improve our business."

It's not just and Google that are investing in clouds. Amazon offers its Web Services to small businesses that need some IT muscle but can't afford to put it in-house. Amazon customers basically can run any or all of their business processes on the retailer's array of servers, using only the processing power that's needed to do the job.

Nicholas Carr, former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review; author of The Big Switch; and recent keynote speaker at Government Technology's California CIO Academy in Sacramento, Calif., likens cloud computing to Alan Turing's theoretical "universal computing machine."

"With enough memory and enough speed, Turing's work implies a single computer could be programmed, with software code, to do all the work that is today done by all the other physical computers in the world," Carr wrote in IT in 2018: From Turing's Machine to the Computing Cloud. "Turing's discovery that 'software can always be substituted for hardware' lies at the heart of 'virtualization,' which is the technology underpinning the great consolidation wave now reshaping big-company IT."

From running day-to-day processes on far-flung corporate machines, to a global network of load-sharing clusters, the network is becoming the computer - and the clouds are on the horizon.

Robotics: Nerds' Revenge?

The booming nanotechnology industry is paving the way for advances in fields as diverse as cancer research and space exploration. The big science of creating such tiny things also exposes a glaring problem for industry, including the public sector: the severe shortage of new workers trained and skilled in math, science and engineering.

Fortunately there is a ray of hope in the form of something else nanotechnology is revolutionizing - robots.

There is plenty of conjecture about what robots will be like in five or 10 years. You can find plenty of guesses - educated and wild - about what capabilities robots will possess. What's underreported is another purpose of robots that they weren't designed for.

"Because of our shortage of people entering into engineering, we've got a crisis in this country," warned Glenn Allen, professor of mechatronics engineering at Southern Polytechnic State University. "The importance of getting and recruiting our future researchers - that's where we're going to fall short."

It's a familiar problem. What are organizations going to do when their knowledge base retires? Furthermore, how can businesses and government encourage the Millennial Generation to pursue careers in science and engineering, especially when all the evidence points to stagnating interest in scientific studies?

The answer may be robotics. Allen is the director of the Georgia BEST Robotics program. BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science, and Technology) and FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) are two programs designed to foster student and community interest in engineering careers.

The programs hold regional competitions nationwide that bring together teams of students from all grade levels, challenging them to build robots that perform specific tasks. The goal is to move robotics away from a geeky subculture to something more akin to the local high-school football team - a lofty goal.

"In middle schools and high schools, as students start getting exposed to math and the sciences, they don't see the application, and they get bored with it and don't engage," Allen said. "When the kids get involved in these robotics competitions, they realize that if they want to continue to pursue this - stuff they love, stuff that's fun, and they want to make a career out of it ... they realize math and science do have applications."

It's long been known that kids love math and science - to a point. Somewhere around the 11th grade, there is a precipitous decline in the number of students

Chad Vander Veen  | 

Chad Vander Veen is the former editor of FutureStructure.