Scientists from around the globe are bandying about ideas on how to geoengineer the sky, turn skin into stem cells and make marine parks in the ocean right now. And they’re doing it in San Diego.

In what’s billed the “Olympics of Science,” thousands of researchers are presenting their work, from the academic to the otherworldly, at the country’s largest annual scientific conference at the downtown Convention Center through today.

Locals are well represented in the American Association for the Advancement of Science program.

Qualcomm co-founder and former CEO Irwin Jacobs, in a talk Friday, forecast a world where hundreds of billions of devices talk to each other. In the futuristic “Internet of Things” cars, dog collars and shipping boxes pass data amongst themselves about where they are, what they’re doing and the weather.

A wireless world where our stuff cyber-communicates could mushroom the wireless market to 50 billion devices by 2020. Although Jacobs said a mere 10 billion may be a more accurate estimate. In either case, wireless devices would outnumber people by the billions.

Jacobs opened his talk by pronouncing, “It’s okay to leave your cell phones on.”

When he co-founded Qualcomm in 1985, Jacobs never thought they’d focus on the internet or cell phones at all. Now he sees areas, like healthcare, just on the cusp of the wireless technology takeoff.

Devices with biosensors could feed us medicine, monitor our blood pressure and call the doctor during a close call — not to mention take our weight automatically (although that would be optional, of course). Plastic credit cards and paper schoolbooks may become relics, thanks to wireless devices.

“More and more I suspect our access to the internet will be wireless, not just between persons but also machines,” Jacobs said. “And one of our focuses is to make sure we just don’t overload the whole system.”

Kc Claffy of the San Diego Supercomputer Center at UCSD spoke to that possibility.

“We’re reaching the limits of what the internet can handle,” said Claffy who studies big-picture architecture of the internet.

Claffy said the internet was born in the defense department and wasn’t built for billions of users. IP addresses will run out in two years unless we move to the next generation architecture, she said.

She also posed concerns the web has gone largely unregulated, though we entrust it with our most personal data.

“This was invented in the 60s for a military test bed,” Claffy said. “It was never intended to leak out of the lab and have you doing your banking on it, much less my medical stuff.”

Lee Rainie, who directs the Pew Internet and American Life Project, painted a picture of the wireless world marching on nonetheless. In a recent Pew study, most internet experts agreed that “the environment in 2017 or 2018 will be so different, it can’t be anticipated now,” Rainie said.

In 2000, for example, few imagined a now favorite companion, the iPhone. No one connected to the web wirelessly back then, compared to 53 percent of computer users in 2010.

In other words, if we could predict innovation, it wouldn’t be innovation.

Check back on more from the conference throughout the week.


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