Tech Matters: Laurentian gaming prof gives tech hits, misses of the last decade

Professor Aaron Langille, CBC Sudbury’s tech columnist, says advances in artificial intelligence, or AI, is one of technology’s greatest accomplishments in the past decade.

Streaming played big last decade, while VR boom never became a reality

Aaron Langille is a professor of computer science and game design at Laurentian University in Sudbury. (Aaron Langille/Supplied)

Professor Aaron Langille, CBC Sudbury's tech columnist, says the advancement in artificial intelligence, or AI, is one of technology's greatest accomplishments in the past decade.

"This could spark a little bit of controversy for people that are worried about robots taking over, but artificial intelligence has come a really long way particularly in the last 10 years," Langille said. "Not just in terms of new techniques for artificial intelligence but also new applications."

Langille points to "deep learning," where computers are able to process large amounts of information and make sense of them — like identifying which photos have cats and which ones have dogs — as something that has been successful, and will likely lead to further advances.

"The technology that we're using to sort our faces into folders on our phone is also being used in self-driving cars," Langille said, "and decision support for medical decisions."

The Spotify logo is displayed on a screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., May 3, 2018. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Langille said that cloud computing and streaming services — think iCloud, Netflix and Spotify — have also been big hits of the past decade.

"With the technology sort of levelling out in terms of speed and things, what we're doing is we're actually combining resources or putting a whole bunch of computers together and all of a sudden we have cloud resources," Langille said. 

"We are spending a lot more of our energy uploading photos and backups and things like that to the cloud. I don't tend to be one of the people that worries about my data being up in the cloud. But we've seen a huge increase in the amount of data that we're we're putting to services like that."

Cloud services may have helped in business applications, but Langille said content creators and the people who consume that content have been equally affected.
"What we see with these streaming services particularly things like Netflix and Spotify is the opportunity for us to consume content a little bit differently and for creators to create content a little bit differently," he said.

"With the Spotify model you don't necessarily have to have a whole album. As a content creator you can upload one or two songs. And as consumers we can pull down just the songs that we like."

"It changes the way that we consume the media, but it's definitely something that has had a huge impact over the last 10 years."

The CBC's Roger Corriveau tries out virtual reality with Laurentian University professor Aaron Langille. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

One of the big flops of the past decade, or at least something that didn't live up to its hype, was virtual reality, or VR, Langille said.

"It's cool to have around, but it's hardly in every home," Langille said. "When I ask my students who's played such and such a VR game or who has a VR setup at home, I might get two out of 30 students. It just hasn't caught on."

But that's no reason to throw out your VR goggles yet, Langille said.

"I think it will catch on, but I think what happened is we kind of maxed out the content, so instead of maxing out the technology we kind of maxed out the content and all the games were very very similar."

"What we need is somebody to come along and do something really cool, really interesting to revitalize it," Langille said. 

"The technology is also pretty expensive and it's not just the VR gear itself. You also have to have the computer to run it. So there are a couple of barriers to VR that I think need to be solved before it's going to be a big tech hit." 


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