Steinmetz Memorial Lecture recap

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On Tuesday April 21, Union welcomed Professor Emerita of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Michigan, Lynn Conway for the 73rd Steinmetz Memorial Lecture.

The lecture was entitled “Our Travels through Time: Envisioning Historical Waves through Technological Innovation.”

The Steinmetz Memorial Lecture honors Charles Proteus Steinmetz, who has become a household name widely hailed and revered by the College.

Dr. Steinmetz is one of the greatest contributors in the electrical industry.

Since 1925, an endowed fund has supported public lectures from over 70 eminent scientists and engineers.

Conway began the lecture by giving a brief overview of the history of technological innovation from the 1400’s invention of the astrolabe and advances in navigational mapmaking to the technological advances post 1860’s industrial revolution.

Conway effectively transitioned the lecture into explaining the latest technological wave that built from the invention of integrated circuit technology in the 1960’s.

Conway described the rise of microprocessor transistors as evidence to the latest wave of continued technological innovation.

Transistors are essentially semiconductor devices that are crucial to the workings of a microprocessor.

Microprocessors are computer logic chips that accept digital data as input, then process that data in its internal memory system and produces results as output.

Conway reminisced upon those decades where microprocessors were once regarded as “out of sight and out of mind.”

Conway expressed anticipation over the coming wave of technological evolution of digital chips, hinted by the invention of gesture control armbands.

These digital armbands read the activity and motion of one’s muscles to allow them to wirelessly control technology through their gestures.

Conway described that emergent technological innovation like gesture control armbands go through a cycle measuring the maturity, business benefit, and future potential of said technology.

The cycle identifies five overlapping stages a technology goes through from its conceptualization to market adoption.

The process begins with an initial technological breakthrough, leading to a hype and frenzy of publicity. Early adopters implement such technology and expectations are high, but often inflated.

The next stage is called the ‘trough of disillusionment,’ where flaws lead to disappointment in the technology, causing producers to drop potential iterations of the products.

For a technology to successfully enter into the mainstream market, companies must overcome this disappointment stage, address problems successfully and guide technological decisions that will allow consumers to better understand the products.

This stage is called the ‘slope of enlightenment,’ characterized by enhanced consumer appeal and willingness on the part of producers to further develop their products.

The final stage is called the ‘plateau of productivity,’ characterized by the widespread implementation of the technology into the market of technology.

Conway described one up-and-coming technology: 3D Printers.

Current expectations for 3D Printers are high, and the future is bright, Conway expressed.

For example, new micro hardware apps can be inserted into additive manufacturing systems enabling 3D printers to print 3D printers in the future.

Conway’s concluding thoughts projected optimism for the future of technological change and what that would bring into society.

He also was hopeful towards the progress of educating students on technology.

The burgeoning number of young engineering students attending hands-on science fairs such as LEGO camp and MakerFaire is a testament to the fact that innovators are effectively learning to grasp a new way of technological education.

Conway stated, “as the rate of techno-social change increases, we’ll all live far further into the unfolding future that we ever dared dream of”.

The learning and sharing of ideas will be more accelerated in the future and society would be doing “more and more with less and less,” Conway said.

 

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