Start of an exploration
“May You Live in Interesting Times” though reputed to be an ancient Chinese curse, it is actually Western and recent.
We certainly live in interesting times. Technology has become an important part of our lives, and it certainly is interesting. New technologies are always emerging, always building on what came before, and always evolving. No one can say for sure what is going to happen and we can only dimly see where it might go. What effects might new technologies have on us and our world? Some people worry about this, but many of us hope new technologies will help make our world a better place. The future is coming regardless and we can equip ourselves to design and implement technologies to help make life better for people and for our world.
My interest in science and technology started early. At age four, my curiosity about how things work prompted me to take apart the elements of my parents’ new oven. My skill, however, did not extend to reassembly. Thankfully, my parents were understanding — relatively — and continued to encourage my explorations, letting me take over a backroom for a chemistry lab. Becoming a science teacher felt comfortable and natural.
I remember reading a long time ago about some engineering students in England putting their teapot on the web. Their kitchen was on a different floor and it was a bother to keep running downstairs to check if the pot had boiled. They cleverly hooked up their teapot so they could turn it on from a computer upstairs, and then they trained a webcam on the pot. They could then just click on a web page and see if the pot was boiling. This was an early example of the Internet of Things (IoT). They used computing, the web, and telecommunications technology working together to make their life easier.
At that time, this ingenious hack represented the work of highly skilled university engineering students. Now advances in modular microelectronics and web tools put hacks like this within the reach of any anyone interested making things. A few years ago, one of my former middle school students hooked up his mother’s coffee maker in the same way. Except in his version, she could turn on the coffee maker from her office or car, as well as from upstairs. Innovations in modular microelectronics spurred this progression.
We are now also seeing the results of integrating technologies first developed in isolation. But now these technologies are converging and new syntheses are possible. Now new projects like the Webb telescope involve so many new technologies: computer science, rocket science, telecommunications, microelectronics, materials science, imaging, and database analysis.
I will explore several new and emerging technologies in a series of posts. My goal is to learn and update my knowledge, as well as to share what I am learning. A fun part of teaching is continually learning more about your content area and learning with your students. The questions they ask and the novel insights they offer are so rich. One of the most poorly kept secrets of teachers is that the best way to acquire a skill is to teach it. To teach well, you need to understand the concepts and principles deeply enough to create effective learning experiences and explain difficult ideas in several ways.
With these new technologies there is so much good we can do to make human life better. As Gitanjali Rao says in her excellent book, A Young Innovators Guide to STEM, “we are living in a time when newer technologies are not only shaping our future but also offering opportunities for innovation.”
Read more about Gitanjali Rao and her inventions, along with other young engineers in my new book Teen Innovators: Nine Young People Engineering a Better World with Creative Inventions.