Designing for non-existent hardware

One of the odd things about research is that you often find yourself designing for a world that doesn’t exist. It’s a world that you believe will exist, but it’s not here now.

The general idea is that if commercial products are already out there now that can do something, then you shouldn’t be focusing on that for academic research. There are large corporations that have that mandate. Those corporations are very well funded, and they are doing a reasonably good job of serving their customers.

But serving customers who will use technologies that will not yet exist for another ten years is not their concern. That’s where academic research comes in. We can focus on asking questions that are well beyond the commercial horizon.

To do that we need to do a kind of fakery. For example, we might run a wire from a massive computer to a small handheld device, and pretend, for the sake of research, that we are holding a future device which is capable of doing all that massive computation on its own.

There may not be a market now for such a thing, because that wire stops you from taking the device with you. But you can still do lots of useful research to explore what it would be like if that device were untethered, and if you could take it with you.

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