24 Object Results


Emerging Technologies for Technical Communication (2019)

Curator: Jason Tham, University of Minnesota, USA | January–April 2019
Archivist Team: Khadir Albert, Bennett Christenson, Becca Waletzko, Brianna Cochlin, Sydney Rottman, Kelly Wolfe, Mariah Mullen, Adam Scow, Kevin Tchalla, Guangwei Wu, Taylor Huntley, Baylee Bessingpas, Sean McNally, Sarah Cohen, Irma Frlj, Nicole Gocker, Haley Sventek, Zachary Thomas, Timothy Kutyla, Matthew Stellpflug, Amir Coffey, JaeHeui Kim, Eleanor Stenglein, and Kendra Vigdal

Collection editor: Isabel Pedersen
Acquisitions Editor: Ann Hill Duin
Senior archivist: Sharon Caldwell

Technical communication is continually shaped by the advancing technologies that facilitate its process, practice, and professionalization. As the Society for Technical Communication puts it, technical communication mainly constitutes the act of “communicating by using technology” (“Defining,” 2019). In “What is Technical about Technical Writing,” David Dobrin (2004) highlights that “technical writing [and communication] is writing that accommodates technology to the user” (p. 118). Clearly, technical communicators must pay attention to the changing nature of communication and information technology in order to employ/deploy technology  appropriately for various purposes. In a world evolving towards futuristic technology, how might technical communication continue to advance alongside new affordances and limitations? How will innovations affect technical communication: will it provoke growth, regression, new ideas?

As part of the WRIT 3562W Technical and Professional Writing course led by instructor Jason Tham at the University of Minnesota, 24 undergraduate students have located emerging technologies across multiple industries with the attempt to envision how these technologies will shape the future of technical communication. As archivists, these students gathered multiple artifacts in response to the questions above. This collection seeks to explore the emergence of breakthroughs in the technological field that help to facilitate technical communication.

Researchers and companies are striving to bridge the inclusive nature of society by developing more accessible technologies. In this collection, the innovations showcased generally fall into four major categories:

(1) machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), including language translation, self-driving capabilities, and automating robotics, where machines would be capable of acting without human intervention;
(2) data transfer and security, which includes upgraded and portable wifi and cellular networks;
(3) biological engineering, which includes gene editing and stem cell therapy, genetic modification of food and heart attack detection; and
(4) reality management, both virtual and augmented reality and the relationship with technical communication.

Machine learning and AI
Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) will change the way we engage in technical communication in the future. A notable feature of these technologies includes real-time processing systems, delivering advanced knowledge to people across the planet instantaneously. Not only will general global society benefit from these technologies, AI and ML can be used to assist technical communicators in many ways. They can provide technical communicators insights into how best to approach communicating with certain audiences based on the audience's demographics and/or educational background.

For example, Cognex creates machines that save people time and money by helping improve efficiency. Specifically they designed a machine that can “see” and do the quality control checks. Related technology that allows machines “sight” has been used to help self-driving cars navigate. Yet another application of AI in the technical communication realm is real-time language translation. Although this software is available in a variety of formats, portable mobile devices or wearable earpieces may most readily help eliminate language barriers which otherwise would impede communication. What would take language scholars years to achieve and maintain can be accrued in a computer database capable of immaculate information retention and continuous learning. The list of potential benefactors of these technologies is endless, as it will affect the operations of organizations and individuals from global corporations to world tourists. The future of technical communication will be driven forward by the advancements of these technologies.

Data transfer and security
From handwritten notes to long distance phone calls to emails to texting, humanity has invented new ways to improve communication across the world for centuries. Today, networked communication is a norm. For instance, GeeFi is one of the most cutting edge networked communication technology. It aims to enable networked communication worldwide, especially in countries that do not have dependable WiFi. However, high internet coverage rate is not the only goal. In April 2019, the 5th generation (5G) cellular mobile communication technology will be launched for early-stage commercial deployment. The theoretical data transmission speed using the 5G network will be 20 Gbit/s, which is 100 times higher than the current 4G LTE technology. Different from previous generations, 5G is a new generation because it not only allows higher data transmission speed between portable devices, but also it permits the further development of machine learning and communication. With the prevalence of the 5G telecom technology, autopilot and many other AI technologies can be further developed.

Biological engineering
While biological conservation may not necessarily be on the radar of a technical communicator, this work is incredibly important to maintaining a functional global ecosystem, especially in modern times where the quality of our climate, environment, and planet is deteriorating rapidly. In order to keep up with this increasing demand for the conservation of the world’s many living things, technology and communication must adapt. With the advent of cheaper and more accessible production and design tools, this is a realistic possibility, and tools such as 3D printers and printable circuit boards can be used for innovative technologies in conservation. With this shift in how conservation technologies are developed, technical communication will have to adapt: these technologies will be used by a small fraction of the general population, but the general population will need to stay reasonably informed, which requires technical communication to relay scientific information to lay audiences. Additionally, these new technological innovations will need to be shared within the conservation community, which will require technical communicators to teach others how to use and apply these new advances.

Recently, scientists are administering gene therapies in the clinic to treat hereditary blindness. In the near future, we may have the ability to edit ourselves and newborns with near-absolute accuracy and safety. Technical communication is unlikely to keep up with the exponentially increasing rate of technological progress. Our future communicative abilities cannot be overstated but this is a mere sliver of what will change as a result of altering the collective intellect of the human species.

The food industry is another aspect of technical communication that may be overlooked. This industry is one that will never die out, and the growing population will need to find new ways to supply food to everyone. Using 3D printers to create food is a new technology that has been tested out in several restaurants, with the hope that it may be a common household appliance in the future. The idea that grocery stores could supply pre-loaded food cartridges to buy for future in-home printers was also discussed, which would change the course of cooking preparation and grocery shopping alike. Emerging technical communications will need to adapt to this new mechanism for ease of consumers and the future of the evolving food industry.

In this collection, we also pay attention to the life of those with chronic, life-altering diseases. Chronolife, for example, is a wearable heart monitoring device that is able to communicate continuously and rapidly between doctors and patients. This communicative innovation allows patients to lead normal lives, with fewer hospital visits and more transparency between patient and doctor. Similar to this, we can examine the use of nanobiotechnology. This type of technology is allowing researchers to look at patients of both human and animal varieties with different diseases and help cure them at a molecular level. This technology is allowing us to pave the way and find cures for diseases recently deemed incurable. By altering the patient at a molecular level, the hope is to eventually find a safer and more reliable way to cure cancer. The fact that this technological innovation is bridging the gap between human and veterinary medicine is also significant, for this collaboration is a rare occurrence.

“Reality” management
Reality management technologies allow information on plans and designs to be integrated into tasks and programs, making technical communication more efficient. Building Information Modeling (BIM), for example, revolutionizes architecture, engineering, and construction by making processes and designs understandable and analyzable at from design through construction.

The growth of augmented reality (AR) has been influential in our society. In 2016, Pokemon GO was introduced and flourished to create a community of users surpassing Tinder, Snapchat, and Twitter. We are seeing increased potential in the retail market in order to increase communication, deeper engagement, and better personalization. AR will be important in the future for companies to create unique experiences for their customers. They can do this by adding an experience where you can simulate the real world experience of buying online.

Undoubtedly, our digital-social experience are continually affected by emerging technologies. Social media platforms like Facebook are allowing so-called data brokers to learn even more personal information about its users and has even sold them the information. These data brokers turn around and sell the information to politicians and advertisers so that they can narrow their argument based on information about the user. In the future, the limits are endless for the wealth of knowledge technology can glean about a person.

In conclusion, this collection showcases various growing technologies that will impact technical communication. These budding technologies have the power to enhance people’s everyday lives and also bolster business development. To add a caveat, this collection is informed by the interests and developing expertise of the curators of this class. While we acknowledge that we have not covered all important grounds in examining the future of technical communication technologies, we hope to shed light on the trends that inform the directions of such development.

About the Collection
This team-based collection explores the growth and development of emerging technologies in the field of technical communication. Contributors are students enrolled in the course WRIT 3562W Technical and Professional Writing (Fall 2019) facilitated by instructor Jason Tham at the University of Minnesota.

Defining technical communication. (2019). Society for Technical Communication. Retrieved from https://www.stc.org/about-stc/defining-technical-communication
Dobrin, D. (2004). What is technical about technical writing. In J. Johnson-Eilola and S. Selber (Eds.), Central works in technical communication (pp. 107-123). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.  
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