What would the essence of a truly futuristic, perfect information society be?
- the Internet
- digital, intelligent mobile networks
- smartphone software (apps)
- but before anything else, satisfaction and accessibility: technology being useful and understandable to people.
I have been fascinated by application of technology, especially the possibilities of communications together with high-tech (IT), for basically my entire life.
From hands-on experience on a very specific, low level assembly programming on a home computer, I later embarked on studying some (103 ECTS points worth) of computer science curricula – and have done most of my professional work as a software developer.
However, alongside I’ve carried a strong interest towards humanities, especially clinical human cognition, short-term memory, in general: neuroscience; theory of mind, and also layman psychology. Motivation.
The kind of kitchen stuff that makes interesting conversations and sometimes even conversions. But which also has an amazing effect on us as information processors. When software and systems designer understand the underlying “fundamentals” of the users in all their variability, the technology can be successful. We humans even tolerate “pain” quite much, but we are not good at that if the prize we’re going to get is relatively too low.
Fascination with the future
The future has always fascinated me. It probably shows quite strongly also in the list of books I’ve read and probably also the scenarios of future present in many articles (A future email system, and its successor “Still room for Future Email system?“)
Sometimes quite seemingly evident changes take decades to happen. Afterwards the time periods seem to compress, and we don’t even remember that some paradigm change was a big deal. That’s human.
Too fast – or too slow?
Yet we often speak as if we would continually be engaged in change that is just like a train moving a bit too fast to be comfortable. There’s been a lot of (hot) and true talk about information
That’s true! …and not. I think the feeling of what is proper speed — “comfortability zone” — also depends on our particular capabilities, mindset and motivation at the time of evaluation. We’re sometimes undulating, and that’s very human indeed – part of our neural wiring.
1969: mobile pioneers and NMT
Cellular connectivity, one of the main building blocks of our connected world, got started as early as 1969 with the formation of NMT: Scandinavian co-operative, Nordic Mobile Telephony. The organization was able to set important practical standards in mobile telephony.
NMT had severe limitations, due to it being rather simple, “analog” technology.
Enter GSM, the next wave of mobile technology.
Without standardizations, both NMT and later GSM, the influx of mobile phone usage would have soon met with a capacity cap of essentially limited bandwidth. NMT
users and having more people owning a mobile phone, the situation would soon have been unbearable: people would accidentally overhear other people’s conversations, and the discussion streams would have become unintelligible due to mixups.
GSM built philosophically on top of NMT. GSM digitized the cellular network. It made the network better and more secure; more people could join the mobile revolution. GSM enabled digital services in addition to plain voice calls. This was one the key features, again a stepping stone up to the information society.
Many phone vendors built sophisticated mobile phones. The era of smartphones had started.
Data became equally important early on: messaging in all possible formats proliferated quite quickly. It started from 160-character messages between two GSM-phones (the SMS – short messaging service), group SMS, and email; with the availability of smartphone apps, all communication protocols (instant messaging just as one) were available to smartphones.
Just before app store?
With proliferation of smartphones, we craved for software – and soon got a tsunami of apps. Apps were first quite clumsy to install. I remember (2009) the time when getting a neat app for blogging on WordPress, on a Nokia E71, meant about an hour’s worth of geekness: finding the install package (a .sis file), downloading, transfering to the phone; installing it, and even installing some other software packages (or even entire frameworks) needed to run the thing. A big PITA.
Go forward just a few years, and voila! The ‘app store’ – it’s a major accelerator. Also helps people keep their apps updated and secured. Note a very curious twist of the history here: The technical concept of an app store was actually patented by Nokia, and licensed to Apple (among others). [5G phones licensing includes App store royalties]
Now we have lived in the era of app proliferation for 12-13 years.
What about the next 13 years? Say, years 2020-2032! It’s such a long term, but on the other hand I know for sure that many things come out of the labs in about 10, 15 or 20 years.
The path of new innovation, from discovery to actual street availability is quite long. VoIP (voice over IP), Wireless networking, etc all took their time to proliferate.
There’s in fact almost an overload of choice for each possible facet of life imaginable.
But that is exactly also the problem: to live your life, we’re prone to get more and more apps installed on the phone. It’s as if no one ever thought about a whole person – all we, the users, see is the point of view of a single business, a single company, or a single service provider. We’re viewing often their micro-empires and visions.
Corporate-centric UX can be clumsy: to buy coffee, yes, there’s an app. AND IT ONLY SUITS one brand of cafeterias. The same with everything: parking, paying at the groceries, bonus systems of you-name-it; etc. Every single business reinvents the wheel, with varying dressings, but essentially the same beef. The result is a frustrating jungle of apps installed on your smartphone.
Imagine this very likely future scenario:
- you wake up with the aid of a alarm clock app
- your fridge activates another app
- your coffee percolator does something with an app – or you will need to service the percolator (order more filtration papers or coffee beans)
- your electric toothbrush winks a Large Corp app that it’s about time to get some brush heads – but not quite fully automatically
- before you’ve gotten out of your home (the door security system requires a fingerprint), you have interacted with half a dozen apps
- wait till you start commuting…
- each interaction takes anywhere from 5 to 60 seconds, depending on what kind of authorizations and confirmations are configured in the apps
I don’t know about you, but I thought essentially that the future society and intelligent systems were a promise to save our precious free time. The de facto way things are going is that we’re pledging more and more time to miniscule interactions with gadgets, all the time.
Ok. We have a problem. We solve problems. That’s what people do.
The problems in current smartphone era
- finding a suitable app for The Thing You Wanna Do
- installing the app – yes, even still. Even now. But what about in 2030s? Maybe solved.
- authorizing the app for the first time: access to this, that, and some
- dispersed user data and privacy asymmetry, inbalance -> Project SOLID and Inrupt, others.
- updates and all the mental fuss associated with deciding whether or not to choose something
- discontinuations of services / apps
- finding replacement for the discontinued app
- porting your data (in reality, not theoretically) to the replacement solution
Couple of very optimistic scenarios and themes from 2032
- no need to carry wallet around anymore
- natural, high resolution VR enabled all around us
- effortless authentication to computer systems (no passwords anymore)
- perfect information security, while data being available for scientific and generally useful computing
- poverty reduced
- enable remote work for a greater portion of workforce
- more free time gets accumulated for a greater portion of workforce
- human lifespan improvements
- healthier population in general (social and medical improvements)
- targeted, precision medicine
- reducing human error at work with help of technology
- backups of user data is always understandable, safe and automatic
- automatically scheduling complex events optimally for maximum % of all participants
- traffic accidents reduced significantly; robotic cars
- age of getting “driver’s license” significantly lower than today
- smaller crime rate across urban and rural areas
- less congestion in traffic
- lower pollution