What future technology are you excited for?

posted by on 19th February 2014, at 10:18pm | Discuss Article

One of the most common things to be asked about is the future of technology. The future of technology is important to each and every person. Future technology will undoubtedly play some part in good versus evil at some point. All technology that has been invented in the past has had numerous applications each with their own benefits and downsides to the greater population as a whole. This month I am going to talk about three future areas of technology that I would like to see advance that would enable the human race to move forward. Aside from the long shots of antimatter based energy, reliable cold fusion, or warp drive these are going to be technological advancements that are all achievable within a short amount of time (say a decade). Let us begin!

In past years on Informer I have written about the most desirable home media setups. The ideal home media setup should be ubiquitous and accessible anywhere from any device. In the past two years great strides have been made towards achieving this goal. It is almost possible to accomplish this with either an Apple or Microsoft centric setup. As some may be aware, I have a largely Apple based ecosystem and it works quite well. It is centred around iTunes both for media file sharing and for accessing cloud content (i.e. purchases, rentals, etc.). It just works. It is simply a matter of allowing each device to view the shared content of others and then pressing play. It’s also possible now to share screens of Macs, iPads, and iPhones. While it seems perfect there are only two downsides. First, it is not feasible to access iTunes cloud content in Canada with the severe data limitations over cellular. And second, there is no built in mechanism to access shared media at home without jumping through VPN hoops, which ultimately result in the first issue, lack of bandwidth.

Initially when I wrote about media access in 2011 the focus was purely media. Since then it makes sense to become a whole lot less centralized around a single device. This is true both in terms of media and the general use of our devices. While we may have reached a stage where it is possible to set up a media solution on either an Apple or Microsoft ecosystem, there is still quite a bit of work to be done to make the transition between mobile and desktop. There are cloud solutions out there to store files such as Dropbox or Google Drive but these are not widely used. It’s everyone’s dream to be able to access the same content wherever they may be. Both Dropbox and Google Drive allow for synchronization of files, but action is required on the users part. Apple’s iCloud service takes this a step further and handles everything behind the scenes, providing the application implements the protocol. Once again, the specifics are in place but users must realize they want this ubiquity between their devices *AND* make an effort to set it up.

The solution that ultimately will make it easiest on the end user is for both Microsoft and Apple to implement strict policies for internet connected applications. This means that in order for your application to receive first class treatment on the next version of Windows or OS X, it should meet a certain set of criteria. The ultimate goal of this set of criteria should be to ensure the application is able to be used in a recent state on a different device without user headache. In order to accomplish this, there are three things main things that the application should do.

First, the application must abstract away the gritty details of where files are being stored. Sure, Microsoft Word creates documents, but do they always go in the documents folder? No! Documents from Word should be stored in a specific Word shoebox which is synced to the cloud. This shoebox then should be accessible (only for legacy reasons) via Windows Explorer as a Word Library. Documents from Word should primarily be accessed from within Word.

Secondly, transparently sync of the contents of this shoebox to the cloud needs to move beyond being a nicety. For Microsoft applications this would be through SkyDrive, for Apple it would be through iCloud. We are well beyond the era of a sync button and choosing which files need to go to the cloud. Cloud storage transmissions can be secured thoroughly as can the data once it arrives at the cloud server providing the company involved is interested enough in the cloud strategy to make security transparent.

Finally, developers should provide free applications for other platforms and devices. When someone buys a product for one platform it should be provided for free on other devices. This fosters the idea that it is possible to have your data wherever you are no matter what device you currently have in your pocket. Once this idea becomes mainstream in key applications it will grow to be a common demand.

Overall the idea of accessing data anywhere from any device has come a long way in recent years but there is still work to be done. There are very few mainstream applications that actually make it easy for a user to accomplish this goal. In part this comes from a certain sense of timidness on the part of developers who do not want to be the first to try out a certain model. The second reason is that the majority of users use Windows and there is no easy way for developers of Windows applications to make this happen. Once this does happen users will ultimately be happier and developers will be able to focus on the next step towards changing the applications we use.

The second advancement in future technology that I am anticipating is the advent of wearable computers. We have seen the emergence of the Google Glass testing program and prototypes of so called smart watches recently. This is an interesting direction for the future of wearable computing but ask many people and they will tell you they do not want to walk around with an appliance on their forehead. Both Google Glass and the idea of smart watches provide a clue as to where wearable technology could ultimately end up taking us. I will start with Google Glass.

Google Glass is a huge experiment in augmented reality. Augmented reality based technology takes what we see in the real world and enhances it with technological functions. Examples of functionality that Google initially gave were the ability to take pictures and video, view a heads up display map as to where you are going, or look up information about incoming flights to name a few functions. Currently Google Glass basically gives users the ability to access Google Now (Android equivalent of Siri) without the need for an Android phone. Google Glass is currently in its infancy in terms of its abilities and its prevalence but the technology does show promise.

The ultimate goal of Google has to be to shrink the technology down to a point where it is almost invisible. This could be done in the future through enhanced contact lenses with a wireless power source. The audio portion could be done through a tiny in ear implant allowing the user to both see the world around them through Glass without needing to worry about actually wearing the technology. This is the next logical step for Glass and will ultimately be one of the determining factors in how widespread its use becomes. Granted, we may not be able to get down to the level of contact lenses in the next decade, but enhancements can be made to shrink the size.

As I mentioned earlier, Google Glass also demonstrates an area that has not been explored all that well, augmented reality. Augmented reality has the power to change the way we interact with our world. Quickly imagine these three possibilities of augmented reality.

While out a birthday party you run into an acquaintance you have not seen for quite some time but you know. Google Glass or something similar could perform facial recognition and pull up pertinent information from your contacts, or Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, or Google Search about who you are currently in the presence of. You would be able to get a quick refresher as to what this person has been up to before you start a conversation.

Imagine that Glass could be paired with a device similar to a Wii-Mote or a Kinect. Glass could then create an augmented reality game for two people in the same room. Games could range from anything like Ping-Pong to a friendly mini-golf putting tournament. This application would be the next level of interaction for family gaming, stepping up from the Wii console.

Third and perhaps most important, pertains to law enforcement. If an individual witnessed a crime such as a robbery and they were wearing a Glass type device, it would be very helpful to law enforcement. In the moment of a robbery it is often hard for victims to remember what their attacker looked like. A Glass type device would enable a video recording to be taken and provide a clear picture to the authorities of what happened and who carried out the act.

Overall, Glass is probably one of Google’s long term projects in much the same way that search was when Google was founded. Right now, augmented reality technology is expensive, hard to wear, and tricky to get the public to accept. Google has positioned themselves well for the future with Glass and shows how big Google can think. In the mean time, however, others like Apple and Samsung are rumoured to be working on watches as the first wearable computing devices.

The idea of a watch as a first wearable computing device makes sense. Watches are unobtrusive and many wear them daily without a second thought. They are also seen as less intrusive into others privacy, as we believe there would be no video camera on the watch. The idea of a watch based computer is appealing because it would allow for the smartphone to be relegated to more complicated tasks. The watch would be extremely useful in tasks that do not require physical interaction. Initial ideas of such tasks would be phone calls and dictating text messages or emails. It is too early to tell if 2014 will be the year that the first wearable computing device arrives, but when it does it will be a game changer.

With wearable computing and the ability to access data seamlessly from anywhere as two of the best things to look forward to, there’s only one thing left that’s needed, better internet. I consider myself lucky to have a nice ISP (Internet Service Provider) compared to some of the ones elsewhere in Canada and the United States. Other people are not so lucky in terms of the ISPs actions and the connection quality provided. Living in 2014, everyone should have access to broadband internet. North America falls behind Europe and Asia in terms of internet speeds and access to connectivity, which does not make sense.

Packets are invisible, they weigh nothing, at most they are bursts of a couple of photons in a fibre optic line. In much the same way that water, electricity, and sewage removal are provided at homes, it makes sense for broadband to become a fourth utility. There are many areas in North America with so-called “dark fibre”. Dark fibre is internet infrastructure that has been laid but not been activated. Similar to laying pipe for new residential areas or for revitalization, it should be a priority for governments to at the very least fund the fibre that goes into the ground if it does not exist. Secondly there’s no reason why governments could not offer tax incentives to telecommunications companies to offer a basic broadband plan (3 megabits per second down, 512 kilobits per second up). Internet routers as they stand now are not at capacity and have room to accommodate extra traffic at this rate.

A project of providing internet to almost everyone would be the same as providing electricity to most homes in the early 20th century. It would allow for a whole new segment of the population to access the internet that had not been able to access it previously. This would ultimately allow for more people to reap the benefits of both pieces of future technology that I have previously discussed. As more peoples interest in future technology peaks, there will be more demand for elegant solutions for accessing our data everywhere. Any individual who lives with and interacts with technology on a daily basis will be more open to accepting new technology. When the population as a whole accepts new technologies, technology like augmented reality easier to develop since the population will be ready for the next leap.

What future technology are you excited for?