Technology

The Future of the Paperless Office

In 1978, information scientist Frederick Wilfred Lancaster theorized the concept of a “paperless society”. In theory, a digitization of information would result in lower costs, better organization and benefit the environment.

However, Lancaster’s hopes have not panned out as paper use was reported to more than double between 1980 and 2000. As of 2001, paper use has been steadily decreasing. The explanation for this seems to be a generational issue, as employees who are accustomed to technology and were raised on e-mail enter the mainstream workforce in greater numbers.

Since the internet entered mainstream usage, more and more programs and utilities to aid a paperless office have become available. Nowadays, there are plenty of full-fledged, professionally made programs available that make modern email look like a relic of the past.

A popular example is the program Dropbox, founded by Drew Houston. Dropbox allows multiple computers to synchronize contents of a specific folder between all users, allowing a group or individual with multiple machines to maintain an accurate database regardless of what machine changes are made from. Dropbox has been named the 6th most valuable web start-up and enjoys widespread use.

A less famous but no less successful app is Keith Krach’s Docusign. Docusign is an easy to use, freemium program that allows users to send and receive legally binding signatures via cloud technology. It enables a way of processing legal contracts, housing leases, tax documents or really anything needing a signature in a quick and secure fashion. Docusign has also won numerous awards and helps to do away with keeping piles poorly organized document copies for years on end.

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Technology

Man Rediscovers $886k in Bitcoins, Bought Them For $27 in 2009

Bitcoins are the digital currently recently popularized by its huge jump in value earlier this year.  Kristoffer Koch, a Norwegian man, recently discovered a Bitcoin nest egg of $886,000 that he had purchased for a mere $27 in 2009. Having forgotten about his investment, the widespread media coverage of the digital currency after its sharp rise prompted him to find and decrypt the file containing his Bitcoins.

For those who don’t know, Bitcoins are a digital currency with several attractive features. It is decentralized, meaning no company or entity can control Bitcoin due to its peer-to-peer nature and purely digital existence. Verification and inflation are built into its function and do not require outside regulation.  It is also private and secure, making it an ideal currency for sensitive transactions.

CC Image courtesy of BTC Keychain on FlickrCC Image courtesy of BTC Keychain on Flickr

Bitcoins have a very volatile price history, with two boom/bust cycles with the price of a single Bitcoin shooting from $2 to $30 in 2011, and then from $13 to $266 earlier this year. Many people have made and lost fortunes rapidly through Bitcoins. In Koch’s case, his 5000 Bitcoin cache was enough to exchange one-fifth of the total into enough money to purchase a downtown apartment.

Anyone can acquire Bitcoins through an exchange, with Mt Gox being the most well-known. Users can also devote electricity and processing power to running Bitcoin calculations in exchange for a small payout, which is known as “mining” Bitcoin.

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Technology

Female Leaders in Technology

The discussion of a lack of women in the technology field has snowballed in popularity as technology becomes more and more a part of our everyday lives. Though it is clear that women face major barriers to enter the technology industry, there are many who have successfully overcome those hurdles with flying colors and have gone on to become leaders in their fields.

Some women have gone on to become successful leaders for tech companies. Leaders such as Marissa Meyer (CEO of Yahoo!) and Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) are household names in many circles. Sheryl Sandberg has recently released her first book addressing business leadership and increasing female presence in high industry.

Meyers and Sandberg have been featured in the Time 100, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and many other publications. Both of these women (and many others) have the influence and power of any male business leader and are a very visible example of what woman can achieve in tech.

But there are other ways to influence tech besides leadership. Leah Jamieson is the current Dean of the College of Engineering at Purdue University and former President/CEO of the Institute of Electronics and Engineers. Her position in education gives her a lot of reach into developing tech culture in a more gender-neutral direction, arguably a more important goal than tech leadership.

Leah was recently mentioned in aninterview by Keith Krach, a veteran tech CEO and current leader of Docusign. Keith Krach is widely considered a success in tech startups, and when asked in an interview at Silicon Valley about women in tech Leah Jamieson was his first response as a great role model for Purdue students.

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Technology

Self-Driving Cars Looking Better and Better

Though it seems to be a dream born from science fiction, self-driving cars are both real and, according to a recent study conducted by the Eno Center for Transportation, better drivers than we are. Google has been experimenting with the idea of autonomous cars for several years now using an in-house program called Google Chauffeur. Though Google Chauffeur features a manual override that allows a human driver to take the wheel, it is a popular online factoid that Google cars have only suffered two accidents in its multiple years of testing; both of them due to human error.

The study concluded that self-driving cars were positively correlated with significantly reduced traffic deaths, major reductions in congestion and billions of dollars in economic savings. Self-driving cars representing a mere 10% of traffic could represent 100 less deaths per year and $38 billion a year in economic savings.

Despite the promising statistics, the technology is still in its infancy with the biggest barrier to consumers being cost. Installation of Google Chauffeur costs over $100,000, though the study concluded that production strategies would significantly lower that cost over time.

There are also many legal hurdles to be cleared before the technology sees mainstream use. Issues such as accident liability and defenses against hacking are still major unanswered questions. Hybrid and electric cars have also not sold as well as anticipated, indicating that the mainstream automobile market may be a hard one to break into. However, autonomous cars could represent a great step forward in mobility for those who cannot currently drive such as the elderly or the disabled.

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Technology

USB Stepping Up Power Capabilities in 2014

Power cord technology has come a long way since electronic devices went mainstream, but tangles of different cables remains a problem for office dwellers and travelers around the world. The iconic USB (Universal Serial Bus) has simplified many of these complications and plans to do so again in 2014.

The USB was invented by Ajay Bhatt, an Intel chipmaker, primarily to minimize the clutter involved with plugging accessories like keyboards and speakers into a computer. Though he never intended to invent a power cable, the USB has also become the default power input for phones, tablets and other small devices.

Next year sees the release of the new USB PD (Power Delivery), which promises to deliver up to 100 watts of power to much larger devices. A circuit equipped with USB output has the potential to power laptops, monitors and even low-voltage office lighting.

On top of this, the USB cable’s ability to carry both power and data simultaneously allows USB power networks to create electricity systems that can react to power usage. These systems are both cheaper and greener than existing power grids and could represent a large step forward in how electricity is used.

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