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Springfield, MO

Bluebird Underground Data Center general manager
Bluebird Underground Data Center general manager

2017 Technology Outlook: Todd Murren

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First sketched on a napkin in 1999, Todd Murren leads the data center operations at Springfield Underground.

2017 Projection: Autonomous vehicle technology will begin to transition to self-driving over-the-road trucks.

SBJ: What is the state of technology to you?
Todd Murren: We’ve been on this roll called Moore’s Law, which says integrated circuits, computer power, is going to double roughly every 24 months. We’ve been on that (path) for now over 50 years. That’s exponential acceleration. The numbers get big and the change becomes significant.

Here’s the proof: Cars that drive themselves. Really? We have computers creating virtual reality scenarios for humans. And now I can print a 3-D object. That’s the exponential acceleration.

SBJ: What will be the most disruptive product or software in 2017?
Murren: It’s not going to be a light switch event. But you’re going to hear Verizon and AT&T talking about fifth generation. Mobile. They’re talking about speeds of 1-10 gigabits per second to your phone. That gets a little phenomenal. Now, you can watch TV on that device. With those kinds of speeds, that’s happening.

SBJ: Is there a tech field you see growing the most?
Murren: Software development of applications. There are just too many avenues and resources. If you do buy that 5G phone and it’s 1-10 gigabits per second that phone can communicate, where does that stop? It knows precisely where you’re at and can communicate what you tell it to, but now we’re getting into the wearable technologies. That’s a little scary. It’s going to be wonderful, and we have the great potential for terrible, also. Wearable technologies – you can communicate your heart rate, breathing rate, body temp; they’re talking about technologies woven into the fabric of the clothes you wear and of course, there’s always the implants. It’s already there with heart surgeries and devices they can read without having to cut the skin. There is big opportunity in medical information.

SBJ: You’re in the data business. There’s been millions of dollars invested locally in broadband services – do you see that trend continuing or has investment met demands?
Murren: As long as the appetite is for more data and more information, we’ll see that continue to grow. The build-out of the network is very much what it was in the 1930s for electrification. We’ll continue to upgrade network capabilities. There’s the virtual reality, and with data, the guy wants to remotely look at all of his thermostats and control them, video streaming from the house, it will continue.

SBJ: Other investments you see being made? Where would you place some seed money?
Murren: The internet of things. That’s so generic. You can get lost in that. It means different things – but security of residences and monitoring; look at Nest. They turned the thermostat industry upside down, and look who swooped in and bought Nest: Google. Now, they’ve got Nest devices that monitor for radon.

You talk about the internet of things, look at your car: It’s Bluetooth enabled, satellite communications, maybe Wi-Fi.

Where it gets really interesting is the trucking industry. It wigs me out because I don’t want to meet that 80,000-pound thing going 75 mph [without a driver]. Think about it: trucks are interstate, mainline, the routes are well known, they’re GPS-mapped.

You may see that truck driving itself. The truck will start partially driving itself and the driver will still be there, but he’ll be able to finish his reports, or watching Netflix or looking out the window.

SBJ: What’s the next technology?
Murren: The internet of things and self-driving vehicles. I really do think it’ll be trucking. You don’t think people like Robert Low will look at that, crunch the numbers and say yes as soon as it’s safe and legal?

It can’t be any different than back when we were all riding horses and we met that first automobile. Got to be that same uncomfortable feeling, except we’re going a whole lot faster.

SBJ: The information technology employment pool is about 4,000 deep and there’s been an identified skills gap in technology. How will the skills gap close?
Murren: I see job training as a motivating factor. (Companies) have a specific skill set they’re looking for and will help you achieve that skill set and you will be an ideal candidate. I see more of that type of development of skills.

SBJ: What segment of the tech industry is most lacking locally?
Murren: Network security and application security. Those are two unique areas for what I would call advanced levels that come with certain certifications. On the security side, there’s a certified trusted hacker after you’ve gone to hacking school; it’s recognized by AT&T.

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