By Brice Wallace
When experts talk about the “Internet of Things,” or IoT, some people may get lost in the “things” part of the phrase.
Mark Sunday, chief information officer and senior vice president at Oracle, recently clued in a Salt Lake City audience, stressing that those things include sensors used in medical care, vehicles throughout the transportation sector, and devices that can be controlled by thoughts.
During a keynote presentation at the Utah Technology Council’s annual members meeting, Sunday said IoT is having a huge impact — and will have more in the future — on people’s ability to control their medical care, cars and homes.
“It’s really incredible, as we look at the single biggest area it’s impacting now is healthcare,” he said. Medical errors trail only heart disease and cancer as a cause of death, “and IoT can have a big impact on that” he said.
One problem technology can address is making sure patients and their medical issues are appropriately identified. Wearable devices can store patient medical information, can monitor what’s going on inside their body, and deliver medication, he said. Implanted devices, in place for up to 16 years, can allow doctors to control the timing and amount of a patient’s medication dosages to address chronic illnesses.
About 5 percent of the world’s population suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but the illness is expensive to diagnose. Technology now allows a person to use their smartphone to dial a number, blow into the phone and within seconds be diagnosed and given a COPD treatment plan, Sunday said. Smartphones also can be used to identify blood disorders such as iron or hemoglobin deficiencies or optical issues such as cataracts.
Being able to think to control smart devices currently involves a linking of technology directly to the brain. At Stanford University, a computer/brain interface allows a patient with no ability to move or communicate to type 39 characters per minute (when coupled with an auto-complete feature). Soon, implants will be available to provide a person with a robotic arm or leg controlled by the brain, he said.
“Our whole ability to use thought to control things is amazing,” Sunday said.
For a broader audience, thought-controlled devices for communication could eliminate using a computer mouse or even speaking to a computer, he said.
Likewise susceptible to elimination due to technology advances is car ownership. It peaked in 2006 and has dwindled, boosted by millennials who don’t want to drive and have opted instead for ride- and car-sharing, and vehicle self-driving capabilities are “exploding,” Sunday said.
He envisions a day soon where a person will call for a vehicle, have it arrive and then transport the passenger with autonomous driving. “It’s pretty exciting,” Sunday said.
Already, a French company called EasyMile has tested in San Francisco an electric, driverless shuttle that covers short distances and predefined routes. And a one-person, self-driving hover-taxi is expected to begin operations in Dubai in July. The Times of India reports that the EHang 184, produced in China, will be able to travel on a programmed course at 60 mph at an altitude of 1,000 feet. Trips in the quadcopter powered by eight propellers can last up to 30 minutes, the newspaper said.
“This stuff is real. … You just get on board, press a button for your destination, and a command center on the ground can control a whole fleet of these things as they take you safely from place to place — a pretty exciting way to get around,” Sunday said.
Sunday said some of his technology expectations in the future dovetail with those of innovator and futurist Ray Kurzweil. His predictions for the future include having nano-bots and gene technology eliminating most diseases in the next decade; self-driving vehicles making it illegal for people to drive on highways in the 2020s; virtual reality feeling 100 percent real in the 2030s; non-biological intelligence being a billion times more capable than a human in the 2040s; nanotech being able to create any physical thing, like food, out of the thin air; and humans being able to multiply their intelligence by a billion times by connecting wireless with a virtual neo-cortex “in the sky” by 2045.
“The pace of change is exponential, so if we think of what’s occurred over the past 10 years, many times that is going to occur over the next 10,” Sunday said. “Stuff is happening, it’s happening fast, and it’s exciting.”
All of the changes are going to require people to thinking differently about what technology can and will mean in the future, he told the audience.
“I’m a linear thinker, and I imagine many of you are as well, but the world around us is changing exponentially. So, as I spend my time leading my organization, I’m trying to really instill [that] we need to think exponentially,” Sunday said.
“What used to be a month is now a week. What used to be a week is now a day. And everything we do, we can’t expect linear change from where we’ve been in the past.”