Friday, October 22, 2010


Most predictions of the future are silly linear extrapolations of the present. It is really hard trying to guess where things are going because the trends that seem so obvious don't blossom (I watched a sci-fi movie tonight that was made in 1967 where the characters talked with certainty that moon bases would be in place by 1980 bristling with weapons). Things which we don't feel a need for or can even conceptualize suddenly lurch out of the dark and become the dominant feature of our time (think Internet if you were sitting around in the late 1980s puzzling over where the future might go).

Here is an attempt at guessing the future. It is pretty compelling (as least it sounds right to me). Funny thing... this is what a cartoonist believes is right around the corner. This is a prediction by Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon:
A fun thing about the present is that it sometimes reveals glimpses of the future. Lately I have been enjoying a Google app for my phone that lets me speak search terms. The voice recognition is spectacular. I used it about five times yesterday. Fast-forward a few years, and let me paint a picture of your future.

You'll be wearing your Bluetooth earpiece - a future version of it - most of the day. And it will be listening to everything you say. When it hears you say, "I wonder..." it will fire up a search engine and wait for the rest of the sentence. The software will know you're using an earpiece, so the answer will be delivered as a brief verbal summary, like a smart friend whispering in your ear.

In the first versions of this service, you'll ask simple questions, such as "I wonder what ingredients go into a margarita," or "I wonder where the nearest Starbucks is." In later versions, as search engines and content sources evolve, you'll have access to more complicated answers, all with whisper-friendly brevity.

Now imagine that your earpiece has a camera. Google is already working on a search engine that will identify an object from a digital image. Someday you will be able to look at a flower and say, "I wonder what type of flower that is," and the answer will be whispered in your ear.

Now here's the cool-spooky part. As the technology improves, the voice in your ear will become more natural, and smarter, and it will be like your invisible friend. It will learn your preferences in a way no human ever has. I think it will be able to keep you company and make you less lonely. The whisper-in-your-ear aspect of this technology has the potential to feel like human contact but without the inconvenience of an actual human.

Now imagine that your earpiece can identify more key words than just "I wonder." It could learn to interject whenever it feels you need to be entertained, warned, informed, or even cheered up.

You'll also be able to control your environment through your earpiece. Just tell the TV what channel you want, and your smartphone will communicate with your cable box to make it so. You'll be able to verbally control your lights, heat, microwave, and just about anything else.

Now imagine you're also wearing a ring that senses motion and communicates with your smartphone. Your hand will become an air mouse to control everything from your cursor to the volume on your TV. If you're facing the TV, just say "volume" and move your hand higher or lower to adjust it. If you're in front of the computer, the ring would know to control the cursor.

Imagine walking into a room and turning on your ceiling fan simply by motioning toward it with a clockwise rotation of your hand. It would feel like having a magic power.

Imagine lifting weights and having your "reps" automatically whispered in your ear, along with encouragement that is appropriate to your exercise history. It would be your own personal trainer.

I often joke about become a cyborg - part human, part machine. But that day is coming for sure, and it will happen well within your lifetime. The first component is probably in your purse or pocket right now. And the second component might be in your ear.
I would classify this as a "linear extrapolation" of the future. That's what makes it so compelling as a projection of the future. What it is missing is the stuff that comes out of left field and completely surprises you. I have no idea what that might be, but looking at previous people's attempts at futurology, I'm pretty sure it is missing the wierd stuff. You know, stuff like we will all be living in a bit vat as a dissected brain sharing thoughts using a "mood juice" that flows around us while our robots tend us like a garden.

By the way... here's a wonderful "glimpse into the future of television" from 1980:

I'm sure you can recognize "today" in that presentation!

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