Dr. Brian Evans recently wrote the book A Simple Guide to Technology and Analytics published by Routledge in September of 2021. This book is an excellent resource for staying current with the fast-changing landscape of technology and analytics. The substance of my interview with him is below.
1. Please briefly share your background and interest in technology and analytics.
I graduated as an electrical control design engineer in 1969 and worked in the development of automation for process control systems when 32K core store computers were the size of a filing cabinet. One of my treats in life was to work for GEC Automation to control the traffic lights of London to ensure there were no traffic jams. In that, I was an abject failure and so I joined a French company to work on the North Sea oil rigs as a mud logger analysing geology. My next job was as a geophysicist working for TI out of Dallas.
In all of this work so far, I was analysing data and trying to use the latest technologies to improve it. I moved to Perth Australia as an offshore consultant and during a time of industry bust, I took a Masters and PhD in geophysics. I was then involved in establishing departments in Exploration Geophysics and Petroleum Engineering at Curtin University becoming Head of department, and continued to lecture in all aspects of data analytics and new technologies associated with the oil and gas industry. I retired last year to become an Emeritus Professor of Curtin University. During my last year at university, I developed the Master’s in Predictive Analytics program at Curtin, which I think is one of the few Master’s programs in the world which trains engineers, business and commerce people in all areas of predictive analytics.
2. What motivated you to write this book?
A couple of years ago, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) became very trendy because computing was improving in speed but it was considered that there was an inadequate work force to feed into the new developments. This was inspired by the increasing speed of networks, and consequently the internet. Suddenly, Internet of Things (IoT) became a buzzword so I started attending seminars on IoT and technology. To me, technology is both hardware and software working together, but I found that industry considered the new technologies as being all about software development. To me it is far more than this.
So I became irritated that STEM appeared to have been taken over by software vendors in which STEM is little more than just writing code. I also found that our STEM leaders were mainly administrators who were not actually active in STEM operations (so they didn’t know any better but just wanted to increase student numbers). As a result, the general public has little idea of what STEM really is, so I decided to write a book explaining the new technologies, why and how they work, and what the future holds when quantum computers arrive.
To get the points across in the simplest manner, I use sport to explain how things are done. For example, how multiple camera positions around a sports field can be used to broadcast and predict a future play. I explain the use of animation such as Hawk-Eye, and how 3D pictures are made from multiple 2D pictures (aka pattern recognition). Everything is stated in plain English, so that once the reader understands the basic equations, they can apply them in practice. And I try to minimise the equations (I think there may be three or four in the whole book).
3. Who will benefit the most from the book?
The book was written with the idea of a person in their 20s explaining smart technologies to their mother. If you can get your mother to understand the rapid growth of technology due to the recent rapid increase in network speed (aka 5G), you can convince anyone.
So the book was written for the average person. At a recent technology seminar in which I did a book launch, one guy selling automation equipment told me that he would buy two copies for his workforce automation professionals and three for his kids for Christmas. I thought these were absolutely the appropriate people to read the book.
4. Why is it important that individuals understand the basics of technology and analytics?
We need to gear up to understand technology pretty quickly, because automation and robots are becoming part of our everyday life. When the quantum computer arrives in the 2030s, it will literally cause all computing activities to become instantaneous and that will be astonishing if you are not ready for it. I have worked out that the computation speed of a standard 24-bit microprocessor would increase by approximately 5 x 104000. This is because a normal single binary bit has two states either 0 or 1, compared to a qubit which has four states of 0 and 1 both entangled with two others so is 2×2= 4 times (22) rather than just 2 (the numbers square rather than double). This is an unbelievable speed increase which will change our lives and we need to take advantage of this. It will bring in new jobs, new technologies and faster everything. New sports will be developed, which I explain in the book, using haptic sensors and avatars. These will enter industry in a manner yet to be understood.
Oh, and there is an Index in the book explaining what every buzz word and new technology means. The Index alone can be used as a smart tech library.
5. Where do you see individuals making mistakes with their understanding of technology that lead to negative consequences? Will this book help address those issues?
When the common person hears the word ‘algorithm’ they often consider this buzzword means the tech is too complicated for them to understand. If they hear the word ‘equation’, the average person thinks they can understand it. So my argument is that smart tech and automation is not being adapted or accepted fast enough because some of those selling the product want to give the impression they have smarter methods than their industrial rivals.
Recently a local large engineering company in Perth which manufactures automation products for offshore operations did a survey amongst their engineers. One of the survey questions asked them the meaning of the phrase “regression analysis”. While all of the engineers were involved in developing automation, 40% had no idea what this meant (yet of course, it is what their job is about). It indicated that if their own engineers didn’t understand the basic language of what they were manufacturing, how could their clients? They then made sure their sales team simplified all pitches to the point where anyone could understand what their equipment was used for.
So my intention in this book is to explain all manner of technology, going from explaining the physics of every sensor, through to how it is applied and how to use multiple sensors in any automated process, but all in simple English. At the end of each chapter I have a simple exercise, with the answers at the back of the book. Simple questions are asked like “why do some ID checking machines reject you when your ID is good”. “Why do we fail passport control when we don’t stand on the right foot markers”? “Why do we get picked out by a police laser gun for speeding alongside another car, but don’t when a police EM radar gun is used”?
I am sure this book will help address many issues where mistakes occur for no apparent reason.
6. Where do you see technology having the most impact on information professions?
This book is very broad and does not cover in-depth data analytics or computer programming, since there are already in-depth books for those areas. This book is all about helping the ordinary person come to terms with the new smart technologies and how they work, in plain English. I have drawn over 200 figures to explain it all.
As we move towards greater automation, internet applications and more robotics becoming acceptable in the home (I have a chapter on understanding home appliances), this movement will receive an incredible increase in speed when the quantum computer arrives. This will make computing instantaneous.
As a result, there will be a remarkable need for more software, mechatronics and data analytics people to run the operations. Just imagine for a second, that you are watching a baseball game in which the batter strikes the ball. The left half of the wide screen OLED TV (I explain how they work) has the batter in full view while the right half has an animation of the same batter and how he should have responded to hit that ball out of the field of play. The computing of the animation will be instantaneous and displayed with all the statistics plus predictions of the batters play at the touch of the remote TV button. By the way, you can see the batter in 3D without a special TV screen. So the question is will this affect information professionals—it sure does and develops a need for an incredibly large number more.
7. In what ways do you predict technology will change the nature of work?
We will work more at home because by 2040 we will be able to, with no internet issues and only meet in the office with our working colleagues when we wish to finalise an issue. We will have all manner of smart technology to assist us with our daily life. We will have work as something we do all of the time as part of daily life with the downside of reality which is that we can’t get away from work.
Space travel will be the norm, and ‘game time’ will be a period of time we have in each day when we play games we love, with the benefit that it is training us to be smarter in what we do, and to respect history more than we ever did. This is training which in the long run, prepares us for a future of interplanetary travel. Because we will be able to wear a smart suit (having sensors embedded in it), game time will instantaneously transport us onto a field of play in a special room in our house which we have built for this purpose. The London stage performance in 2022 with ABBA playing live and looking their youthful age without actually being there on stage, is the next technology to show how this works. These will be avatars of ABBA, but appear just like the original youthful group (not the old looking people they are now).
So work will be highly automated with immediate responses. Remember the day when we hit the tops of our computer screen saying “Do something”? This won’t happen anymore. Oh yes and the developed countries will get richer and develop further while the poor countries of the world will take up equipment and methods of today which we will think are old and archaic.
The advent of SPACE-X and space travel will be phenomenal, with us often preferring holidays in space to holidays on earth. Unfortunately, cultures will generally meld into one of western methods for everything we do and we have a likelihood of becoming homogenous peoples of the world- but that will help with space travel. Having said that, as Stephen Hawking said before passing away, “we need to get off this planet someday in the future”, so I see this as faster and smarter technologies with the quantum computer starting this process.
8. Is there anything else you would like to share?
All I want to do is educate the average person in technology which is bringing with it all manner of instantaneous robotics and automation in the future.
If we don’t understand and adapt to technology soon we will be left behind. The modern girl and boy will have adapted and will move forward to a wonderful future of tech. I wish I was around to see it but I won’t be I am sorry to say. To be born now will be wonderful because today’s child is tomorrow’s technocrat by comparison in a world totally different from today.
Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent speaker on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Her professional interests include information literacy, educational technology, library and information science education, teacher identity, and academic development. Please read Lauren’s other posts about skills for special librarians. And take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus, used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets.
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