IEEE's Future Directions Programs Target Reliability


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Dan Feinberg speaks with Kathy Grise, IEEE Future Directions senior program director, at the AWE conference recently in San Jose, California. In this excerpt, Dan and Kathy discuss the importance of reliability, blockchain, recruiting younger generations, etc.

Dan Feinberg: Kathy, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today about IEEE. As you know, I’m also involved with the IPC; we’re seeing some things with regard to some standards, perhaps having to be tightened. Reliability has to improve. It used to be that if your cellphone failed after 10,000 hours of use, that was acceptable—you’d get a new cellphone. But if we’re talking about things like autonomous driving, reliability is key.

One of the topics I heard a lot about at IPC APEX EXPO 2019 was reliability. I’m on the IPC Hall of Fame Committee that’s putting together the next senior executive forum, and one topic we’re considering is standards for reliability, etc. IPC standards, of course, are very important to the industry, but I know that IEEE does an awful lot of things on reliability too.

Kathy Grise: From a reliability perspective, I totally agree with you. It’s always been a top-of-mind topic, dating back to the old IBM days where reliability was key in terms of chips and redundancy in chips. But it’s beyond that now.

Feinberg: Yes, well beyond that. Reliability in electronics is now critical to saving lives, not just making phone calls.

Grise: Reliability is really in the mainstream. That’s, I think, the most significant difference as compared to years ago—even our cars today and autonomous driving.

Feinberg: That’s right; it’s coming.

Grise: I have a Tesla. Honestly, I’m still not that confident in it; I won’t do hands-free driving yet. I still have my hands on the wheel and watch the road. It’s not so much the reliability now because there’s a human factor involved that you can’t control.

Feinberg: True. You can’t predict or control what other humans are going to do.

Grise: At IEEE, we’re trying to address the overall connectivity of everything. Because when we started out in Future Directions, I felt like we were very siloed. So, we started out with an initiative on smart grids, such as the electrical power grid and its impacts.

Feinberg: I did not realize that.

Grise: If you look at it again, the same problem set was being addressed but by different people. Then, there was another initiative on cloud computing. They were only focused on the issues regarding cloud computing, but if you looked at both, they were trying to solve the same problems. Coincidentally, people weren’t stepping back enough and saying it affects the same constituency. It goes back to addressing practitioners—the users and consumers. It’s no longer limited to just a finite set of people. Over the last year, we’ve learned that we need to work better together, and that’s where IEEE has tried to break down those barriers. This year, for Future Directions, we have a Blockchain Initiative. Then, there’s the Brain Initiative, which also encompasses some work on blockchain, along with the Digital Reality Initiative and more.

Feinberg: There’s a lot more to blockchain than just cryptocurrency, obviously, but that’s how the public sees it.

Grise: It really drives towards privacy and even ethics and societal implications. It’s a whole new paradigm with blockchain. It’s not just about Bitcoin; it’s about protecting data. That’s where we’ve realized that it’s just not the blockchain effort that we’re working on. For example, we closely partner now with people from the Brain Initiative because a lot of neuroscience, machine interface, etc., might rely on blockchain.

This all goes back to reliability because, in this day and age, there’s no protection nor privacy where they could modify what is real and make it fake, which is very disconcerting. But again, it’s important to bring that human factor in because that’s where we need humans to stand up and say they accept this technology. It’s an enabler, it makes my life easier, but we have to have controls in place and our own personal responsibility. It’s important to have that redundancy as well as both technological and human involvement.

Feinberg: I’ve seen the reemergence of and the tremendous change in IEEE over the last few years.

Grise: And you saw this year how we’re really trying to reach out more to younger generations because we realized that our IEEE membership is aging. Companies’ workforces are aging as well. We need to address and develop the new generations that are coming in.

Feinberg: Thanks, Kathy, and I look forward to keeping up with what IEEE is doing in the coming years.

Grise: Thank you, Dan.

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