Those of us who write on a regular basis confront times when nothing comes to mind to write about. That status logically precludes the mind from manifesting the thing, or here the nothing, into whatever synapses and anatomical machinations convince the fingers to type these words based on the thing. Or, what does come is a thing, but it's useless, egotistical, without conclusion, or maybe even it's offensive to the audience. Immediately what may come to your mind, whether you write regularly or not, might be the phrase "writer's block."
I've never had real writer's block. I think I'm not yet seasoned enough, or my internal filters aren't yet developed enough, to really experience a full block. Like most complicated subjects, this one can be described with the device of a continuum. At one end the brilliant, useful, cogent ideas flow effortlessly. At the other extreme, writer's block in its truest form. No ideas. No words. No progress.
This week I landed much nearer the latter, though again not really blocked altogether. I just came to the point that what I thought you may be intrigued and engaged by in this piece wasn't finding its way to me and my process. Luckily, I teach. Teachers are prone to say something that both is utterly true and also seems ironic at first blush: "I learn from my students." What? The one thing we're paid to do is to teach the learners. The students pay, directly or indirectly, to earn an education that we teachers are charged to provide. It doesn't seem fair that while we get paid to do that we too are receiving the same benefit--learning--from the payors.
I've heard teachers hyperbolize this: "I'll never teach these students as much as they teach me." What?! Now, we're into a problem area. How much a teacher learns from their students also could be discussed in that continuum manner. For me, in that analysis, I always find myself at the far end where I as the teacher learn much, much less than my students, which is appropriate, but always learning as well. I tell every class that I teach the same. I do learn from them.
This week, then, because I ran into a little hitch in trying to decide what you may want to read about; and because I taught Friday night, all day Saturday, and most of Sunday; and because that class, for the first time in my teaching, is comprised of doctoral candidates who are pursuing a Ph.D. in information technology; and, finally, because as stated I learn from all my students, these, the most advanced ever in my classroom, taught me enough to break though my little nuisance blockade, and I hope you find interest in what they've taught me. It's about the future.
The nine students are working futuristically because they're beginning the process of developing their dissertation. In a nutshell, a dissertation is an investigation and written work product that doctoral scholars create over years of time. The first steps up the Himalayan task are to merely decide what to spend those years researching and analyzing. These IT experts are dreaming of what problems will need to be solved, and what innovations in technology are coming, at least far enough out that their work starting now still is relevant then. In that sense, they're predicting the future, and I'd like to share a couple of their ideas, anonymized because I never sought their permission to share.
Vera's ideas and research are fascinating as anyone's. She will be examining a rather new concept in tech, which all technological devices, apps, and solutions once were: ideas, only, and new ones. The phrase may be unfamiliar to you: decentralized privacy. Even in this column, which is not intended for IT scholar audiences, you've read about the most basic understanding that privacy, which is what your private, personal, medical, or financial information deserves, means control. When you can control your personal information, your thoughts even, you are maintaining privacy. Vera's somewhat oxymoronic idea is to take our private information and chop it all up into countless little bits so that no one can ever steal the whole. All those countless bits of data that when combined perfectly make up your social security number, for example, are secured through encryption, and only you have the key to put it back together when you need to use it, such as for a loan application online.
Charles will be finding solutions to the new problem of medical patients' reluctance to use smart wearables that can collect health data that a care provider can later analyze. We've been through many revisions and improvements to one such smart, wearable device, Apple Watch, now on series six. Charles believes that these devices should be part of many, many patients' healthcare programs. Information such as heart rate, glucose levels, and scores of other diagnostic inputs could be conveniently collected, and not influenced by "noise" to the signal, such as the so-called white coat syndrome when our blood pressure changes merely by being in a medical office. As prolific as the Apple Watch may seem, Charles believes that millions could gain health benefits by adopting this technology, but that our security and privacy fears, among other factors, keep us from using them.
Seven other students had equally novel, forward-thinking ideas. Most will change to some degree as they further explore the problems and potential solutions. To me, and maybe you can see it too, these scholars who are already subject matter experts in technology, are pointing to where things are going, and should you ever get the chance to pick their brains or have a cup of tea with someone at that level, I encourage you to take advantage and get a glimpse of the future.
Ed is a professor of cybersecurity, an attorney, and a trained ethicist. Reach him at email@example.com.