IEEE Technology Time Machine Symposium Focuses on the Future

Invited panelists to predict advances 10 years out

9 April 2012

Unlike most IEEE events, the IEEE Technology Time Machine Symposium, from 23 to 25 May, in Dresden, Germany, will address what technology might look like a decade from now. Rather than dealing only with what’s new now, the focus is on key innovations likely to alter the future.

Some 300 industry leaders and others are expected to attend—their number deliberately limited to foster networking and interaction, “to let people discuss issues,” says IEEE Fellow Roberto de Marca, chair of the symposium’s steering committee.

“A larger meeting would make that more difficult,” de Marca says. “Here, it should be easier for leaders to get to know each other and get information about what other industries are doing that they could apply to their own work.”

De Marca is also chair of the IEEE Future Directions Committee, which is sponsoring the symposium, and a nominee for 2013 IEEE president-elect. He’s running against IEEE Fellow Tariq S. Durrani.

“The organization of the symposium is in line with IEEE’s recent emphasis to foster coordinated efforts in new technology,” continues de Marca. “In the last three years through its Future Directions Committee, IEEE has funded several activities such as cloud computing, electric vehicles, the smart grid, and life sciences. The discussions at this event can help steer these efforts.

“It’s rare that one can sample such a large group of corporate executives in the same place. Many different industries such as software, smart energy, security, and communications will be represented. We expect high-ranking representatives of the European Commission and the German government, too.”

The conference will cover potentially high-impact emerging technologies, their current state of maturity, and scenarios for the future.

“With this meeting, IEEE is helping bring forward a coherent vision of technology for the next 10 years,” says IEEE Fellow Gerhard Fettweis, the program committee chair. “To be blunt, our goal is to have the Technology Time Machine Symposium become the forum for technology that the annual summit meeting in Davos, Switzerland, is for economics.”

PANELS, NOT SPEAKERS
The meeting has been designed to aid interaction, with panel discussions instead of speakers making formal presentations, and longer sessions to include more Q&A time. The days are scheduled to begin and end with single all-hands sessions; parallel sessions, kept to a minimum, are to be divided into only two tracks.

Sessions are being led by invited panelists from aerospace, computing, mobile communications, security, semiconductor manufacturing, smart energy, software, and other fields, as well as research laboratories and universities.

“Dresden is sort of the Silicon Valley of Europe,” observes de Marca, “so there will be a lot of exceptional speakers in the areas of electronics and semiconductors.”

Optional excursions to nearby solar technology, semiconductor, and biotech facilities are on the agenda, as well as a trip to an automobile assembly plant.

For each panel, the stage will be set by a brief introductory talk explaining the technology area to be covered, Fettweis says, adding that the Q&A discussion following every panel will be launched by someone who is “a dedicated challenger, primed to challenge the opinions given there—an invention of ours to help spur discussion.”

Panel topics include cyber-physical systems, which are typically machines with sensors and actuators run by embedded systems; collective intelligence for future cities and managing Earth; smart power; smart transportation; networks supporting future applications; the future of media; advanced medical devices; cloud computing; and electronics beyond CMOS.

ELECTRONICS PREDICTIONS
Fettweis—who holds the Vodafone chair in mobile communications systems at the Technical University of Dresden, which co-organized the conference—points to several new promising semiconductor technologies. They include organics, like OLEDs (organic light-emitting diodes) and plastic transistors; carbon nanotubes and graphene (both far faster than silicon); III-V semiconductors (using elements from columns 3 and 5 of the periodic table, such as gallium nitride), which are increasingly important for high-power applications; quantum electronics and spintronics; and chemical information processing—“that’s liquid computers,” explains Fettweis. “You put a drop of liquid on something to analyze it, or tell the liquid what chemicals you want as output.”

According to Fettweis, silicon has advanced to the point that it will be difficult for other technologies to overtake it even in a decade or two.

“It has a great future beyond CMOS,” he says. “Take silicon nanowire, for example—you can make the wire a sensor or a gate that’s reprogrammable from n- to p-MOS. We think we know how to build such nanowires on a production scale, whereas nobody yet knows how to do it with graphene and carbon nanotubes, the other candidates for miniaturizing electronics.”

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