IT's challenges: The end of device charging; ROI; Super programmers

Gartner on Tuesday outlined its grand IT challenges from 2008 to 2033 and it includes a world where you'll never have to charge your device.That was one of the futurama type predictions outlined by Gartner analyst Ken McGhee at the firm's Symposium ITxpo.

Gartner on Tuesday outlined its grand IT challenges from 2008 to 2033 and it includes a world where you'll never have to charge your device.

That was one of the futurama type predictions outlined by Gartner analyst Ken McGhee at the firm's Symposium ITxpo. These prediction presentations are always entertaining--even if you don't quite buy it all. McGhee doesn't spare the drama. One of his opening slides proclaims:

The successful resolution and combined influences from the grand challenges explored within this presentation will transform business and society more than any other peacetime endeavors by 2030.

With that introduction we might as well get to the highlights:

The key themes McGhee highlighted will play a role in future challenges--such as forecasting weather, curing cancer, superconductors, energy conservation and high-speed networks. Here are his IT challenges that will change the world and the obvious benefit:

Never having to recharge devices (so long wires): Obviously, people would love to go completely wireless without charging. The general idea is that devices would charge through the air in wireless transmissions. Sounds far fetched? Not really. However, I'm not gifted enough to paraphrase the concept on the fly. Here's McGhee's footnote:

In 1900 inventor Nicola Tesla wrote in his paper The Transmission Of Electrical Energy Without Wires: "Towards the close of 1898 a systematic research, carried on for a number of years with the object of perfecting a method of transmission of electrical energy through the natural medium, led me to recognize three important necessities: First, to develop a transmitter of great power; second, to perfect means for individualizing and isolating the energy transmitted; and, third, to ascertain the laws of propagation of currents through the earth and the atmosphere." From his "Tesla coil" (a device which steps up electricity to extremely high voltage levels) in Colorado, Telsa was able to light 200 light bulbs 25 miles away without wires. Today, with so many portable computing and communications devices powered by battery, many people would find it highly desirable to either have their batteries charged remotely via Tesla-like devices or powered via Tesla-like devices, bypassing the use of batteries altogether. In a paper published in July 2007, a number of MIT scientists wrote: "Using self-resonant coils in a strongly coupled regime, we experimentally demonstrated efficient nonradiative power transfer over distances up to eight times the radius of the coils. We were able to transfer 60 watts with 40% efficiency over distances in excess of 2 meters." A key to the MIT discovery was identified in the paper Wireless Power Transfer via Strongly Coupled Magnetic Resonances: "It is essential that the coils be on resonance for the power transfer to be practical." Despite the discovery, any commercial application of wireless powering still seems many years off.

Parallel programming: Parallel programming refers to using multiple chip cores to boost computing power. The rub: Applications don't take advantage of this computing horsepower. What's needed: New programming languages, skilled folks to code this software and standards.

Natural interface computing (voice, gesture, touch): Picture R2D2 here or at least those robots that Honda is cooking up. The challenge will be real-time processing, the ability to detect gestures and a dictionary of gestures, motions and other cues.

Persistent and reliable long-term storage: Stone and parchment have been able to store information for centuries. Our current digital storage systems are lucky to preserve history for 20 years. Arguably this digital storage pickle is arguably the most difficult challenge. Hardware, formats, software and metadata (among other items) have to be designed to stand the test of time. Automated language translation: For those of us that have struggled in a language class, this concept would be pretty handy. McGhee notes that IBM, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Carnegie Mellon University are working on automatic speech translation and that "it is not unreasonable to project the day when a medical patient speaking one language in one part of the world will confer in real time with a physician in a medical facility in a distant country speaking a different language."

Programmers who are 100 times more productive: There are fewer folks pursuing computer science degrees and demand will only increase. The only fix is to increase productivity of one programmer. McGhee walks through how function keys, software modules and code libraries have improved productivity. But that isn't enough. Improving programming productivity "seems most distant and elusive at this time. Quantifying IT: You'd think that we'd have this return on investment thing figured out by now, but McGhee argues that we don't. Simply put, IT can't explain the value of IT to business execs. This is the dreaded business alignment problem. The goal is to say the following about an IT project:

"If you invest in our IT proposal, you will see an additional $0.03 earnings per share directly attributable to this project by the third quarter of next year."

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