World Trends & Forecasts

The Futurist, September 1996 | Go to article overview

World Trends & Forecasts


Computers

Photonic Computers

Optical computing is one step closer to reality. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are on the trail of a new data-storage method that uses light as its medium, rather than electrical impulses.

Polarized light beams, aimed at certain liquid crystal materials, could transmit and store data in that material, creating an optically based computer system, say researchers. This new storage method could also allow the data therein to be rewritten (by using unpolarized light), a problem that previous models could not overcome.

"You can read, write, and erase information in liquid crystal materials using this system," says Gary B. Schuster, professor of chemistry at Georgia Tech and one of the project researchers.

Such a data-storage system would offer advantages over conventional computer floppy disks, magnetic tape, and compact discs, says Schuster. Because the system would be optical, multiple beams of light could be used to write information simultaneously without interfering with each other. That would permit large amounts of data to be stored in a smaller space, further miniaturizing computer systems.

The development of such an optically based computer system has long been frustrated by a lack of suitable materials, says Schuster. Experiments with previous models found that the photochemical changes used to store information were irreversible. That meant data could be written to them only once, severely limiting their value as a viable data-storage medium.

"Looking off into the future, this is what we hope to do with these materials," says Schuster. "Our grandchildren might see the first computers based on this system."

Source: Georgia Institute of Technology, Research Communications Office, Atlanta, Georgia 30332. Telephone 404/894-3444; fax 404/894-6983.

Business

Bank-o-tainment

For a good time in the future, you may want to hang out at your automatic teller machine (ATM).

To make banking more fun for its customers, the Key Bank of Seattle, Washington, has come up with KeyCorner, a virtual bank branch based in Seattle's KeyArena sports complex. By combining futuristically designed ATMs, fiber-optic lighting effects, rows of video games, and large monitors that display a wisecracking hostess, bank officials hope this prototype will make customers more comfortable with new banking technology.

"Our goal was to make banking at KeyCorner so easy, entertaining, and engaging, that even people who are intimidated by electronic technology will feel comfortable here," says Stephen A. Cone, head of marketing for KeyCorp, Key Bank's parent company.

The virtual branch operates without a single employee on-site and offers almost every service provided by a traditional bank branch. Attendees of sporting events and concerts at the KeyArena can use the virtual branch's ATMs for all the usual services; customers can also use an 800 number to open an account, apply for a loan, or obtain a wide range of free financial information.

Users are greeted by "Maxine," a video hostess whose comic banter is interspersed with live video feeds from a game or concert. The performance makes reference to local idiosyncracies, such as Bill Gates sightings and Seattle's obsession with coffee. And after you're done banking, you can play a free sports-related video game.

"Since people don't expect this sort of stimulation from a bank, they are immediately intrigued with KeyCorner," says Joan Donnelly, vice president of FRCH Design Worldwide, the firm that created KeyCorner. Used as a nonthreatening introduction to the bank's electronic services, the Maxine video conveys the message "that Key Bank is a different kind of financial services firm, one that makes electronic banking fun, engaging, and convenient."

Source: FRCH Design Worldwide, 311 Elm Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202. …

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