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Dell: Using Technology to Change the World

I was at Dell World last week, and it is kind of amazing how far the company has come since it went private. Interestingly, much of the big tent content was less about Dell’s technology and more about how technology was being used to change the world.

This was kind of a scary event in some cases, because we are far from ready for some of the changes.

I’ll share some of the stories from Dell’s final Ted-like keynote series and close with my product of the week: Dell’s Prototype Smart Desk.

Saving Lives With the Internet of Things

Johns Hopkins told an interesting story of the problems connected to a big healthcare provider. It has massive amounts of data from a variety of sources, including third-party providers and an ever-increasing group of connected healthcare devices.

Users range from internal staff to patients and external service providers, and they are wrapped with very focused draconian regulations preventing unauthorized access. Yet the goal is to make sure everyone who is supposed to have access actually gets it very easily.

By using technology advancements over the last few years, Hopkins has been able to connect all the various components electronically, and the result (among other things) has been a vastly reduced need for patients to go to their care provider physically. However, while the growth in the use of these services has been impressive, the result falls far short of the goal.

Johns Hopkins is moving aggressively to technologies that will allow medicines to tell patients when to use them and when they are no longer useful. It is planning on implementing smart devices — like smart contact lenses and smart hearing aids that can monitor a patient’s health and report the findings, telling the patient and doctor if the medications are working, and reporting moment-by-moment health changes in the patient.

The plan is to implement genomics, so that this data can be used to deliver highly personalized care and medicine. This looks into the physical makeup of the patient; we are all just a little different.

Along with all of the data it is collecting, Hopkins needs and is developing an advanced natural language system that can better guide patients toward a healthier life, including recommendations for appropriate monitored exercise to help us have a vastly better life.

Sharing Economy and Kiva

There is a significant problem associated with trying to figure out how to help the poor effectively. A lot of us have a desire to help out, but there are few ways to do this that let you both feel good about what you did and actually make a difference.

So many charities seem to be more about collecting money than they are about actually fixing something. More importantly, giving people money or food is a temporary fix; ideally, what you’d want to do is help people dig themselves out of poverty.

Kiva was created to do exactly that. It is a micro-loan service, and it now does around US$630 million in microloans a year, helping more than 80,000 people dig themselves out of poverty.

This service connects people who want to help with those that need it, and it makes a real difference by giving those who need help the ability to help themselves.

The same kind of technology that makes this possible also is being used to allow people to rent out their home, an rent (rather than buy) lawnmowers and other portable appliances from neighbors who aren’t using them. In effect, technology is enabling a variety of micro-economic solutions that are connecting people all across the world in many more amazing and incredibly powerful ways.

A Future of Abundance

In his presentation, Peter H. Diamandis, M.D., who runs the X Prize Foundation, noted that we are heading toward the end of poverty. We are living during in the most peaceful time in history, which is obfuscated by the news, which focuses on problems.

Many poor people have electricity, cars, air conditioning and other advantages that the very richest people in the world didn’t have 150 years ago. Singularity University was created to find a way to help 1 billion people — something that wasn’t even conceivable a few years ago.

Technology has moved massively, and in 30 years it will be a billion times better than it is today. An example of this change is the million-dollar sensor used in the early space program. Today, a cellphone sensor that costs pennies provides superior performance. Eventually, we’ll have a biological sensor that will grow itself.

Technology makes scarcity into abundance. For instance, aluminum once was worth more by weight than gold, but due to a simple technology change, we use it today to wrap food. There is a company currently working to create perfect diamonds that will sell for $5 a carat (but I expect the diamond cartel will kill this effort quickly).

There is an asteroid that swings by the Earth made of $5.4 trillion dollars worth of platinum, and we are building automated space robots to get it and bring it to Earth (hopefully not all at once).

We have massive water resources, but only a fraction of 1 percent is drinkable, which creates huge shortage problems. Dean Kamen’s new Slingshot, which costs $2,500, can burn cow poop as fuel, and it can process thousand gallons of water a day, turning water you can’t drink into water you can (someone please call Governor Moonbeam of California).

Qualcomm will be awarding a prize of $10 million to the winner of the Qualcomm-sponsored Tricorder X-Prize. This is device is basically a handheld doctor, based on the concept featured in the original Star Trek TV show.

The next competition will offer a $15 million prize for turning devices of this class into viable teachers, potentially addressing the massive education problems in the emerging world.

Wrapping Up: Holy Crap

This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The rate of change we are seeing is frightening. Karen Quintos, Dell’s amazing CMO, and Michael Dell did their level best to showcase what was coming, to start getting us ready for a new world.

I don’t think there is a chance in hell that any of are ready for what is coming, but at least these talks focused on how technology would help solve the world’s problems and not make them worse.

In the end, though, ready or not, the future is coming — and I doubt any of us really have any idea just how disruptive the unprecedented rate of change we are facing will be.

Product of the Week: Dell Smart Desk

Product of the Week

Think of the Dell Smart Desk as the old Surface table, but turned into a desktop that you can work from. Imagine having a tablet in the 27-inch range that would form your desktop and actually could sense what you put on it. That is what the old Surface table did, and Dell showcased a prototype product that would convert your desk to into a rendered control surface.

Imagine doing Photoshop or Maya but having a full 27 inches for your control surface, leaving your monitor focused on displaying the result. If you need physical controls for music mixing, you just pick up a 3D-printable component and place it on your desktop smartscreen, and it immediately becomes a working control.

Dell Smart Desk

Dell Smart Desk

You should be able to shift between applications, based on what you place on the screen, and if you are an artist or animator, you can create on the desktop while seeing the result fully rendered on the monitor in real time.

For anything needing touch, you can reach your desktop far more easily. This enables a lot of applications that were designed for tablets and are uncomfortable to use on desktop touch monitors, because you typically place the big expensive ones too far away.

If ever there were a convincing example to provide the desktop PC isn’t dead, it would be the Smart Desk prototype from Dell. Even though you can’t yet buy it, it is my product of the week.

Rob Enderle

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends. You can connect with him on Google+.

1 Comment

  • You know, I keep reading about "the internet of things", and I keep seeing lame examples, and how this is "just the tip of the iceberg", and blah blah blah. All I see are iterations on what smartphones already do, only with smaller screens that border on useless.

    All the smart watches I’ve seen are ugly with interfaces that run the gamut from annoying to embarrassing – "Are you from the future?" "No I’m being payed to wear this sh** and pretend that I like it. Go away kid…"

    Google glass has real potential, but is also at a price point that is completely out of reach for your average consumer, unless you are an uber geek willing to save your pin money for a year or more to afford it. And it also presents all kinds of privacy issues, and I think, safety issues.

    So far nothing I’ve seen in the realm of "the internet of things" is anything I personally would be interested in owning, with the possible exception of Google Glass.

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