The Asia Institute recently held a round-table discussion on the topic of technology convergence. The discussion was led by Dr. Emanuel Pastreich, Professor of Humanities at the Humanitas College of Kyung Hee University. Also in attendance were Charlie Wolf, Director at the Social Impact Assessment Center in the Greater New York City Area; Paul Callomon, Collections Manager at the Academy of Natural Sciences in the Greater Philadelphia Area; Stephanie Wan, the YGNSS Project Co-Lead and the North, Central America & Caribbean regional Coordinator of the Space Generation Advisory Council; Daniel Lafontaine, Business Coach and Consultant at AMA Korea; Alan Engel, President at Paterra, Inc. in Japan; Matthew Weigand, founder of Responsiv.asia and former editor of the Korea IT Times; Tahir Hameed, Research Fellow and PhD Candidate at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology; and Vince Rubino, Global Team Leader of Business Development and AQ at the Korea Institute of Toxicology. In this second part of a five-part series, the experts explore the grand-daddy of all interdisciplinary fields, the space technology field.
Stephanie Wan: Since my background is in space policy, I am interested in the discussion through the benefits of space technology and the meaning of technology convergence in an already interdisciplinary field.
Space technology is already inherent in not only space, but is also utilized on earth. Examples of this can be seen in the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS), where the satellite signals provide precise positioning, navigation, and timing used to not only pinpoint exact locations and directions, but also measurements can help farmers with precision agriculture. Korea and Japan launch MBSat, a broadcasting satellite those in Korea and Japan have benefited from if they watch real-time television on their cellphones or navigation systems. Please correct me, but in some sense I see space already technologically converged with other technological fields. Are there more ways space technology can expand and work with other fields
Furthermore, since some areas of space technology are related to national security, what would this mean for international cooperation, and has this issue affected other technology sectors
Emanuel Pastreich: Space is a much neglected part of the equation. There is a general assumption that space will be militarized with terrible consequences, but that may not be the case at all. In fact, it may well be that the competition is in the information sent through space, not space itself. Many technologies from space exploration find their way into other fields. Perhaps that is because space offers unique challenges that force engineers to push themselves. That is perhaps the key in an age of convergence: have a goal! It is not enough to just commercialize technology.
Daniel Lafontaine: On a hypothetical note, I think space technology could be developed in many ways from weather prediction to pollution tracking to maybe even seismic activities tracking. I also think deep sea mining using pinpoint space navigation systems could help also. We could also harness our satellites with mirrors to better elevate out solar energy from one side of the planet to direct it to the other side so as to have energy 24/7. In this sense, the sky is NOT the limit. Only our imagination and resources and ingenuity are.
Stephanie Wan: Daniel- space technology is already developed for weather prediction (meteorology satellites), pollution tracking (JAXA and NASA sent up satellites to detect CO2 emissions, though the one launch by NASA failed at launch), and seismic activities (the precision positioning of GPS has helped scientists detect the ground shifts for earthquake movement and general land shifts. During disasters like the Haiti earthquake, earth observation satellites also provided images of the disaster on the ground for better disaster management.
Unfortunately sometimes space technology becomes so infused into everyday lives that it (ie. GPS) has already seamlessly "been there" when we need it until it disappears, however it is space exploration and astronauts are the image of space technology field.
As "the next frontier" space will always be eyed by the military as a form of security. As for space militarization, people in the field like to say that space is already militarized, however not weaponized. Nonetheless anything in space could be a form of a weapon (a debris the size of a bb gun pellet can do a lot of damage to a satellite that runs into its path), though currently the technology to detect whether some things are intentionally being damaged or not is difficult. Being that space was an initial military effort (of both Air Force and Navy trying to launch their rocket into space), space has been an arena of military use, whether it is for spy satellites (remote imaging with detailed resolutions) or communication satellites for military uses back on ground. GPS has helped make more precise attacks on enemy territory (as first witnessed in Operation Dessert Storm in the '90s), then later shared by the military for civilian use.
Alan Engel: Japan is negotiating an agreement with Mongolia to launch a satellite for the purpose of identifying rare earth deposits. Strategic, but not military.
Daniel Lafontaine: If ultracapacitors or some such technology can be made to be good enough and have a high enough capacity load, it would be great to see rockets or space vehicles go into space without harming the environment.
Emanuel Pastreich: National Institute for Environmental Studies in Tsukuba Japan runs a satellite program GOSAT which monitors a greenhouse gases, presenting data in an integrated manner in real time. This is an excellent example of how space can make a difference.
Matthew Weigand: In my former position as the editor of the Korea IT Times I got to see many different visions of what people were hoping technology convergence would do in Korea. One of them was wearable medical monitoring devices. Think of a T-shirt that you could wear which would include EKG leads woven into the fabric, which would transmit your heartbeat and other relevant data through your cell phone to a medical monitoring station. This would be a setup that people at risk for heart attacks or those who had already had one heart attack could wear in order to give doctors 24/7 monitoring information about their heart.
Emanuel Pastreich: Convergence has in fact several different meanings to it as used in Korea, and throughout the world.
1) ICT convergence: how your telephone, your television and your computer are merging together (perhaps also with your home security system and your medical records.
2) IT-Nano, Bio-IT, IT-Nano Convergence: the combination of technologies from these three large fields that generate a wide range of technologies
3) Spill-over from one industry into another: technology from aerospace introduced into construction; technology from defense introduced into medicine. The point in Korea is to increase awareness for such potential.
4) Overlap between discourses: humanities, music and design evolving with IT. Or such innovations as social networking.
Of course Korea defines convergence in the broadest terms, as it did with Green Growth. The question is, are these the right divisions for us
Tahir Hameed: As per my preliminary understanding, the pervasive use of technology convergence as in Korea is somewhat questionable, i.e. application/fusion of existing products or industries to/with another. It is rather product or industry convergence.
For instance, one of the basic technologies for both telephone or TV is signal transmission and reception (regardless of communications or broadcasting purposes or techniques). Until and unless some new physical laws come into play to change the properties of signals or their propagation, the technology essentially remains the same for both, it is just that the industries are converging.
However, as Pastreich pointed out in (2) Bio-IT, if bio or DNA computing becomes a reality then that can be termed as a new converged technology where semiconductors and biological circuits would start to share the processing and communication of information in electrical and/or chemical forms. That would lead to radically new products and industries without much of any previous capabilities of use.
I still have to comprehend more about what they (NSF, USA) mean by Cognition as one of the converging technologies along with IT, Bio or Nano.
One of my Korean friends actually asked the definition at a very high profile seminar on IT convergence, and surprisingly the speaker admitted it is really hard to say concretely, though his organization was planning and funding research programs on the same in Korea.
Emanuel Pastreich: I did not include Cognition on the list because Koreans do not include it. I think Koreans would be more likely to use the term brain science or something akin.
Green Growth was also a grab bag for a variety of technologies and practices-some marginally related to the environment. And yet Korea manages to effectively promote new technologies broadly with these broad terms. Or maybe it is better to say, new products. The question remaining is how useful the term Convergence is in general.