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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Singularity is… errm… on its way, I think

Mark Bridge writes:

I’m an optimist. I’m not quite sure why I’m wired that way but I’m perfectly happy with it. Much as you’d expect, I suppose. And although I tend not to tap-dance in the gutter when it’s raining, I firmly believe that life is like a musical.

That’s probably why I’m such a fan of what’s become known as ‘the Singularity’; a point when technology and evolution are expected to combine. As computers become smarter, so they’ll be able to build smarter computers themselves – and before you know it they’ll be repairing people and improving the design. If all goes well I’ll look like a combination of Robocop and Jude Law.

Of course, it might not quite work out that way. Watch out for Skynet, Agent Smith and the Master Control Program.

“Fascinating”, I hear you say. “Bring on the medical nanobots. But what’s all this got to do with mobile phones?”

Excellent question. It’s just that when I start looking towards the future, it seems that current mobile technology is a bit clunky. That’s when my optimism gets a bit shaky. Forget artificial intelligence, I don’t even have decent coverage at home unless I pay Vodafone to steal my broadband with one of its femtocells. Many of us are still using a stylus to peck at tiny on-screen characters. GPS mapping can be painfully slow to respond. Calls drop. Batteries expire. Networks get overcrowded. Even the much-loved iPhone is acclaimed predominantly for its operating system, not for its technological advance.

Which, as Carrie Bradshaw often said, got me to thinking. Exactly what am I looking for in my next phone?

I want plenty of memory. Actually, no I don’t. I want access to the memory that’s on my laptop in my office. The laptop that’s too big to carry everywhere. So perhaps I need a smaller laptop. Maybe I do want plenty of memory after all. Oh, and a physical keyboard. Or at least a decent-sized on-screen keyboard. But not too big, otherwise I’ll have the laptop problem again. And I’ll look a bit daft holding it to my ear. Perhaps the ‘Spider Computer’ that Ericsson mentions in its Life in 2020 project. Mind you, when I was younger (and stronger) I carried a Nokia Communicator for a while. Now, that was a cutting-edge piece of kit.

I’m pretty sure the basic technology I want all exists today. To start with, I can already store all my data in the cloud. I may not trust it but I can certainly do it. Apple’s multi-touch screen was born with the iPhone, while Nokia has patented ultrasonic gesture control. Augmented reality is starting to go mainstream – just imagine how well it would work with a pair of video glasses. (I’ll do without the Bluetooth contact lenses for a while). I can even get a computer that fits into the size of a plug. So my portable, easily controllable device is realistic. Why can’t I find it?

The answer, I fear, is the stuff that’s bugged mobile phone owners since Ernie Wise called Vodafone’s office above the curry house in 1985. It’s battery life. It’s coverage. It’s cost. And it’s combining them all in a device that doesn’t compromise one in favour of the others.

All we seem to be doing at the moment is dancing round the edges of the problem. It feels as though there’s something just waiting to be invented – or improved – or perfected – and then I’ll have the mobile phone I want. I don’t know what the answer is… but I’m hoping it’ll be delivered by singing rats in a gondola. Or something very similar, with music by Marvin Hamlisch.

Author: The Fonecast
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