Internet?” Si Ying’s mother was bowled over by the girl’s suggestion. An Information Technology (IT) professional, she wondered why she hadn’t thought of the solution first. Immediately, they logged on to the Internet, selected a search engine, and keyed in the word margay. It didn’t take long before they finally learned its meaning – a spotted American cat!
In recent years a remarkable infusion of technologies into homes, schools and businesses has changed and expanded learning opportunities for children. It has brought about new possibilities for continued lifelong learning. Much of this revolution in learning technologies can be attributed to the development of the personal computer (PC), which altered our beliefs about technology, our access to it, and its role in our lives. Technology has advanced so fast that it has not only changed the rules of competition in the business world, it also has had a great impact on the way we work, acquire knowledge, purchase our groceries and communicate with others. Technology today is so pervasive it affects everything we do and everyone in almost every field of endeavour, whether we like it or not.
As the scope of technology is wide, we will focus our discussion on telecommunications and computing technology. Telecommunications may seem to have changed the least. For most users, telecommunications is still characterised by the phone on the wall, the desk, or the waist belt, seemingly providing an analogy, low-fidelity communications channel for voice communications. Behind the scenes, however, there has been a technological revolution in both the transmission and switching technology used. To a large extent, this revolution has remained invisible to the user.
Probably the most visible technological revolution in the last 30 years has been seen in computing. Computers have moved from being exotic and rare mainframes to disposable commodities on every desk – be it at home or at work. Stand-alone personal computers are increasingly connected to some form of network that allows people to access information stored on central file servers or to communicate with other PCs. As a result, they are rapidly becoming the key interface between humans and electronic media. This is obviously true in business, and is fast becoming so in the home. The home information/entertainment terminal will increasingly combine the functionality of the television, telephone, PC, radio, CD player, and video camera. Already, the clearest evidence of convergence is happening in the business and telecommunicating communities, which increasingly exploit both computing and communications.
The availability of low-cost, high-resolution displays has also made possible the development and operation of the more advanced machine interface (MMI) such as graphical user interface (GUI), “touch screen”, multi-media, and “browser”. These new MMIs take advantage of three of our most powerful sensory systems, namely sight, hearing and touch. (Who knows, the computer of the future may emit a fragrance and raise your appetite to cover the other two human sensory systems!) One clear advantage that the electronic medium already has over its printed counterparts is its ability to operate interactively. Certainly the future lies with “voice recognition” through which a computer can translate the voice into digital commands to perform computing functions, thus eliminating the need for typing.
Driving all these fundamental changes are the costs and related benefits of basic components and the design technologies on which they are based. The two technologies of electronics and photonics have so shifted the balance of advantage that all electronic systems are being driven to use digital techniques. Hence, we find major sectors of the electronics industry using similar technology, leading to strong synergies between communications, commuting, cable, broadcasting and consumer electronics, and blurring the technical distinctions between these industrial sectors in the process.
The last 20 years have also seen the growing dominance of computer software-defined systems as opposed to hardware-defined systems. In the latter, we envisage a circuit that has been designed and wired to carry out a certain function, and nothing more. In the realm of computers, we recognise the power that software has given us to switch from word processor to spreadsheet to database to HTML at the click of a mouse. The complexity of some of these programmes and the increasing need to integrate and implement these systems have given rise to a wide variety of services. The IT service market has in the past five years been growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of at least 25% to 30% worldwide, according to Gartner Group. International companies such as EDS U.S., CSC U.S., Gap Gemini of Germany and NCS of Singapore have become key partners to hardware and software big names such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Compaq, Sun Microsystems and Microsoft.