In this blog you’ll read how the study of Futurology can help inform the software development and software testing community on upcoming trends and technological changes which may have an impact on our industry and career.
Software Development, testing and futurology
- What is Futurology?
- Possible, Preferable, Probable futures
- Futurology and Science Fiction
- Future trends – success criteria
- Example predictions: Voice Recognition, Currency Convergence, IoT
- Testing IoT – testing SOA projects
- Can we afford to ignore Futurology?
Flying cars and touchscreen technology. Mobile phones and space elevators. Examples of some of the technologies either with us or perhaps part of our future.
But how can we predict which trends will come to pass and which will fall by the wayside?
Do you feel as though you have a good understanding of upcoming trends and the impact they may have on your workplace? On your career?
Within technology some trends are highly predictable, and may even be described by hard and fast models such as Moore’s law which states that processor speed of computers will double every two years.
But no mathematical model could predict the rise of the likes of Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram etc. and the impact they would have on our social and professional lives.
As professional software testers some of the questions we should ask ourselves are:
- How prepared are we for rapid technological innovations and trends?
- Do we know what is coming next?
- What courses or training should we do?
- How can we continue to provide a professional Quality Assurance service in the face of all these changes?
Many large corporations use ‘futurists’ as part of their risk management strategy, for ‘horizon scanning’ and ‘emerging issues analysis’. As testers should we be taking a similar view in order to progress our careers and ensure we are in the best possible position to continue to provide quality testing?
In this short article I am going to take a look at the study of Futurology and the part it can play in to helping software testing remain relevant in the face of ongoing change.
What is Futurology?
Futurology attempts to gain a holistic view of potential futures based on insights from a range of different disciplines such as science, art, economics, philosophy, sociology, behavioural studies and engineering.
Considered speculative by its nature, often exploring the boundaries of human imagination, Futurology has nonetheless become a respected branch of academia.
Notable futurists include celebrity physicist Michu Kaku, Ray Kurzweil the Director of engineering at Google and most famously the author and thinker H G wells who some consider the father of Futurology.
In most cases Futurology tends to focus on the long term and is less concerned with short term prediction. However, due to the increasing speed of change Futurology does in fact have a lot to say about the areas and industries we may find ourselves involved in testing over the next few years.
So how reliable is Futurology?
Well, broadly speaking there is considered to be three different categories of futures:
Let’s look at these three broad categories and consider how reliable these predictions really are.
This class of futures includes all the kinds of futures we can possibly imagine – those which “might happen” – no matter how far-fetched.
For example a space elevator capable of lifting payloads into orbit, which may sound far-fetched but Japan’s giant construction company, Obayashi Corporation, has announced that it plans to build an elevator into space by the year 2050, using nano-enhanced materials such as carbon and graphite.
From a software testing point of view as fun as Possible future thinking is, it probably has less relevance to our own industry or at least to our careers in the next 5-10 years.
Preferable futures are concerned with what we “want to” happen; in other words, these futures are largely emotional rather than cognitive. They derive from value judgements, and are more overtly subjective than the previous two classes. Because values differ so markedly between people, this class of futures is quite varied.
The Apollo moon landing is an example of a Preferable future that was realised.
Carbon capture is a modern day example – perhaps not quite as eye-catching as a moon landing but arguably of far more value.
Probable futures are futures considered “likely to happen” and stems in part from the continuance of current trends.
Probable futures are considered more likely than Possible or Preferable. However, trends may fade out suddenly, while new ones may emerge unexpectedly.
Mass produced self-driving cars are a good example of Probable futures. We already have self-driving Google cars alongside planned trials of similar cars in Greenwich and Bristol.
Futurology and Science fiction
Of the three categories it is the Probable futures we should follow most closely as these futures are considered the most predictable. But which Probable futures are most likely to have an impact on our industry over the coming years?
For this it’s worth returning to one of the founders of Futurology, H G Wells, and the genre of Science Fiction.
HG Wells made some successful predictions such as the dominance of the car and the move to the suburbs but also some less successful ones around flight and submarines. Like Mr Wells if you want have fun thinking about where technology may take us you can do worse than considering the realms of science fiction for inspiration. Science fiction presents us with a mixed bag of predictions, some entirely wrong, others prescient, some inspiring progenitors of the future.
Star Trek: The 1960s Star Trek series has been particularly influential, having been credited with popularising automatic sliding doors (probable), mobile phones that flip open (preferable), and the warp drive (possible).
Back to The Future II: Many other science fiction films have been more hit and miss. The scene from Back to The Future II when the flying car arrives in 2015 is an example of a preferable future that is based more on desire and emotion than any realism.
The truth is flying cars are not that practical for a variety of reasons, not least landing space and negotiating other personal air vehicles (PAV) whereas the probable future of a world of driverless cars is looking far more likely.
Total Recall: Arguably the virtual reality that appears in films like Total Recall is practically here already, at least in terms of a potential lifestyle choice. There are a plethora of virtual worlds that millions inhabits on their devices every day.
Minority Report: featured some technologies that certainly seem prescient. The film has been credited with a number of Probable future predictions from biometrics to touchscreens to pre-crime and face-matching.
Future Trends – Success Criteria
There are number of keys to adoption which see some predictions take off and others never to leave the ruminations of futurologists.
One key to adoption is whether a prediction is compelling enough to become self-fulfilling – inspiring inventors to implement it? Star Treks sliding doors for instance
Possibly the most important factor is social forces as technology alone does not shape the future. Futurist predictions which bring people together through social, cultural, economic and technology connectivity have a strong chance of success.
Unexpected social factors meant that mobile phones, strikingly absent from much early 20th-century science fiction, spread faster than even technologists predicted.
Conversely, in some cases social forces can hamper its adoption. For instance, the advance of genetic engineering has been held up as much by social objections as technical ones.
By applying known success criteria can we second guess which other areas of technology we should pay attention to?
Let’s look at three innovations that are examples of futurologist predictions that have become or are soon to become the here and now.
You walk into your home after a hard day at the office and give the following commands ‘Lights, television, cook meal.’ Everyone’s favourite fantasy from a myriad of science fiction films.
Will we shortly reach a point where physical interaction with our various devices via touchscreen, keyboard or mouse will eventually be replaced by voice commands or will they continue to be complementary?
Right now when you speak to Siri or Google the results can be unreliable so we probably wouldn’t trust voice recognition technology in an automated car or a nuclear power stations.
But what would increasing voice recognition technology mean for testers? Will we need elocution lessons? Or on the contrary should we imitate as many regional and international accents as possible. We would certainly need to consult our dictionaries to find similar sounding words in order to test all the boundary conditions.
Personally I don’t know of any specialist voice testers but I can only assume they are out there and their work is likely to increase over the coming years.
Convergence of currencies
Another Possible future is a single global currency with something like the Euro or the Dollar extending its power across the globe. There already exists a ‘Single Global Currency Association’ dedicated to the goal of implementing a Global Monetary Union managed by a Global Central Bank by 2024.
A single global currency would have an impact on financial services and the myriad of supporting systems and beyond that any e-commerce, transactional systems or any systems which hold financial data.
Alongside traditional manual testing, the likes of security and performance are key to testing these potential changes to financial transactions. Certainly a trend worth watching if you wanted to steer your career into the world of finance.
‘The Internet of Things’ (also known as Machine2Machine or M2M which worryingly produces echoes of SkyNet and the Terminator series – a science fiction prediction none of us want to see!) is an expanding network of interconnected internet-enabled devices.
Some suggest that by 2020 there will be 50bn IoT devices all talking to each other on a constant basis and unlike our handheld devices like PCs, tablets and smartphones and watches the invisibility of IoT will find a way to weave itself into the fabric of everyday life.
The applications of IoT are only limited by the imagination. We already have connected thermostats and smoke detectors. Apple for example have introduced Homekit, an IoT platform that allows the unlocking of doors, turn on and off of lights via iPhone.
Phillips Hue LED light bulbs connect via wi-fi, flashing when the front door is knocked or you get an email. All controlled from your phone.
Haier touchscreen smart fridges provide a recipe based on its contents, notifies you of out of date items, and updates shopping lists.
And how about IoT enabled lavatory which checks your urine for pregnancy, or your stools for bacterial infection!
Of the three example predictions the upward trajectory and viability of IoT seems overwhelmingly compelling. However, it is still very much about collecting data, whether it’s your body fat or what’s in your fridge, then using that data to improve and manage your life, and some question if we want to turn our lives into a ‘temple of surveillance’.
Do we want every aspect of our lives tracked in a post Snowden world? Will these concerns put a halt or slow-down in the adoption of IoT. The continued popularity of Facebook would suggest not.
Testing IoT – testing on SOA projects?
For anyone who has worked on any Service Oriented Architecture projects many of the principles around testing SOA can be applied to testing IoT.
Middleware in SOA is referred to as software that facilitates exchange of data between two or more application programs within the same environment or different heterogeneous environments. The middle ware addresses the transformation and routing of messages to applications that manage authentication, authorization, and governance. This is essentially the underlying principle behind IoT.
When performing SOA testing, the same planning, designing, execution and reporting of test cases is followed, but testers need to put an additional effort into configuring or simulating required test environments, creating test harnesses, mocking etc. due to the complex nature of SOA solutions. The inclusion of different types of products that can be integrated also produces a larger set of testing combinations.
Frequently there is no GUI to interact with when testing on an integration level. But end user testing is likely to involve a plethora of devices leading to an increase in the size of our test labs.
Tools such as SoapUI can be used for web services testing and to help to understand and interrogate messages.
Other tools to consider for performance and functional testing include Apache Jmeter and
CURL, a command line tool that is used to send or retrieve information with the use of URL syntax.
Security will be a very important stream of our testing. What would happen in the event that our devices are hacked by someone with the ability to turn off our water supplies or unlock our doors? In the world of IoT how do we know that our test does not turn off the lights at a nuclear plant?
Tools such as Burp provide a variety of advanced features that can be used for security testing purposes.
Testers involved in mobile testing and app testing have already moved with the technological changes and trends. Could specialising in testing SOA based projects be a career option for you to consider? At the very least we should add the testing skills required to our toolkit.
Can we afford to Ignore Futurology?
I first considered writing an article on Futurology and testing over a year ago and during that time many of the trends and observations I read in various articles have become the here and now.
I would suggest we should all follow technological and social trends. Who’s to say you can’t become an expert tester in a particular area, becoming in demand for your expertise, because you identified a trend, re-trained and skilled up.
Many people unconsciously study trends for their children’s career encouraging our young ones to learn Cantonese, study water conservation or food management, train to become electric car mechanics. Shouldn’t you apply the same thinking to your career?
In a final tip of the hat to the father figure of Futurology, in a 1933 BBC broadcast H G Wells called for the establishment of “Departments and Professors of Foresight”. The software testing community would do well to consider such a department for our own field of work….