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Quickening the Pace of Change

Futurist thinking can lead to new possibilities in the here-and-now.

When my husband, daughter and I moved into a new house last year, our first home improvement project was installing a Nest learning thermostat. I was instantly obsessed — I sang its praises to anyone who would listen. It programs itself! It knows when we're away on vacation! I can crank up the heat on my smartphone without getting out of bed!

This is life in the Internet of Things, I thought, and it's great! I plotted ways to rationalize buying $130 Nest smoke alarms to replace our $5 Home Depot models.

And I still love our thermostat. But last month when Google announced its $3.2 billion acquisition of Nest Labs, I have to admit I had mixed feelings. I couldn't put my finger on why until I came across technology journalist Nilay Patel's article, "Why Is Everyone Disappointed by Google Buying Nest?" Among the top concerns he cited: What happens to personal privacy when Google, a company whose business model is built around collecting data, has access to your living patterns and energy use?

I don't actually distrust Google, but the opportunity for misuse of Nest data exists — and it's a little creepy. What I find most interesting, though, is how fast the Nest evolved from handy little device to potential eyepiece of the Google Overlords. It took one acquisition for the technology to achieve the kind of scale that could lead to much more disruptive change.

It's an observation that might well apply to our story, "4 Disruptive Trends Changing the Future of IT." IT research firm Gartner identified technologies (including the Internet of Things) poised to "change the way you think about a lot of things and do a lot of things." Some of the tech seems pretty out there — for example, Terminator-esque smart machines that can't be overridden by humans — but maybe it's all closer than we think. We already have cars that can park themselves, surgical robots and autopilots that can land planes, Gartner's Daryl Plummer pointed out in the article: "These things are only going to grow. They're getting more possible. They're acceptable. You see commercials with automated assist capabilities all the time. They look cool to us now. As little as 15 years ago, they probably scared us to death."

The point of Gartner's futurist exercise is that thinking outside the box can lead to constructive change in the here-and-now. And that's exactly why it's worth paying attention, for example, when education researchers at The Heritage Foundation propose a radical new accreditation model with corporations and other entities judging individual courses in relevant subject areas (see "Reinventing Accreditation" in our February issue). Certainly, change should be a slow process when it comes to accreditation. But imagine a data sciences course evaluated by Google experts — better yet, imagine what we can learn from the idea.

This story appears in the February 2014 digital edition of Campus Technology. Click here for a free subscription to the magazine.

About the Author

About the author: Rhea Kelly is executive editor for Campus Technology. She can be reached at [email protected].

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