A regional collaborative effort known as West Next Generation Network that’s working to bring gigabit internet service to Western North Carolina met Monday and heard an expert’s 10 predictions for technology growth. Marc Hoit, vice chancellor for information technology and chief information office at N.C. State University, delivered his thought-provoking predictions as a way to help the group start thinking about how WNC might focus its use of the high-speed broadband.

Members of the group said Monday that they view gigabit internet service delivered over fiber optic lines as a critical infrastructure need. What follows is a run-down of Hoit’s predictions. In every case, Hoit prodded the group to think about how it might address the needs that will arise from each the growth of each topic area.

-Telemedicine improves health: Hoit urged listeners to consider insulin pumps connected to the internet, or a long-distance retinal examination done by holding a camera to your eye so a doc hundreds of miles away can see your eye and diagnose a problem. “Just the connectivity and camera doesn’t fix the problem. You need medical professionals” with different levels of expertise here, and nobody does that better than the health care industry, Hoit said. Consider that someone can take a two-week phlebotomy class and then start work making more money than a McDonald’s worker.

-Growth in attacks and need for cybersecurity: Have you read the news about alleged Russian cyber attacks to sway this year’s presidential election? Have you been alerted by a credit card company that your personal information was compromised? “Cyber warfare is real,” Hoit said, “and it is war.” Universities are seen as soft targets, and security needs extend to homes. “Who is going to train folks” to fend off various levels of cyber attacks, Hoit asked.

-Higher demand for aggregated and verified information: Have you read about the affect of fake news on society lately? Hoit told the group, with several representatives from local universities and municipalities, that their institutions have “a unique, trusted position” and must work to become trusted brokers of information.

-Focus on verified skills, not degrees: A higher education degree won’t be the gold standard of education for much longer, Hoit said. Big businesses and sites like LinkedIn are already putting a premium on certificates for expertise in specific fields or specialties. “There’s a huge need for programs to deliver targeted skills,” and for skills verification, Hoit said.

-AI and cognitive computing underpin more decision-making: The trend here is to take big data analytics and turn that into automated cognition, Hoit said. The field of climate change is a particular strength in Western North Carolina, but the trend is toward combining modeling with analytics to help make big decisions.

-Growth in augmented reality and virtual reality: The Pokemon Go fad this summer was a prime example of the real-time translation of information imposed on the real world known as augmented reality. Hoit said he considered virtual reality more of an entertainment industry. Think about an application that¬†identifies the flora and fauna on a mountain trail by just holding up your phone to the forest in front of you, Hoit said. Municipalities have much of that information in databases and GIS systems, but they’ve got to be connected and tagged with metadata, and that takes work, he said.

-More everyday use of robotics and automation: Robots are already building cars and working in a host of other areas. But who will fix them when they need repair, and who will help adapt them to changing needs? “These are complicated systems, and we have enough trouble with our phones and refrigerators breaking. Someone will need to offer the technical support, repair and installation of robotics as this field grows, Hoit said.

-Continued education in business friction: Higher education needs to focus on small business start-ups and support training, Hoit said, because today, anyone with a website can run a business from their home.

-Personal assistants run your life: Hoit asked the crowd if anyone had purchased an Amazon Echo, the most popular device Amazon had ever sold. Smart assistants such as Siri, Alexa and Google now will become ever more integrated into people’s daily lives, he said.

-On demand customizable everything: This field is advancing quickly, Hoit said. Medical professionals are already growing livers, ears and aortas from the cells of the person who will receive the organ. Nike is already using 3-D printers to make custom shoes that have custom cleats matching the unique gait of the athlete who will receive them. The next Kinkos will be home to the custom-printed item you just ordered over the internet, Hoit said. Who will train the next generation of designers and manufacturers, and how will municipalities transform to support these changes, he asked.

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