Exploring the Technology Frontier with Ray Kurzweil and Java Technology Innovators

by Janice J. Heiss and Steven Meloan
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Ray Kurzweil and The Law of Accelerating Returns

The last JavaOne Keynote kicked-off with renowned inventor and futurist, Ray Kurzweil, who offered mind-bending predictions for the future of technology, and the future of humanity. As the principal developer of such game-changing innovations as the CCD flat-bed scanner, optical character recognition, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition technology (among many other innovations), when Kurzweil predicts, people listen.

He began by pointing out that anything progressing at an exponential pace, when viewed in a linear sense, initially appears to be progressing deceptively slowly. But when viewed logarithmically, one can predict profound developments and paradigm shifts. He detailed the exponential progression of the computational space - from vacuum tubes, to transistors, to integrated circuits, to predicted 3D molecular computers that will someday become self-organizing. In 1965, when Kurzweil first arrived at MIT, the sole campus computer had 32k of memory. He then pulled out his Java enabled cell phone, noting that it was "a million times cheaper, and thousands of times more powerful. That's billions-fold increase in price performance since I was a student."

Moore's Law, predicting exponential increases in computational power, is really just one example of what Kurzweil calls "The Law of Accelerating Returns." While a given technology paradigm eventually reaches the physical limits of a particular technology, a new technology paradigm shift ultimately comes along to take its place, as seen with vacuum tubes, the transistor, the integrated circuit, and so on. According to Kurzweil, this principal applies to any information technology, and even biology has now become a part of the information technology space. The Human Genome Project, Kurzweil noted, was only 1% complete half-way through its 15 year time period. But with the evolution of genetic sequencing technology, the project completed right on schedule.

Using this long-term perspective, informed by the exponential patterns of technology development, Kurzweil predicted in the 1980s our current era of small, massively distributed, embedded, and networked computing systems. And this was at a time when few even owned a PC. Kurzweil ultimately sees thousands or even millions of nano-computational devices, running languages like Java, inside our bodies, augmenting our senses, and solving medical problems. "That's no more crazy than these projections were in the 1980s."

Java Innovators Push the Technology Envelope

From here, Richard Bair, Chief Architect for Client Java, explored several End-to-End (E2E) innovations using Java technology. The first was Gephi, an open-source graphic visualization software package based entirely on Java technology. Gephi is presented as "Photoshop for graphs," and allows users to manipulate and visualize large quantities of data, to reveal hidden patterns, structures, and associations. Gephi is built with Java SE 6 on top of the NetBeams Platform, and uses a variety of Java libraries, including JOGL for its 3D rendering engine.


Gephi reveals patterns in large data sets

Next came MLB.com and their Fantasy Baseball Live application. The application has approximately a million users playing throughout the year. Using Java SE 6, Swing, and JavaFX 1.2, MLB's Fantasy Baseball Live offers a rich client application, allowing online fantasy managers to assemble their dream team, and interact with thousands of fantasy leagues, including instant messaging between managers, real-time updates of roster selections, live real-time stats, fantasy points, and league match-up updates. Managers can view game schedules, player bios, scoreboards, and live streaming game videos.

Another application showcasing JavaFX was the Vancouver Winter Olympics site, developed by Effective UI and the JavaFX team. Accessed by millions of virtual fans during the Winter Games, the site provided interactive comparisons based on medal types, athlete gender and profiles, country populations and GDP, and included live results tickers listing recent, current and upcoming Olympic events. EffectiveUI incorporated census and other statistical data into search results to give users a depth of perspective into each country's background. JavaFX provided rapid development workflow during the development process, and ready access to the final application across multiple platforms, including the Web, desktop, and mobile technology.

The final E2E demo came from Pulse for Integrated Solutions, with its Health Intact application. Health Intact offers remote telemedicine solutions to the developing world--transmitting patient information and monitoring data (blood pressure, blood sugar, ECG, etc.) to doctors via Bluetooth connections and mobile handsets, as well as integrating with existent hospital medical record systems. The server portion of the system employs JDK1.6 and Java EE 6 (Struts application with some exposed Servlets and Web Services), Java Encryption APIs (for secure patient privacy), JDBC (for integration with existent hospital systems) and Java Mail APIs. Meanwhile, the mobile/PC client applications use J2ME, CLDC 1.0, and MIDP 1.1, push registry, Bluetooth APIs, File Connection APIs, Java SE 1.6 Swing, and RMS to persist application settings.

Greg Bollella, Chief Architect for Embedded Java, took the stage, showcasing three demos he described as JavaOne "repeat offenders" that have presented at past conferences, and have continued to stay at the forefront of technology innovation. The first demo in this segment was Livescribe's Echo smartpen. Livescribe's previous smartpen, the Pulse, was selected as a 2008 "JavaOne Show Device," and allowed users to take handwritten notes while digitally storing their pen strokes, and simultaneously recording ambient audio synced to the note taking. But the company's latest smartpen offering, the Echo, takes the technology many leaps forward with the advent of an app store that provides Java applications for the pen, such as music, language translation, and more. "We now have about 10,000 developers writing Java apps for this," said Jim Marggraff, Livescribe CEO. Draw a piano keyboard with the Echo, then tap the drawn keys and play music. Or write a phrase in English, tap on it, and hear the phrase spoken in Spanish, Mandarin, or Arabic. It really has to be seen to be believed.

Next, Perrone Robotics showcased the cutting edge of tollbooth technology with their Pennsylvania Turnpike Laser-based Vehicle Measurement System. Detailing the evolution of tollbooths from human toll takers, to mechanical change counters, to RFID-based facilities such as FasTrak, Perrone's Brian Geiger detailed how their technology takes the concept a quantum leap forward. They've implemented a Java RTS-based solution that uses advanced lasers to measure vehicles at 180 points, every 13 milliseconds, gathering vehicle info in either stop-and-go traffic or at speeds of up to 100 mph. Information gathered includes vehicle type, height, width, length, and speed, and it can register motorcycles, cars, trucks, and tractor-trailers.

The final demo took attendees from smart highways to smarter cars. Marcial Hernandez, from the Volkswagon Engineering Research Lab in Palo Alto, had "Shelly" onstage, an autonomous, self-driving Audi that first premiered at JavaOne 2009, but that has now had many more successful test runs. The ultimate goal of the project, Hernandez explained, is not to have cars driving by themselves, but to augment drivers at the limits of handling, during high-stress, or even during low-stress. Oracle worked closely on the project, providing the Java RTS infrastructure that handles the GPS processing and the monitoring visualizations that communicates with the Stanford system which provides the autonomous driving capabilities.

Hope you had a great JavaOne 2010 conference, and don't forget to look for JavaOne as it goes on the road:

  • Latin America, December 7-9, 2010 (Call For Papers)
  • Beijing, December 13-16, 2010
  • Russia 2011 (date TBD)
  • India 2011 (date TBD)

Go to the Oracle Technology Network for technical articles and all the latest news for Java Developers.


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