CS 481 - Trends in Computer Science

Week 4: Project requirements, relevance, and reaching to the future


This week we conclude the material that leads to your first major project. Objectives important to this lesson:

  1. Review the project requirements
  2. Examine how the requirements relate to SLOs
  3. Thinking about the past and present to prepare for the future

This time we can begin with the requirements for the project that is due next week. You have seen them several times.

Explore the evolution of a specific technology over time. Discuss the following questions:

  1. What was the intent of the original design, what problem was the technology created to solve?
  2. What human factors contributed to the evolution of the technology over time?
  3. Compare and contrast the technology's original and current state.
  4. Predict future changes based upon potential future uses and adaptations.

Report on the information you learned about the technology in a written paper. Be sure to follow APA format. Submit your paper through the View/Assignment link.

At this point, you should have chosen your technology, researched it very well, and started a draft of your project. If not, you should hurry up and do those things. In case you have missed the target, you still have time to do complete the assignment. If you have done your research well, you should be able to answer the first three questions. Let's examine a technology to get a feeling for what your project might be like.

Wright brother bicycleIn Connections, James Burke makes a point at the beginning of chapter seven that the jet aircraft "is the direct descendant of the bicycle". This seems a bit odd, taken out of context, so I encourage you to read the chapter. We could make a connection between the two by using the Wright brothers, two bicycle mechanics who designed an early airplane. That's a human connection. The bicycle shown on the right is one manufactured by the Wright brothers. The remarkable thing about this bicycle is that it is located in the National Air and Space Museum. It is certainly there to represent that portion of the Wrights' work, but that doesn't exactly link the technology of bicycles with the technology of jet aircraft.

Okay, let's try that again. We could connect bicycles and airplanes by noting that they both increase the ability of a person to travel farther, to go to another place that is a sufficient distance away that you could not easily go there by lesser means. Does that mean that the jet aircraft is a technological descendent of the bicycle?

  • Does the aircraft take a technology present in the bicycle from some level to another?
  • Do both the bicycle and the aircraft solve a common intent or need?
  • They have very different costs, but can we make any observations about the degree of access the average citizen might have to each of these technologies?
  • Is the difference in methods of access related more to the cost of the hardware, the cost of manufacture, or perhaps the skill needed to operate the devices? Or is it something else entirely?
  • Is it enough to say that these are two examples of transportation technology, or are they so different that they are unrelated?

This is the sort of thing you want to consider for the project you have been assigned. Before I give you the impression that technology is all that matters, remember that pure science is a good thing, and we value the researchers who participate in it. However, the invention of a technology is generally in response to some human interest or problem. (The link goes to a classic Saul Bass film short called Why Man Creates. Watch it. You should be glad you did.)

If you understand the problem and the technology, you can judge whether a solution has been found. And that solution may lead to other problems. You may see that this solution will change the problem in the minds of the users or let them see a new problem, and that a new development is desired. You may see that the solution is an equivalent to the fried pickle: a delight to a few, whose attraction remains a mystery to the vast majority. If that example made you happy, follow the link for a recipe. If it made you feel ill, follow the link anyway. There are links to several more recipes on that page, and I suspect at least one will interest you.

Whatever someone's problem is, there is a value in a technology that solves it for the people who have the problem. Solving problems, in and of itself, is often fun. Solving problems that are causing someone pain or misery is more than that. It is a noble profession. Solving a problem, however, may create a new problem, or a new opportunity, and that leads to more research and development of more solutions. In computer technology, we often see the invention of a technology that relies on an already existing technology. The new development may work very well at first, but may work less satisfactorily as it becomes more popular and requires more from the previous technology than it can provide. That can lead to the need to redevelop the underlying technology, to make it more robust, to enable it to provide a level of service that was either not anticipated or not originally intended.

Here is an example. When a disaster of any sort happens, one of the technologies that is often overloaded is communication technology. People who need help, and people who are trying to give help struggle to communicate with the right people. Our communication infrastructure is often overwhelmed by a flow of information and requests to connect that are greater than the system meant to carry them was designed to support.

This presents a problem and an opportunity for solutions. Noticing such problems, and measuring the scope of the effects of such problems leads to possible prediction of the size of the market for a solution to those problems. And that can lead us to possible avenues of research and development that may lead to viable products to meet more needs. If you are working in a position to do such research, you can have a meaningful effect on the lives of people affected by these problems. If you are working in a position that serves that public, you can have an effect on them by finding and providing technical solutions that have potential for growth and may improve over time.