“Sure, the Frinkiac 7 looks impressive– Don’t touch it!– But I predict that within 100 years, computers will be twice as powerful, 10,000 times larger, and so expensive only the five richest kings in Europe will own them.”
Professor Frink, The Simpsons, Series 7, Episode 23, 1996
We’ve always been laughably bad at predicting what technology is going to look like in the future. Alexander Graham Bell famously quoted “I truly believe that one day there will be a telephone in every town in America”. Today, we’ve got a telephone – complete with a supercomputer – for every cerebral hemisphere. From the mainframe, through the PC, and on to the smartphone – computers have been getting smaller and smaller even as their processing power keeps increasing. This has gone hand in hand with the ubiquity of computing devices; from something that could only be afforded by the largest of organizations, to something that is owned by every individual. As the progress of computers is to get continuously smaller and cheap, it’s easy to see we will soon see a world where they easily outnumbered people a world where they move from being separate devices to being integrated utterly into our lives.
So what form will this integration take? The two most likely options are Wearables and Home Automation – computerizing ourselves, and computerizing our world.
Automating Our Homes
Currently, the smart home is a luxury product. But with ever-improving micro technology intersecting with rising energy prices, we may soon find that home automation becomes a necessity to us all.
It’s easy to imagine a home controlled from your mobile device – already, you can purchase commercial systems to set your thermostat from an app. In the next two years, we will be developing systems that cater to real life generic needs such as stable implementation of lighting systems, entertainment systems, intrusion detection and monitoring systems and so on. The immediate challenges for developers looking to work in the home automation space is likely to be wrangling amazing UI for our new remote controls. Are you relishing the prospect of creating an interface that lets a whole family squabble over the thermostat, the lighting, and more, all from their cellphones?
Beyond that? Established systems will become more advanced and scalable to perform complex and dynamic tasks. Security will be much more than retina and fingerprint scans, and move towards mapping multiple biometric feeds. Home assistance will progress to speech, mood and behavioral recognition. How about your own AI assistant that learns the needs of your and your family, and controls your home accordingly? Already, the likes of GoogleNow can make predictions about your movements and habits. The future will see this technology become refined and integrated across our automated homes – smart houses that turn on the lights for when we get up, get the hot water ready for when we shower, track the weather forecast and adjust the heating accordingly – all without us lifting a finger.
Wearing Our Tech
Today, the successful wearables are either those with narrow applications like fitness monitoring, or providing ‘second screen’ options to our phones. Tomorrow? So many of the proposed areas of what the future of tech will look like require us to be plugged in to a wearable device. From Internet of Things monitoring and tracking our body’s vital signs, to gesture computing, to virtual and augmented reality – all of these assume the taking computing devices out of our pockets and putting them onto our bodies.
Skeptical? Sure, Google Glass may have died a death, but the history of tech is littered with the bodies of ideas that were just before their time. The Apple Newton did not usher in the age of personal devices like the iPhone did; the failure of the Rocket eBook did not mean the Kindle was doomed from the start. I’m personally hoping that just because Glass failed to get any serious traction does not mean I’m never going to get my Spider Jerusalem or Adam Jensen glasses-based HUDs.
One thing’s for sure though – we’ll carry more and more computing power wherever we go. Just like advances in miniaturization and technology meant that the pocket watch was superseded by the wrist watch in the name of efficiency, we’ll see our outfits come to incorporate these always-available personal assistants, giving us information and guidance based on context. One study by ONWorld has portrayed a wearable tech industry on the cusp of reaching $50 billion within the next five years. According to the research, more than 700 million wearable tech units will be shipped to a market eager for advanced technology on their wrists, on their face, and even incorporated into their clothing.
The Internet of Everything
Ultimately, the success of wearables and home automation will be about incorporating our own squishy, organic forms into the Internet of Things. As wearables and home automation allow the data of our lives to be seamlessly recorded and crunched, the ability of technology to predict our need and accommodate us only increases. In ten years time? Our phone might know us better than we know ourselves.
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