Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Massively Open Technologies Coming Our Way

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Massively Open Technologies Coming Our Way

Article excerpt

For those of us who are charged with reviewing and assessing the status of the library profession, December can be a wonderful time of the year. The reason is that most, if not all, active columnists are asked to comment on what happened in the past year as well as what is to come. Who could resist such a task, particularly when commenting about the rollicking world where high technology meets libraries, education, and lifelong learning?

It would be an understatement to say that we have been absorbing a multitude of new ideas and technologies this year; it's much better to call it avalanche. Yet, even as our profession--and many others, lest we forget--struggles to make sense of it all, there are usually a few standout memes that define the ever-so-short, 12-month innovation cycle. Exactly what these memes are is open to debate, to be sure. For my part, I have limited myself to four ideas that are driving broad dialogue and informing strategic thinking.

The Internet of Things

Ever since the early days of SDINet--the internet's precursor--most of the rhetoric surrounding the promise of networked information has focused on connecting people. And for good reason: The internet has boosted productivity, creativity, and open communication in revolutionary ways. Yet, alongside the carnival midway of the networked global village, another network of networks has been steadily growing, and it is anything but organic.

Smart devices of all sorts now communicate routinely, sharing petabytes of data every day. This burgeoning domain has come to be known as the "Internet of Things." The "things" part includes your home security alarm system, your webcam, smartphone, and garden irrigation system. But it also includes real-time financial reporting of all types, weather satellites, buoys charting wave activity in the mid-Pacific Ocean--well, you get the idea. This massively parallel and connective ecosystem is generating new ways to perceive our world, and the information is not coming from us but from the many devices that were designed to serve us.

It is easy to see the potential benefits that the Internet of Things can bring: better tsunami and seismic warning systems, home safety, instantaneous access to weather data, and effective recommendations for all kinds of consumer shopping--the list goes on and on. But quite naturally, there are a number of high-profile commentators who remind us that we do not completely understand the full scope of this new Internet of Things. Jaron Lanier, the well-known futurist, comes to mind due to his recent book, Who Owns the Future? (Simon & Schuster, 2013).

My forecast: debate, and lots of it. Ultra-enhanced security systems that may flow from this inorganic network will challenge our notions of privacy and generate new concern for identity protection. Marketing that is data-driven may become so detailed that it could trigger a serious consumer backlash. And not least, the interconnected network of devices may be less stable than it appears, and thus less useful.

Big Data Meets Fantasy Football

It's my view that the potential of Big Data is only going to grow as researchers--particularly humanists--think of ways to put it to work in the service of learning. Even so, understanding Big Data as a meaningful add-on to the research process isn't always so straightforward. Sometimes, it takes a colorful example to demonstrate the transformative power of a new technology.

On Sept. 4, 2013, the San Francisco Chronicle provided one of my favorite examples to date: Fantasy Football (see "'Big Data' Feeds Needs of Fantasy Football Fans"). Intel sponsored a panel discussion that included fans, scientists, and well-known NFL players including all-time champ Jerry Rice, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers. The discussion focused on the $1.1 billion business of Fantasy Football, which ramps up each fall as the football season begins. …

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