A Healthy—and Heavy—Centennial Issue

This month’s Proceedings of the IEEE celebrates the publication’s 100th anniversary

11 May 2012

With 600-plus pages covering more than a dozen technical areas, the May centennial Proceedings of the IEEE certainly is a very special issue. At three times the size of an average Proceedings, the centennial issue celebrates the monthly’s 100th anniversary and examines the past, present, and future of IEEE’s many fields of interest. The issue comes out on 13 May in honor of the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Institute of Radio Engineers, one of IEEE's predecessor societies. The digital version is available for free online.

“Sometimes technical progress appears to be quite linear and gradual, but at other times it seems to jump ahead with spurts and unexpected results,” Managing Editor Jim Calder writes in the introduction. “Some of these innovations—such as the Internet, for example—seem to cascade through society and attenuate themselves and change our world, bringing yet additional innovations and changes. And where it stops no one seems to know, but nevertheless, we have asked our contributors to this volume to attempt to speculate about the future.”

The issue starts with a look back at the May 1962 issue, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of Proceedings. It included predictions of inventions we would see today. Several of the predictions were right on, while others haven’t quite come to fruition. The predictions included cars being able to communicate with each other to avoid traffic jams and hazards, electronic libraries and banking, a worldwide satellite system using microwave systems that would allow navigation, humans controlling machines directly with their minds, and thousands of television channels.

05techtopicproceed Photo: IEEE

Five IEEE Fellows involved in groundbreaking work back in 1962 wrote the next five articles in the 100th anniversary issue, looking back over Proceedings’ first 50 years. “In “Back to the Future—1962 Redux,” Robert Lucky describes the experience of working at Bell Labs when its parent, AT&T, set the research agenda with such projects as the “picturephone”—a phone with a screen displaying the remote caller. Lucky was the 1995 IEEE Edison Medal recipient.

In “Like Being There,” James L. Flanagan—who held several leadership positions at Bell Labs, including director of the Information Principles Research Laboratory—reflects on the communications field. Flanagan received the 2005 IEEE Medal of Honor “for sustained leadership and outstanding contributions to speech technology.”

But enough of looking back at the past. What about the future? In another article, IEEE Fellow Peter Cochrane, a former Proceedings editorial board member, imagines what the next century of technology will be like.

“My grandfather said that man would never fly, my father said that man would not reach the moon, but I wanted to be a part of both and far more,” he writes. Cochrane, former chief technology officer of BT Group, a multinational telecommunications company in London, is an entrepreneur and business and engineering advisor to industries and governments.

“Only 100 years ago there were no electronic devices—everything was electromagnetic—but the scientists and engineers of that time seemed to sense that there was much more to come. With the invention of the thermionic tube  [called the audion] by de Forest in 1906, the stage was set for everything we now enjoy. So what stage are we setting, and what will my grandson enjoy?”

Cochrane’s predictions include humans being implanted with electronic devices such as smartphones, as well as with personal identification information and medical records. He also envisions an increase in medical gadgets that take samples (of blood, for example) and allow us to diagnose ourselves at home. He also foresees ultralight electric vehicles with composite, high-efficiency batteries. The cars will drive themselves, he predicts, and change color through a programmable skin, as well as repair minor scrapes and dents on their own.

The remaining 19 of the issue’s 21 sections are each dedicated to a topic chosen by the publication’s editorial board. “We invited a globally diverse selection of authors, and each has provided snapshots of their particular fields of interest,” Calder writes. Some of the topics will be the subjects of upcoming special issues, he says.

The first of these sections is on cyberphysical systems (CPSs), a growing field that links computers, communications, and controls with the physical world in such industries as aerospace, automotive, energy, and health care. Articles cover the biggest challenges facing CPSs, including their complexity, which make it difficult to design and develop software systems.

Power engineering is covered in the next set of papers, which details the history and growth of the field. “Electric Power and Energy Engineering: The First Century,” discusses the development of the field and how it became apparent in the 1930s that networked power systems would have many advantages. Another article, “Smart Grids and Beyond: Achieving the Full Potential of Electricity Systems,” provides an overview of current trends and predicts how they will evolve.

A trio of three papers reflects on how engineering education has changed over the years and focuses on the evolving role that engineers play in society.

Entertainment technologies, which have been drastically affected by rapid and widespread broadband penetration, ubiquitous connectivity, and the emergence of cloud-computing services, are covered in the next section. One paper explores the history of the technologies; another focuses on the ever-growing content that cloud services provide.

The next section is on hardware and software codesign, which is applied to a variety of everyday applications, like embedded electronic systems for cars, home appliances, industrial design automation, and mobile devices, as well as avionics.

Mass data storage and retrieval are covered in another section, with a focus on how to handle datasets that are so large that existing storage systems are inadequate. Three papers consider how to make such systems more efficient and also look at the history of storage systems, Web archiving, and information retrieval.

The other sections cover materials science, medical devices and electronics, the brain-computer interface, optics and photonics, personal and home electronics, privacy and cybersecurity, radio spectrum access, the search for extraterrestrial life, the future of Moore’s Law, social implications of technology, space exploration, transportation and navigation technology, and wireless communications.

The issue does not focus on technical topics alone, however. A paper by Hazel Sales of the IEEE Professional Communication Society focuses on how Proceedings’ style and content has changed. For example, papers in early issues were followed by probing discussions, whereas today’s are preceded by introductory prologs and prepublication peer reviews.

The centennial issue closes with an essay by IEEE Fellow Jim Brittain, longtime associate editor, reflecting on the history of electrical engineering.

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