Monday, August 31, 2009

Delphi Methods

Reminder: HW due today

. . . Still a few hours left... any confusions or questions?

Today's Plan

Start by learning the "Delphi method"

Each person will then use the Delphi method to extract group wisdom from the class on a question about the future

. . . We will need a secretary for each question, to record results

The person whose question it is should use the results as part of their term project

. . . (If you change term project topic later, put these results in an appendix)

The Delphi Method - Background

It is a town in Greece (Δελφοί)

. . . do you know those Greek letters?

Delphi is the site of the "Delphic Oracle"

. . . (the Oracle of Apollo, which is in Delphi)

. . . . . . Apollo was a Greek god, & a U.S. space program & series of space ships

An oracle is a source of wisdom or prediction

. . . (same root as oral, oration, etc.)

. . . a crystal ball is an example of an oracle

The Delphi method extracts "wise predictions" from groups

. . . And . . . we are a group!

The Delphi Method - How

(Of course, variations exist)

1. Formulate the question

. . . Should be "sharp and answerable"

- Futures Research Methodology V3.0, Ed. by J.C. Glenn and T. J. Gordon

2. Present results to participants

. . . Discuss, especially the most extreme opinions

. . . It is very important to avoid conformism for its own sake!

. . . . . . "Campaigning" will distort the wisdom of the group

3. Participants can reconsider their answers in light of new thoughts

4. Overall results include

. . . median (why not mean?)

. . . depiction of the spread (e.g. middle 50% and total range)

(Source: JC Glenn and TJ Gordon, eds. Futures Research Methodology V3.0, chap. 4, p. 10)

When is a Better Time than Now to Try it!

Did You Know?


What is a heuristic?

Last time we looked at linear, exponential, S, and plateau curves

Today - a grab bag of heuristics for prediction

Next time - Delphi methods
  • To prepare: think of one question about the future of something of your choice

  • In class, we will use Delphi methods to apply our collective wisdom to your question

  • (Also, HW is due next Monday - questions about it?)

Let's check the youtube video "Did you know?"

After that, we'll continue...

Let's make a grid on the board for:

Statements in the video (rows)

Believability (column)

Implications (column)

Hidden messages (column)

Connection to methods of prediction (column)

Let's apply each of the following methods to something in the video!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Homework 2

Computing, Information and the Future

Homework 2, due Wednesday, Sept. 2

Please check over this assignment early, and let me know if you would like us to go over in class how to do any of these, or have any other questions.

1. Consider the different methods of making predictions that we went over in class. Pick the topic of your choice, apply them to that topic, and make some predictions about the future. You may focus on one scenario, or discuss alternative scenarios as well. You may write speculatively, or ground your discussion in facts and examples found on the Web or elsewhere. If purely speculatively without hunting down data on the Web, then more writing would make sense than if much of your time was spent finding data. A variation to a purely speculative essay would be to couch it as a short story, like a science fiction story. Alternatively, you can write a computer program that makes predictions, for example using the exponential curve equation or some other approach. In this vein, you could use Excel or another spreadsheet program to extrapolate. If you want to do something like that but aren't sure how, let me know and we can discuss in class how to use spreadsheets this way.

2. Recall the discussion of exponential curves. Using a spreadsheet or calculator, estimate the following (some hints follow, if you get stuck). Put the actual answers on your blog, but if the spreadsheets do not upload easily, it is not necessary to upload them.

Estimate the doubling time of the software development productivity of the average programmer, if productivity increases at 6%/year.

Estimate the percent per year of increases in the complexity of PC computers if this complexity doubles every 2 years. (By "complexity" we could say we're talking about the number of transistors on a CPU chip, if you were wondering.)

Estimate the percent per year of increases in the complexity of PC computers if complexity doubles every 18 months, as some think it is doing.

What is the doubling time of your money if you have it in the bank making 2% interest per year?


Here are some HW hints that many of you might find of interest. We can talk more about it on Monday if people wish.

A student asks:
>I figured out the estimation with interest in the bank, but I did not use a formula. Did we need to have a formula? I just made up an amount of money to start off with. But I was not sure if there was a specific amount that you wanted.

Answer: Just calculating the results, one year at a time, is the easiest way to do it. Any amount of money to start with should give the same answer in number of years.

Student:>But here are the other questions:
Estimate the doubling time of the software development productivity of the average programmer, if productivity increases at 6%/year.
*Is there a number that I start off with?

Answer: I would suggest starting with any number, then add 6% each year until it is double. The number of years it takes is the answer. Let's suppose current programmer productivity is 1000. Then the next year, it would be 1000 plus 6% of 1000. 6% is the same as 6/100 (definition of "%"). So we need to find 1000+(6/100)*1000. That equals 1.06*1000, which works out to 1060 after the first year.
Estimate the percent per year of increases in the complexity of PC computers if this complexity doubles every 2 years. (By "complexity" we could say we're talking about the number of transistors on a CPU chip, if you were wondering.)

Student:>Estimate the percent per year of increases in the complexity of PC computers if complexity doubles every 18 months, as some think it is doing.
*And although it may be simple, I am not sure how to figure out the percent per year. How do I do that?

Answer: Trial and error! For a doubling in 2 years, plug in, say 40% and run your year-by-year calculation twice, for the two years, and see if the result is a doubling. If it more than doubles, try 39%. If it less than doubles, try 41% instead.For doubling in 18 months, that is the same as quadrupling in 3 years. With a whole number of years, you can now just run your year-by-year calculation 3 times, for the 3 years.

Trajectories of the Future

To integrate into the following: technology adoption life cycle; Gartner hype cycle

Making and Discuss Predictions with Trajectories

Let's apply the following to:

. . . Topics of your choice

or, as other examples -

. . . Cars of the future

. . . Going to college in the future

. . . The lowly(?) pencil

Method: Trajectories of change

. . . in the short term, change appears linear


Last year you had 1 or 2 compact fluorescent bulbs

This year you will "probably have 1-2 more"

In the longer term, change looks exponential

Lightbulb example:

. . . you start with 1-2, but after a couple of years you've got a bunch

. . . change accelerates, in this case

. . . if you look at an exponential curve with a microscope, what does it look like?

. . . "Exponential": complicated word, tricky math, simple concept

. . . . . . goes up faster and faster

. . . . . . has a doubling time

Exponential curves explained

. . . Suppose something doubles every 3 years

. . . Popular example: computer CPU complexity doubles every 2 years

. . . new value after t years is original value v times 2^(t/3)

. . . f(t)=to * 2^(t/3)

. . . . . . where does the "doubles" appear?

. . . . . . where does the "every 3 years appear?

. . . . . . so it works for any factor of increase and any time constant

Longer term, things "Level Off": the S-curve

Also called "logistic curve"

Sort of "linear" early on

Then looks "exponential"

Then levels off

Do you think an even longer-term view will look like a plateau curve?

Think about pencils, compact fluorescents, and college, etc., etc.

Topic List

Computing, Information and the Future

Course Index and Calendar

M 8/24/09
. . .General course information
. . .Introductory meeting
. . .
Homework #1, due next class
W 8/26/09
. . .Trajectories of the future
. . .Homework #2, due in one week
M 8/31/09
. . . More on prediction
. . ."Did You Know?" video and discussion
. . .To prepare for next time: think of a question about the future. We will apply a Delphi method to it.
W 9/2/09
. . . Delphi Method
. . . Homework #3, due W 9/7/09

. . . To prepare for next time: HW 3 is due before class this time, so we can apply it in class.
W 9/9/09
. . . Delphi Method II
. . . Homework #4, due W 9/14/09 (soon - next class!)

M 9/14/09
. . . Updates on term project topics (self-driving cars)
. . . Prediction markets
. . . Homework #5, due Tues. 9/22/09.
W 9/16/09
. . . TRIZ introduction
M 9/21/09
. . . TRIZ cont.: 40 principles of technological advancement
. . . Homework #6, due Mon. 9/28/09.
W 9/23/09
. . . Finish TRIZ discussion
M 9/28/09
. . . Updates: some recent news related to your projects
. . . Spoil sports of the prediction game #1: the observer effect (ser. #1)
. . .
Homework #7, due Mon. 10/5/09.
W 9/30/09
. . . Preview:
. . . More spoil sports of the prediction game
M 10/5/09
. . . Movie discussion: Minority Report (ser. # 2)
. . . Homework #8, due in two days before class! (Question 1) and next Monday (Question 2)
W 10/7/09
. . . Movie discussion: Minority Report (ser. #4)
M 10/12/09
. . . Movie discussions: Ghost in the Shell
(ser. #4)
W 10/14/09
. . . Homework #9, due Wed. 10/21/09
. . . Movie discussions: Ghost in the Shell
(ser. #4)
M 10/19/09
. . . Movie discussion: Earth 2100 (ser. #4)
W 10/21/09
. . . Movie discussion II: Earth 2100

. . . Homework #10, due Wed. 10/28/09
M 10/26/09
. . . Trend analysis I
. . . Followup from last time: cans
. . . The weather: more spoil sports of the prediction game (butterfly effect & perturbations)
. . . Weather and climate simulation: are interventions even less reliable than predictions?
. . . Trend analysis II
W 10/28/08
. . . Homework #11, due Wed. 11/2/09
. . . Next time - robots! Let's look at one now...
. . . Spoil sports of prediction: existential angst
M 11/2/09
. . . Robotics I: AIShield, safeguarding humanity and the risks of AI/robotics
. . .
. . .
iRobot and the "Create" Robot
. . .
Some robot pics and videos
. . . Metrics for progress in robotics
W 11/4/09
. . . Homework #12, due W Nov. 11
. . . Trying out a robot (ser. #5)
M 11/9/09
. . . Robotics II: music and motion (ser. #5)
W 11/11/09
. . . Homework #13, due W Nov. 18
. . . Toxoplasmosis
M 11/16/09
. . . Homework #14, due W Nov. 25 (ser. #6)
. . . Backup plan for homo sapiens: space adventure
W 11/18/09
. . . Michael (data markup; software demo part later) ser. #8
. . . Backup plan for homo sapiens: space adventure (cont.)
M 11/23/09
. . . Reuben (green energy) ser. #8
. . . Hubbert peak for oil
W 11/25/09
. . . Andrew (future of gaming, etc.)
. . . Jeremy (electronic medical records) ser. #8
M 11/30/09
. . . Last HW! finish project and hand in by next Monday (12/7): hard copy or email (not blog)
. . . Kevin (internet speeds and the future)
. . . Alternative energy: photovoltaics (solar cells) ser. #7
W 12/2/09
. . . Amber (technology and zombie acopolypses)
. . . Doug (technology and zombie acopolypses) ser. #8
M 12/7/09
. . . Tania (DNA databases and the future)
. . . Chris ("Touch the Future: A New Age of Digital Interaction.") ser. #8
W 12/9/09 (1:30-3:30 p.m.), scheduled final exam session
. . . this meeting will be for catching up on any missing HWs

Some rough notes on potential other discussion topics

Monday, August 24, 2009

Class: M 8/24/09

Introduction to the course

1. See flyer (handed out).
2. Let's go over the course guidelines. Any questions?
3. Get to know a neighbor. Write their name large on a sheet of paper. Tell us:
  • their name
  • what classes they are taking
  • about one thing they think will happen some day (I will list the predictions on the board)
4. Check list of way too many topics. Let's go over it quickly. Then:
  • Put a check mark by the ones that look interesting.
  • Put an X mark by the ones that don't look that interesting.
  • Put a double check mark by any that are especially interesting.
  • Leave blank ones that you have no opinion about.
  • Write in any extra topics that you would like to hear discussed!
5. Look at HW1, due next time: questions? Want to start now?

Homework #1

IFSC 4399/5399 ST: Computing, Information, and the Future

HW 1, due Wednesday Aug. 26 (next class)

1. Instead of handing in printed assignments (the old-fashioned way), we will do it digitally when appropriate. Email can work but is also a bit old-fashioned compared to at least one more modern possibility: a blog. Start a new blog for this course and its assigments (or you can use an existing blog if you want to and have one). You may use your real name or a pseudonym as you wish, but email me the URL so I can access it. Any blog service will do, such as

2. On the course syllabus, notice the heading "A few resources:". Under that heading, find the bullet that says "The following entries in this list are outdated and will be replaced with timely links...". The outdated entries that follow that bullet are ancient: 11 years old! The Web was only a few years old back then. Most if not all the outdated entries are no longer of interest if they even exist (most don't actually even exist any more). However, many of the topics of those entries are timeless and still interesting. Pick one, and based on the brief bullet itself, find a modern and timely place on the Web that deals with the future of the same or a similar topic.

Alternative: pick a topic you are interested in the future of, and find a Web page about that instead.

On your blog, give the link you found, and explain what it is and why it is interesting (e.g., why should someone check it out?).

3. Repeat question 2

4. Repeat question 2 again.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

IFSC 4399/5399 Computing, Information and the Future

You're Here!
Welcome to the syllabus and home page for...

IFSC 4399/5399 ST: Computing, Information, and the Future

Fall 2009
Days: MW
Time: 1:40 p.m. - 2:55 p.m.
Place: ETAS 354



  • Information, understanding it and using is key to the future
  • The computing field is undergoing rapid change
  • Biotech, nanotech, energy tech, and our society and culture are changing fast as well
  • The future is ahead, we're part of it, and is to our benefit to understand it ("knowledge is power")
  • Are you planning to live and work in the information age?
    • Be aware of what the future may hold
    • Learn how to extrapolate from the past and present into the future
    • Those things are not only useful but interesting too!


  • None. The Web is loaded with useful information but there is no once-size-fits-all textbook for this course. Readings not on the Web will be distributed in class as needed.

Instructor availability:

  • After class, by appointment, at 569-3488, and by email. Email is often best and fastest. Sometimes you can just stop by.
Students with disabilities:
  • It is our policy and practice to create inclusive learning environments. If there are aspects of the instruction or design of this course that result in barriers to your inclusion or to accurate assessment of achievement--such as time-limited exams, inaccessible web content, or the use of non-captioned videos--please notify the instructor as soon as possible. Students are also welcome to contact the Disability Resource Center, 569-3143 (v/tty). For more information, visit the DRC website at

A few resources about the future (most contributed by students in the class):

A few resources about learning about the future
(from Jay Gary, School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship, Regent University, 7/09)


1. HWs will involve readings, written comments, and searching the Web.
2. HWs will also involve options: software development if you are so inclined, or analyses and literature searches if you are inclined that way, or creative writing products of various kinds. Why not paintings or skits if you are interested in art or theater? The class would like to hear your music if you'd like to do that!
3. Students will each present one 30-minute session to the class on a future-relevant topic, and write a paper (or program, or other product in addition to your talk). Preliminary versions may be due earlier in time to get feedback from the instructor, and you will be asked to develop this project gradually throughout the semester and hand in parts of it. I am a fan of developing larger projects one step at a time!
4. Class sessions will require preparation and HW. Aim for an average of 6 hours of work outside class each week for an average 3-credit course (3 credits means 3 50-minute classes or 2 75-minute classes per week), and study guides often recommend 2 hours of preparation per week for each credit. Please let me know if the work load differs significantly from this plan so I can adjust as needed. I don't want to overwork - or underwork - students in this class.
6. Typical assignments will be worth 100 points.
7. The presentation will be 200 pts. and the paper, program, or other product will also be 200 pts. grade. The annotated bibliography will be developed gradually throughout the semester.
8. If you must be absent from a class or cannot hand something in on time due to illness or some other reason, please contact me as soon as possible.
9. Because this course has students of potentially many different levels and backgrounds, effort will be a significant factor in grading. This course is open to all. Welcome!

Assignment of final grade in the course:

90% - 100% -- "A." Everyone can one if they work at it!
89.5% - 89.99% -- "A" or "B," depending on class attendance or excuses & instructor's judgment
80% - 89.49% -- "B"
79.5% - 79.99% -- "B" or "C," depending on class attendance or excuses & instructor's judgment
70% - 79.49% -- "C"
69.5% - 69.99% -- "C" or "D," depending on class attendance or excuses & instructor's judgment
60% - 69.49% -- "D"
59.5% - 59.99% -- "D" or "F," depending on class attendance or excuses & instructor's judgment
50% - 59.49% -- "F"

The minimum grade on any quiz or assignment is 50% (e.g. not handed in), but all grades will be counted.

Standard lateness policy: 10 % off the grade on any assignment handed in up to 1 week late. 20 % off assignments that are very late.