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September 12, 2017

Apple’s iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X were announced Tuesday, and amongst their new features are improved sound, upgraded cameras and wireless charging — not to mention the iPhone X's wholly new, all-screen look and Face ID. 

These improvements in sight, sound and application practically guarantee to make our addiction to smartphones even stronger.

Ashraf Gaffar, a professor in Arizona State University's SchoolThe school is part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, researches artificial intelligence, human-centered design and complex software development. He recently gave ASU Now his expert take on the new technology and our continuing fascination with the rock-star device.

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Ashraf Gaffar

Question: People can’t seem to live without their smartphones. How could a simple gadget end up penetrating our lives so deeply?

Answer: Smartphones quickly evolved into an all-in-one companion that fulfills many of our daily needs while being easy to use, lightweight and immediately available. As if the idea of having a cellphone was not good enough (and it was), adding a camera made it much more appealing. However, the true love came with SMS, Wi-Fi and internet connectivity, followed by an amazing number of apps, and the features keep growing.

Q: From a computing engineering standpoint, how have the engineers made this device so addicting?

A: Smartphones today have more computing power than NASA's computers who sent us to the moon in the 1960s. It is an engineering miracle to be able to add such computing power in a lightweight, battery-operated, pocket-sized device that can handle advanced computing and communication tasks never thought of before. While these features did not appear overnight, the global acceptance and the exponential widespread of smartphones motivated computing engineers to do what was unthinkable just a decade ago.

Q: What are some of the new features of the new iPhones that will be more attractive than ever?

A: Apple has always impressed everyone with their leadership in delivering amazing smartphones that exceed our expectations. On the surface, iPhone 8 is a major step forward in addressing users' pain points that we never thought would be solved. Better charging methods will really make users happier. Dropping your iPhone will not be a major frustration anymore (the new models are made of aluminum and are water-resistant). New features like better camera, augmented reality and intelligent machine vision are new features that we didn't even think we could see them on a smartphone.

The real achievement is how they increased the computing power even more to accommodate such advanced features. Apple definitely seems to know how to raise the bar of excellence.

Q: What advice would you give to people who spend hours a day using their device? 

A: I always tell smartphone users and my students to remember that it is a great companion, but it remains just a companion. Don’t let it overtake your life. You still need to go out with friends, not just text them. You still need to have dinner with your family, go for an outdoor picnic or a trip and — once in a while — try to live without your smartphone for a day. You will really appreciate things around you that you did not notice before.

Q: Looking at its amazing growth, what would be the ultimate smartphone of the future?

A: While we probably ask this question a lot, it's really hard to tell the long-term future of smartphones. We can already predict more computing power, longer battery life, better and cheaper connectivity, better cameras and ever smarter apps. These are all engineering challenges that will be improved, but will not define the "future" smartphone. In my opinion, the future will be defined when we get there for the simple reason that some more "disruptive" technologies will appear — like Facebook and Twitter did — that will change our lives into a new direction. The beauty of it is that it remains unknown until we stumble on it. So while we know more futuristic disruption are coming our way, we cannot predict them with our today's knowledge.

 

Top photo: iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are precision‑engineered to resist water and dust. Photo courtesy of Apple

 
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ASU climatologist says trio of hurricanes might just be bad coincidence

September 13, 2017

ASU professor's research is on extreme weather; says recent powerful storms don't necessarily point to climate change

Arizona's official climatologist says she thinks the recent trio of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Jose may simply be a terrible and unfortunate coincidence and is not necessarily a result of global warming.

Nancy Selover, a professor in ASU's School of Geographical Sciences and Urban PlanningThe School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning is a unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences., focuses on extreme weather in her research. Selover educates groups around Arizona on climate topics, including urban heat islands, monsoons, drought, climate change and Arizona's climate more generally. She recently spoke to ASU Now about one of the most devastating hurricane seasons in decades.

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Nancy Selover

Question: Are these three hurricanes occurring so close to each other a rare coincidence or a harbinger of things to come?

Answer: I think it’s a rare coincidence. We typically see hurricanes follow each other moving into the Caribbean, particularly at the peak of the season (which is now). One of these formed in the Gulf and the other formed in the Caribbean, and both benefitted from extremely warm water, which is required to get to Category 5, among other factors.

Q: So is this not a result of global warming as others in academia have claimed?

A: I don’t think this is a result of global warming as we have had many storms more powerful than these prior to 1960, including many Category 5 and 4 storms. We tend to focus on the most recent storms as being worse than historical storms because we have so much coverage of them and a larger population that puts itself in the path of the storms. The probability of a major hurricane making landfall anywhere on the Gulf or Atlantic coast is exactly the same as it was 100 years ago. What is not the same is that 100 years ago the number of people at risk by being in the path was at least one order of magnitude smaller.

Q: Do you predict hurricanes will become stronger and more powerful in the future? 

A: It’s been 12 years since Katrina and Rita, and it has been relatively quiet since then, other than Sandy, which was very different in its path and timing and was at the end of the season. Sandy was not even a hurricane when it came ashore, so I think it’s important to remember that any tropical storm has the capacity to devastate a coastal community. If the ocean waters become warmer, the available energy for major hurricanes increases, but warm water is not the only condition necessary for forming, strengthening or sustaining a hurricane. If it were, then Jose would have followed Irma as a Category 4 or 5.

Q: Any other types of weather-related disasters you think might be coming our way? 

A: If the warmer waters of the eastern Pacific, western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico are sustained, more evaporation will occur and we will have the potential for heavier rain (or snow) events due to the increased moisture. It would be nice if it came in the winter as snow. But for the past few years, it has been adding to the monsoon moisture resulting in some heavier rain events, which lead to local flash flooding.

Q: What are preventive measures that we as a society can do to ensure the longevity of our planet? 

A: That’s an impossible question to answer as the planet will be fine regardless of what we do. I think the longevity of ourselves and the ecosystems are of more concern. The Earth has changed drastically over hundreds of millions of years and will continue to do so, with or without us.  

Q: What type of natural disasters might Arizona be facing one day? 

A: We have earthquakes, though small, and our volcanic activity is probably behind us. Our weather-related disasters will continue to be the same ones we currently have: winter storms, heavy rain or rain-on-snow leading to flooding, drought and wildfires. We aren’t likely to have hurricanes, though we do get the remnants of tropical storms mixed into the monsoon. We do have tornadoes, but typically only EF3 or smaller, and even the very small ones are rare. I don’t expect that will change. Because we are an arid state, we have so much variability already in our weather that we do a much better job than most places in handling that variability.