Photo by Derek Huang

Bwog corespondent Derek Huang reports on Friday morning’s Armstrong Memorial lecture from his wireless device:

Humans have reaped the benefits of the wireless transmission of information for several decades now through the development of the wireless telegraph, radio, television, cellular phones, and now, wireless Internet. However, the challenges facing the proliferation of wireless networks are still large: though we often expect Wi-Fi and cellphone service to be nearly ubiquitous, in reality, spotty, slow, or non-existent coverage is often the result of network congestion. While this writer chooses to blame all the iPhone users, H. Richard Poor, Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Princeton University, has a different explanation. Speaking on Friday as a part of the Armstrong Memorial Lecture series, he profiled the historical development of wireless technologies and provided insight on the direction of further innovations. The title of his talk, “Wireless: Revolution and Evolution,” suggested an enticing premise: wireless technology, still very new, is antiquated with regard to technology’s short lifespan.

After a brief introduction from SEAS Dean Peña-Mora, Poor began his talk by chronicling the development of wireless technologies. He highlighted the development of wireless technology as extensions of networks, which themselves are all analogues of already existing methods of communication: telephone networks are essentially an analogue of conversations; computer networks, the postal service; and broadcast networks, newspapers. Poor also identified wireless technology as essentially allowing the end user “freedom,” as the wireless part of networks allows users to connect to an existing large wired network, such as the Internet. Poor then described the astounding importance of cellular networks. Citing nearly 3.5 billion cellphone users worldwide, he claimed that “the cell phone is the principal computing device of the world, in terms of numbers.” Wireless technology, particularly in the context of cell phone usage, is significant not only from a technical but also a social perspective. While we enjoy nearly nationwide cellphone coverage, concerns over the privacy and politics behind these networks are issues that will only become more and more significant. Looking to the future, Poor predicted that the fate of wireless networks lies in the trends that Apple, Google, and Microsoft have recently been setting; specifically, the “convergence of computing and communications” has been expedited by efforts to deploy application-like behavior on cellphones (such as Microsoft Mobile and the Symbian OS) and communicator-like behavior on computing platforms (such as Google’s Android).

Doubtlessly struggling to fight the food-coma from shamelessly exploiting an assortment of delicious (and free) fruits, pastries, bagels, and lox and cream cheese (like this writer certainly did), the audience seemed slightly more receptive to the significantly more technical final fifteen minutes of the talk. Poor detailed the developmental backgrounds and futures of four projects that are “pulling” researchers: network security, multimedia, inference in social networks, and social networking. However, Poor devoted too little time to this portion of his lecture.

While he devoted nearly three quarters of his talk to detailing mostly familiar background information, the four most interesting and challenging points of his lecture received only 15 all-too-short minutes. Poor often stopped himself due to time constraints just as the technical concepts were fleshed out, instead referring attendees to other academic studies. Especially with regards to some of the most significant societal implications of the subject – such as the division of the broadband spectrum that, after all, is “owned by the public” and the implications of an always-connected culture – Poor acknowledged the effect of wireless technology but rarely confronted the issues it raises.