Emerging technologies

Identifying six emerging technologies that could change the way government works says as much about government as it does about technology.

During the past two decades, government agencies have incorporated computers into nearly every aspect of their operations, reaping rewards in countless ways. But despite a plethora of developments that have followed in the computer's wake — not the least of which is the World Wide Web — the federal government remains a product of that PC revolution.

The desktop computer remains government's primary entry point to the vast troves of information it has collected, and its approach to managing that information still reflects the file-and-folder paradigm of PC operating systems. The technologies highlighted in this special report have the potential to change that mind-set.

The wireless local-area network, for example, leaves the PC intact but breaks its wire tether, giving agencies much more flexibility in managing their workspace. And recent developments could give the handheld computer a more significant role in the traditional office network alongside the PC, while VoiceXML makes it possible to leave the PC out of the picture altogether, giving people access to information over the phone.

Advances in information visualization and search engine software, meanwhile, should give agencies a much better handle on all the data at their disposal. Grid computing is something altogether new.

We compiled this list after talking with information technology experts in the federal community. No doubt it's easy to quibble over the six technologies that ended up on the list. But in the end, the particular choices are less important than the change in thinking that recent developments could help to bring about.

IN THIS SERIES

Search technology: "The search continues"

VoiceXML: "A voice from the near future"

Handheld computers: "Handhelds in a new world order"

Wireless: "Breaking the tether"

Grid computing: "Girding for the grid"

Visualization: "Data analysis: Picture this"

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