Tagged: gadgets

Coming soon: voice-control, holodecks and The Borg

What a week for Star Trek fans. Was the universe conspiring to bring their favourite technologies closer to reality?

First Intel predicted voice-control would be as big as touch within the ‘next few years’. Those of us who have fallen out of love with Siri might find that difficult to believe. But Mooly Elen reckons the world is close to cracking a computer that can be told to drop out of Warp.

Not that this feat would be unique, according to another report. Based on the latest estimates that there are 17 billion Earth-sized worlds out there, Gizmodo crunched the numbers down to ‘reveal’ that 79.9 million alien civilisations might have developed Warp Capability. Science? Hardly. Fiction? Definitely. But thought-provoking nevertheless.

But if we do get meet Warp-Capable-Aliens, it seems we’ll be more Borg than human by that time. As Ramez Naam points out, we’re already a good way down the line with neurotech implants. Next stop, brain-to-brain communication.

We always suspected the Borg were really us, just with funny lumps on the side of the face.

And as we cruise along in our starship, the crew’s entertainment needs will almost certainly be met in a holodeck. Whilst not actually at CES, Microsoft still used the platform to reveal its IllumiRooom, a Kinect-plus-projector combination that turns an entire room into a screen.

Not impressed? Then consider the possibilities for nanoscale antennas that are able to control light. Lifelike holograms suddenly seem achievable.

As does interstellar space travel, once you find out we’re starting to get to grips with Dark Matter. Because we may have even found a new force that affects it. That’s truly significant, given we’d only found four Fundamental Forces in the universe previously. And that’d be a fifth – the only one to interact with the Dark Stuff.

But if that’s too speculative and theoretical for you, you’ll be pleased to know that booking a hotel room in space for 2016 is a practical possibility right now. Sure, it’ll cost close to a million bucks all-in for five nights. But the living quarters are a lot more spacious than you might imagine. Astronauts on the ISS will be looking on in envy.

And even the less well-off will continue to experience new realities.

With all our devices perpetually connected they’re going to start learning what we like. Then they’ll co-operate to predict what we need. Before giving us access to it in the most cost-effective manner. All before we realised something new was available.

And maybe that something will be the latest mobile, controlled by gestures as well as voice. Or some new pharmaceuticals, made effective by a perfect, man-made type of glass. Or a self-adjusting pillow, a ‘Twitter Holiday Butler‘, a screen made of mist, a microwave zapper for garden weeds or a TV that’ll change channels when you give it that special look.

But consider the downsides too. With everything connected your data exhaust fumes will make you as identifiable as your (newly discovered) linguistic fingerprint. So you’ll be pleased to know there’s now a reason for demanding online privacy.

Once-upon a time there was no easy comeback to the assertion that: ‘If you’re doing nothing wrong, there’s nothing to be afraid of. So why would you want privacy?’

TechDirt retorted with the best answer yet:

Everyone has something to hide and usually no one cares. By surveilling everyone, you catch the benign breaches of law and taboo. If the public are all guilty, the executive part of the government can selectively enforce laws, essentially giving them both judicial and legislative power, which defeats the whole point of separation of powers.

Which also means the police will have time to catch the real cyber-criminals. Like the hacker who created a virus and started taunting the Japanese police with a series of riddles in their effort to catch him. His latest was strapped to a cat. The detail of this story reads like a particularly over-the-top Scandinavian crime novel. Perhaps he’s watched The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo a few too many times.

Next, he’ll be hiding messages in Skype packets.

Or perhaps his schadenfreude is driven by a messy break-up. Looks like the science of not being dumped came a few weeks too late for him.

Or perhaps he’s a gadget freak and couldn’t afford to check-out the best of the latest at CES.

But all his posturings could be even more futile than they first seem. Seas may rise a lot higher, a lot quicker – up to 3ft by 2100. And higher seas mean angrier volcanoes.

So let’s hope, in the words of IBM’s free-thinking supercomputer, it’s all ‘bullshit’.

Because recharging batteries as you walk isn’t going to damp down the next Vesuvius.

And if we don’t solve that crisis then the rate at which we get hold of that lovely Star Trek tech might just slow to something less than exponential.

A possibility we’d rather not have to consider.


The light, froth and soft soap (powder) of Vegas

washingmachine2 copyAnd so it all began.

The bluster and general irrelevance of another Consumer Entertainment Show (CES) is upon us.

It’s hard to ignore the shiny baubles of mobile gaming devices from unexpected sources. And see-through, neon washing machines are definitely a source of amusement. Although nowhere near as useful as a complete range of home appliances that can be controlled from your phone.

And we completely forgot about the prospect of bendy mobiles in the wake of paper-thin bendy computers. Especially after getting breathless at thought of never losing a bag again.

But the constant screams of higher clock speeds and better screens flashing before our eyes soon became a little like a cheese-grater on the brain. At least Forbes recognised CES’s unnecessary irrelevance this year.

Fortunately, there was plenty of news from outside the crazed circus in Vegas, where light was definitely the topic of the day.

Roads are going to glow in the dark. And in the snow. Meanwhile we discovered you can make a 55-watt bulb from bleach, water and a plastic bottle.

But for those addicted to electricity it appears coal might again be the future. We can now make it from plant matter overnight, rather than waiting for nature to take millions of years. And this new stuff is carbon-neutral.

Mobile phone addicts also got a dose of good news. It’s reckoned clinics to treat their addiction will be up and running this year.

Maybe they’ll be decorated with a soothing flavour of LED wallpaper. Maybe the all-robot rock band will make a guest appearance.

But nothing would be as intellectually satisfying as this:

A young geek claimed to have written a programming language that would delete code that contained mistakes. Best of all, some people took him seriously.

Now that really put a smile on our faces.

The idea that made the world stand still

Africa's mobile phone industry 'booming' 1According to seasoned future-gazer Ray Kurzweil: ”A kid in Africa, with a cell phone, has access to more intelligence than President Clinton did 15 years ago.”

The implications of that (fact?) are worthy of several weighty tomes. So we won’t cheapen it with homespun analysis. But to prove the point that the rate of acceleration is set to ‘unstoppable nosebleed’, hundreds of new things became possible for the first time this week.

Obviously this didn’t include Americans asking: ‘Please Mr President, can we build our very Death Star?’ And we’re not sure Quantum Time Crystals will get past the theoretical stage. But, as they say, if you don’t spot big gaps, you won’t make big innovations.

Which is probably how Star Trek’s medical tricorder came to be made real. More excitingly, could it be made out of transforming matter – tiny ‘robots’ that can turn into anything? Most things seem possible when gadgets are announced to be the new celebrities and any of us can go to the moon, even it it’ll cost us $750million a pop. And hell, what seems far-fetched when we’re building farms in city skies?

But this week the human collective also came over all down-to-earth, applying nosebleed acceleration to the more mundane problems of everyday life.

A simpler way to address every letter you send was launched in a postal supernova by Noel Gallager. And if the 3D printing services coming to the High Street send your stress levels rocketing – like every other printer we’ve ever used – at least you can monitor your rising anxiety on a phone, which may also have an app to find you a parking space.

Look carefully and you’ll find actual dollar signs in the eyes of the entrepreneurs responsible. As will Apple if it finally delivers it’s TV and creates a new category in the process which – contrary to our scepticism of last week – may actually be close at hand.

But not so the Kindle team. Nosebleed acceleration means that tablets are slated to slay eReaders. Meanwhile, others are predicting the demise of paper, the QWERTY keyboard and even phone numbers. Which made the prospect of a Great Payphone Revival sound even more unlikely.

And if some news was tinged with nostalgia, other developments started full-scale moral panics. There was downright distrust over the idea that your TV might start watching you as you’re watching it. And horrorshow headlines abounded over ‘evil’ canine clones running rampant in New York.

All proving that, in tech as well as life, there’s always ying for your yang. So while the UK Government announced a volunteer army of geeks to protect us from cyber threats, David Cameron and Boris Johnson want to spruce up Silicon Roundabout. Although KPMG seemed to be saying that much more needs to be done than that before the UK’s a proper tech hot spot.

True dat! But there’s no time to get depressed as we’ve got a batch of fabulous things to watch:

The Laws of Physics seem to be optional
It’s alive and neurotic! Watch this lamp move, react to and display emotion
he rate of births and deaths in real time
He kicked me first – twins in the womb

And with that, the nosebleed endeth. We’re just off to catch our breath. And find some tissues.

Spare a thought for the stress of leadership

David+Cameron+2012+and+London+Mayor+Boris+Johnson+(right)With all the Budget fuss still raging did anyone notice the Edge Tech announcement today? David Cameron and Boris Johnson want to spruce up Silicon Roundabout (Old Street). But KPMG seemed to be saying that much more needs to be done – the UK isn’t exactly a tech hotspot.

A view most of us here agree with?

So perhaps the Government needs to take some advice from innovation consultant Jeffrey Phillips. He pointed out that if you don’t spot big gaps, you won’t make big innovations. Might the gaps be bigger than Cameron and Johnson realise?

Maybe they just have information overload. Trusty future-gazer Ray Kurzweil reminded us that the rate of change is such that: “A kid in Africa with a cell phone has access to more intelligence than President Clinton did 15 years ago.”

If the sheer volume of stuff they have to understand is inducing stress, at least they can now monitor anxiety levels with a thumb pressed against their mobiles. Meanwhile, research is ongoing using real beating hearts grown in the lab. And doubtless it’ll result in wonderful treatments for stress-related conditions. But surely it’s better not to do the damage in the first place?

And if they’re dodging that bullet while relaxing with their Kindles, they might still feel a little lonely – current predictions are for tablets to slay eReaders.

Better to try the new Apple TV which – contrary to our scepticism of last week – may actually be close at hand. We’re sure it’ll be outrageously popular if it does reinvent the category. Maybe that’ll just stress Dave and Boris more through jealousy?

Anyways, after all that anxiety-ridden politicking, how about some lighter relief? Happily suck on these until we resume our – hopefully less politics-influenced – observations tomorrow: