2017Eight essential GDA perspectives on design trends
Maholo Uchida
Director’s message

Through design, will advanced technology lead to humans of the future?


Defining advanced technology

No one would doubt that advanced technology is new, freshly invented technology. However, a few points should be clarified, such as what is new About it, how new is it, and from whose per-spective is it new. Examples of advanced technology that excited people in 2017 are AI and VR, in the fields of information and imaging, respectively. Other hot technology-robots, autonomous vehicles, drones, fintech, and so on-seems to be on the verge of wide-scale deployment and poised to overturn manufacturing, transportation, distribution, finance, and other basic industries.

But is it truly advanced technology? In fact, it is not. After each technology was invented decades ago at universities or research institutes, prototypes were created, and at last, they have become common. VR is a perfect example. The basic idea and prototypes existed as early as the 1960s.

As for where the truly advanced technology is, it is used and tested at universities, institutes, and other special settings in the long-term pursuit of fundamental scientific truths and R&D, inacces-sible to all but a select few. This kind of advanced technology is the focus of this essay.

Technology behind the walls of academia and research labs

The 2013 Good Design Award program I participated in was a veritable festival of advanced tech-nology. Award winners included Hayabusa, the ALMA telescopes, and SACLA, which the program celebrated not only as world-class observation facilities and systems enabling significant future research but also for the underlying manufacturing expertise and the organizations' public rela-tions. Still, very few people actually operate these systems. Some observers must have thought it odd to evaluate their "interface" design.

Today, remarkable scientific advances are occurring in many fields. Constant discoveries and inven-tions in various fields make us question basic human assumptions. People are pioneering undiscov-ered frontiers in space and deep in our own planet. In biology, we are closing in on mysteries or evolutionary changes in nature and life. In energy and new materials, we are pushing boundaries in resources and matter. And in information, we are expanding conceptions of time and space. Quite broadly, the technologies behind this research make the invisible visible, control the infinitesimal, defy time, space, and the laws of physics, or manage vast amounts of information, among other things. Every year, the pace of remarkable advances in these technologies and related inventions accelerates, as it grows to scales normally unfathomable or simply unimaginable to us. Yet there are still few instances of public interfaces that give people access to it.

An era when advanced technology involves us, and human interfaces

In applications of advanced technology, good design brings the knowledge and technology in these research fields, which is on scales that far surpass what people can deal with, down to a human scale. A role of design is to provide an interface between advanced technology and people, giving rise to new users and industries. In this sense, the award-winning design in this year's program con-tinues to serve as an interface, to some extent, between those of us alive today and advanced technology.

Examples of applied technology that makes the invisible visible include a super-resolution fluores-cence microscope, the MELTHEA compact particle therapy system, and the Veraview X800 dental 3D x-ray system, all in the field of medicine. Each also ad-dresses the prohibitive size, cost, or expertise usually required, which makes the equipment availa-ble to a wider user base and helps popularize the technology. As applied technology that defies our notions of time or space or that manages vast amounts of information, we can cite the Theta V 360° camera, the Synapse 3D image analysis system, and an 8K VR amusement ride. The first captures panoramas of the world around us, the second makes visible the complex internal structures of the body, and the third immerses us in VR through movement and high-resolution images. An intriguing example of applied technology that controls something very small can be found in the PaperLab A-8000 waterless in-office paper recycling sys-tem. And last, a candidate for this year's Grand Award, the Micra Transcatheter Pac-ing System is a tour de force of technical and manufacturing expertise.

As history unfolds, along with our inventions and innovations, we continue to flourish through en-lightenment and culture or wreak destruction in wars. Culture emerged long ago with language and farming, and energy brought the light of day into the night and gave us power. Now, IT is changing human awareness and abilities—even for core concepts long taken for granted, such as human beings and the planet. The act of linking advanced technology to human beings is tantamount to the act of creating humans of the future. The body and the environment were long viewed as being bound by natural laws, but an era where they can be controlled artificially and where human be-ings themselves are a frontier of design is an era where our ties with advanced technology will run deep. Without a doubt, it is precisely in times such as these that design fulfills a tremendous role and bears a great responsibility in creating human interfaces, and we find a need for new perspec-tives on technology and design.

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