OK, so maybe all of those things won't happen, but according to Stacey Aldrich, Deputy Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Education Office of Commonwealth Libraries – and futurist to boot! – these are areas that we library folks should be watching (with the Google Glasses none of us can afford). I recently had an opportuity to hear the effervescent Aldirch deliver an amazing keynote address to state library CE coordinators from across the country and in her thought-provoking discourse, entitled Future Forward, she offered a glimpse into early signals that we are seeing now that may intimate sweeping changes to come. After beginning her speech with an assumption-challenging and somewhat eerie story that paints a vignette of a possible future, Aldrich mapped out four areas she believes that libraries should be closely monitoring, as they may have implications for our future. These four areas are:
1. Wearable Technology: Wearable tech has been on an upswing in recent years, as devices have become more comfortable to wear and less distracting to the fashion-focused among us. While Google Glasses might not be in the immediate future for many of us, we see people rocking a Fit Bit all the time or have seen commercials for a certain insurance company that might be able to lower your insurance rate if you provide a thirty-day snapshot of your driving habits. Aldrich believes that while wearable tech can give us large amounts of relevant data about our behaviors – and can ultimately help us change our behaviors by having an instant feedback loop – there will be significant issues in the future related to privacy and who owns the data.
2. Robots: Robots have been working alongside man for decades, but rapid advances in computing are enabling robots to perform more cognitive tasks that previously could only be done by humans. Humans are offloading a range of tasks to robotic assistants, ranging from using robots to sort, shelve, and retrieve books to serving as highly specialized operating aids in the surgery suite. Aldrich believes that the game changer will be the realization of artificially intelligent machines, although that time may be decades away. Can we say robot rights, everyone?
3. Transhumanism: This is the intersection of man and machine, in which mechanical parts are used to replace or enhance human organs or appendages. Advances in science and engineering have brought about better prosthetics and even the ability to 3D print a human ear. Along with the improvements, however, has come debate surrounding the morality of engineering people and heated discourse in some communities surrounding the possibility that prosthetic limbs may produce a competitive advantage. According to Aldrich, there may come a time in the not-so-distant future when people will be able to choose the installation of augmented body parts for personal gain. As an aside, if you’re thinking about what to get me for my birthday, I’ll take a Shippo, please.
4. Tech Detox: There is a wave of people who are electing to temporarily disconnect and unplug from technology in an attempt to better manage information overload or to reconnect to important people in their lives. Cottage industries are popping up because of this, such as secluded retreats that bill themselves as tech detox zones. Libraries of the future might have tech free areas in the building that promote self-reflection or face-to-face communication with others.
This quick summary does no justice to Aldrich’s exceptional keynote address; however, as a total dork with an interest in technology and a love of libraries, I thought I’d share. What signals are you seeing on the horizon that may have implications for libraries? I’d love to hear them.