Make Technology Smarter, Not Bigger, says Clavius Lecturer

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Technology has proliferated so rapidly in recent decades that we’ve come to simply expect our gadgets to grow faster and more reliable with every upgrade.

However, if the computer and information science field focuses too narrowly on producing the next best gadget rather than improving technology already in use, the cost could be our safety and wellbeing, cautioned Marios Polycarpou, PhD at Fordham’s 2015 Clavius Distinguished Lecture.

In an April 17 talk on “Intelligent Big-Data Monitoring of Critical Infrastructure Systems,” Polycarpou stressed preempting catastrophic technological failure by focusing on making our smart devices smarter.

This is especially important for technology that underlies our critical infrastructure systems (CIS)—such as power and energy systems, telecommunication networks, transportation systems, and water networks.

Photos by Dana Maxson

Photos by Dana Maxson

“These systems are critical for everyday life and well-being, and people expect them to always be available. But the problem is that they do fail. And when they fail, the consequences are tremendous,” said Polycarpou, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and the director of the KIOS Research Center for Intelligent Systems and Networks at the University of Cyprus.

To prevent natural disasters, equipment failures, or malicious attacks leading to catastrophe, he said, “we need to design smarter infrastructure networks. This means designing smarter software to handle any faulty hardware.”

Smart technology is the next logical step following the “sensor revolution” of the 2000s, Polycarpou said. The introduction of sensors gave technological devices physical capabilities akin to the traditional human senses—balance, pressure, and temperature as well as sight, hearing, smell, and touch.

Now that these gadgets can sense their environments, they need the ability to process the information they gather and make decisions in response—which is the essence of smart technology.

“These devices have sensors that provide information and a brain that processes that information,” Polycarpou said. “They’re not just passive devices that make tasks easier for us, but have intelligent software to … make decisions.”

Photo by Dana Maxson

Photo by Dana Maxson

The growth in global population (Polycarpou cited that in 2000 there were 18 megacities around the world, whereas there will be an estimated 30 megacities by 2020 and 60 by 2050) makes CIS intelligence even more important, as most infrastructure networks are intertwined.

“If there’s an earthquake and everyone tries to use their phones, the communication system could break down,” he said. “There’s a lot of interdependence. When something goes wrong, it can propagate through the other infrastructures.”

The annual Clavius lecture and the Clavius Distinguished Professorship of Science, which is held by D. Frank Hsu, PhD, honors 16th-century mathematician Christopher Clavius, SJ, who helped develop the Gregorian calendar and was an early advocate of Galileo’s heliocentric model of the universe.

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