Predicting the Black Swans

Professor with tablet.

Published March 5, 2015 This content is archived.

Back to the Future has arrived. When Marty McFly and Doc Brown sat inside the famous DeLorean in part II of the futuristic franchise, they set a course for October 2015. While there are no hover boards or flying cars today, certain predictions such as TV glasses and video conferencing have come true.


In January 2015, I attended an event designed around predicting improbable high impact ideas for the future, the New Media Consortium’s Black Swan Ball.

I would like to share four of key enabling technologies discussed:

Imaging (3D printing)

3D printing is the process of making three dimensional objects from a digital file. Capable of creating everything from toy models and parts to apartment buildings, cars, and even food, this technology has exploded over the past year or so.  It could have a significant impact on experiential student learning at institutions like UB through to rapid product development and production.

The Quantified Self

How do we quantify ourselves? Technology is now being incorporated into data acquisition on aspects of a person’s daily life in terms of inputs (i.e. food consumed), states (i.e. mood, blood oxygen levels), and physical or mental performance. Think about the popular Fitbits that can track your miles walked and other vitals. How much is this information worth? Could it change the way we function? And who owns this information?

Machine Learning

Computer programs are now being developed that teach themselves to grow and expand when exposed to new information.

In terms of possible impacts on higher education and the University at Buffalo, machine learning could lead to the development of online or robotic instructors, with typical human functions replaced by robots.

The Internet Network

The collection and analytics of “big data” for efficiencies and competitiveness is substantially on the rise. Concerns over Internet privacy continue to grow. How can data be used, and who owns it? This has been widely debated, particularly since the introduction of the European Commission’s “right to be forgotten” laws.

What Are Predictions Worth?

In 1936, The New York Times reported that “a rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.” Fast forward to 1995 when Newsweek reported that “the Internet is just a fad.”

Predicting the future is challenging. Is there a “black swan” on the horizon based on these or other enabling technologies?

UBIT focus remains on the current and future technology needs of our faculty and students. We will keep an eye on the ever-changing technology landscape while maintaining a robust and expandable IT infrastructure to (hopefully) accommodate the next “black swan.” Who knows…maybe it will start right here at UB.

What Do You Think?

In your opinion, what will be the next "black swan" in technology? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

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