The Future of Technology, and Women in the Computing Environment

Top Futurist, Ray Kurzweil, Predicts How Technology Will Change Humanity by 2020
New York Daily News (12/13/09) Kurzweil, Ray

Futurist Ray Kurzweil looks ahead over the next decade to project how humanity will be reshaped by technology. He predicts that between now and 2020, state-of-the-art technologies will spread “to every corner of the country and [begin] to make innovations once consigned to the realm of science fiction real for millions of Americans.”

Fueling this trend will be an exponential expansion in the power of information technology. Kurzweil forecasts that by 2020 memory devices will be integrated into garments, while smartphone displays will eventually give way to eyewear that can transmit images directly to human retinas.

 “That virtual display will be able to take over our entire visual field of view, putting us in a three-dimensional [3D] full immersion virtual reality environment,” he projects. “We’ll watch movies virtually and read virtual books. A lot of our personal and business meetings will take place in these 3D virtual worlds.”

 Another innovation Kurzweil envisions by 2020 is pop-ups in humans’ visual field of view that provide background information about the people and locales being observed.

 By 2020 the futurist also thinks that intelligent accident avoidance systems will be incorporated into cars, while self-driving automobiles will at least be undergoing experimentation.

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Of Girls and Geeks: Environment May Be Why Women Don’t Like Computer Science
UW News (12/14/09) Schwarz, Joel

A University of Washington (UW) study indicates that the stereotype of computer scientists as geeks who stay up all night coding and have no social life may be driving women away from careers in computer science. The study found that the stereotype can be invoked just by the appearance of the classroom or work environment.

 “When people think of computer science the image that immediately pops into many of their minds is of the computer geek surrounded by such things as computer games, science fiction memorabilia, and junk food,” says UW professor Sapna Cheryan. “That stereotype doesn’t appeal to many women who don’t like the portrait of masculinity that it evokes.”

Cheryan set up four experiments to examine the reasons why the proportion of women in computer science is dropping. In all four experiments, women were turned off by stereotypical items such as Star Trek posters, video game boxes, and Coke cans.

 “Instead of trying to change the women who do not relate to the stereotype, our research suggests that changing the image of computer science so that more women feel they fit in the field will go a long way to recruiting them into computer science,” Cheryan says.

 The media also plays a role by constantly portraying computer scientists as computer geeks, she says. The stereotype also may be turning off some men.

“We need to broaden the image of the field so both women and men feel more welcome,” she says. “In workplaces and universities we can do this by changing the way offices, hallways, and labs look.”

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I hope they don’t use that for an excuse to make things pink and fuzzy.  Or think that’s what all women want.

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