By Leo Beerden
GADGET REPUBLIC Gadgets are gadgets because they are novelties, nice-to-haves, but essentially superfluous. Oh, really? They used to be anyway. But that was before we started carrying them around and trust them with our precious data. So what will happen once we’ll start wearing our gadgets while connecting them? Connected wearables will change things for ever. Again.
Powerful technology is now small. Already miniaturized to the scale of house keys, credit cards, glasses, clothes, or even jewelry, it will soon be ubiquitous in daily life. It will not stop there, as tech will be small enough to put it under our skin. In 2030, some of us may already be fitted with a health monitoring device. 24/7-sensors will be on patrol for an ever increasing number of detectable illnesses. Need more features? Just upgrade the firmware. Your health monitor will now provide feedback after a workout, or encourage you to change one or two of your nutritional habits. Would you say that enough is enough? Keep tech out of your body, prevent it from dehumanizing you? That of course is entirely up to you, but your children will have to deal with the next stage of human evolution: connecting the brain itself. The Internet of computers will be an Internet of humans.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and look to the near future, say ten years from now. Devices like Google Glass will be as natural as today’s smartphone and you may be walking down the street reading your mail using the head-up display, phone in your pocket (if any). Concentrating on truckin’ right while checking Facebook (if it’s still there) will take some getting used to, but most of us will somehow manage to multitask away from sidewalk hazards. Using non-navigational features in a car may prove to be a different story, even prohibited, or automatically disabled.
Imagine 15 years on. The first generation of Google Glass is now an innovation landmark. An even more powerful processor made a really potent machine out of Glass 3.0 (and its competitors’ equivalents), and most people retired their smartphones several years ago. Personal computers now belong to IT-history. Technology is wearable, embedded, inherent, everywhere.
Scientist and author David Brin predicted devices like Google Glass almost 25 years ago. Set somewhere in the near future, his ‘True-Vu’ goggles record panoramic, high-definition videos and upload them real-time, a handy feature in case something happened to its owner. Popular with elders who seek security from their lifelogging toys, True-Vu glasses are, however advanced, essentially just a vcr. While Brin’s gadget permits him to venture on technology’s implications for our concept of privacy and the unfolding of a (DIY) surveillance society, he doesn’t explore its full potential. Fortunately, we will discover it ourselves. Even from our current perspective, there’s still a long and exciting road ahead.
So let’s examine some of the early ideas.
Start with the obvious. Already available in handy devices which can be carried around easily, ‘satnav’ manufacturers will aim for further miniaturization, better displays and easy access to travel-related information. Clearly this is Google Glass territory. Need directions to the railway station? Ask Glass when your next train leaves and follow the turn-by-turn instructions in your display. On the way there and tailored to your personal and present needs, advertisers will lure you towards their services. Hungry, but you have only 15 minutes before your train leaves? There’s a McDonalds around the corner, which you may prefer to the crowded one at the station. Glass will Happily pre-order your Meal. Got time? Matched with your culinary preference, Glass will seat you in a nearby restaurant. No need to wait for the bill afterwards, Glass will handle that. Promising to some, consumer-horror to others, this is the inevitable outcome when existing technologies assimilate.
Let’s explore this ‘vision revolution’ a bit further. What if anything we see could be shared in real-time? Start a video-call to see a co-worker, or rather join their view and participate in a project or a specific task. Imagine a surgeon assisted by a remote expert, while recording her work and dialogue. This could automatically be stored in a shared library, serving educational purposes. Glass-recordings may also cater for evidence in a legal setting.
Promising as the replication of human vision may be, a turbo-version of Glass could make observations on its own. Face and object-recognition could greatly improve the way visually impaired persons ‘see’ the world and people around them. Serious competition for guide dogs, as they are generally not good at telling you if it’s a can of peas or beans that you just grabbed from the shelf in the supermarket. Let alone read out the product information.
Information technology is changing the world. Let’s see what happens once it starts changing us.
Leo Beerden is Managing Director of NetExpert BV.