Matthew Buckland

Connecting your life

2010-09-03 07:45

In the future, a digital device that is not connected to the internet will be considered a rather strange thing. In some cases, a digital device may be so integrated with the web you may not be able to switch it on without being connected to the net. This will probably be the norm in a future world of ubiquitous, cheap connectivity.
Our children will wonder what it was like to have a device that was alone, isolated and unconnected. They will have the same reaction we have today when our parents told us about a time where there were microchips the size of bedrooms. It will just seem silly.
Even today, it’s hard to imagine buying a cellphone that is not connected to the net in some way. Even the lowest-end cellphones are internet-enabled – this, as production costs plummet, economies-of-scale are reached, and the internet mushrooms at its unrelenting pace.
Devices will not only be connected to the great cloud, but will be intimately networked to each other. Your home will consist of a small army of appliances, all working together and talking to each other.

In the future, anything that is digital will be connected, from your microwaves and fridges, to your car radios and cameras. You add internet to a digital device and suddenly a rich world of information, sharing and networking opens up. The richness of the web will be accessible via sophisticated displays with intuitive interfaces on even the most rudimentary of appliance.
Your microwave no longer just cooks, it suggests recipes and the week’s meals based on an understanding of what you like or the sell-by dates of groceries in your fridge. It knows this because it’s linked to your fridge which also knows which groceries are near their sell-by date.

Connecting devices

Your TV, fridge and microwave are also linked so when there is a cooking programme showing, you can instantly download that recipe with the microwave instructions automatically programmed. Or maybe there is an expose on a particularly contentious ingredient linked to an allergy you may have, which is then flagged by your TV which is communicating with your fridge. Your fridge, by the way, is constantly getting the latest information about your allergy from trusted information sources on the web so you make sure you are up-to-date with the latest medical information. (Your vacuum cleaner analyses dust particles, checking allergy information online. It may also communicate with your fridge.)
Your fridge then communicates with your car, which in turn is in contact with local grocery stores and knows what you need, by when, and plots the easiest, cheapest route to securing it. Your car may mention this to you when you are in close proximity to that ingredient too.
It all sounds bizarre, but amazing things happen when devices start connecting and talking to each other, not to mention the world wide web. It’s an analogy of human society. As a species, we were able to progress rapidly when we connected, divided tasks, built consensus and worked as teams on projects. It’s the same for digital devices and appliances and it’s why the internet is transforming the way society lives.
In fact, once connected to the internet - a device can even start to “think for itself” and display signs of artificial intelligence. It does this because it has the world’s data at its feet which it can semantically mine through in micro-seconds and present choices to you based on your preferences, location or mood.

Paradigm shift in computing

For example, many phones are GPS-enabled, able to provide you with weather based on your immediate location. Mobile and web advertising networks will display targeted (and therefore useful and helpful) adverts based on what you are reading. These are all forms of artificial intelligence involving devices helping us to make choices which help us navigate the world with increasing ease.

So if you think about it, most of our domestic appliances are hopelessly still stuck in the stone-age. Our car radios and TV plasmas, LCDs and LEDs have rudimentary digital interfaces and poor connectivity ability.

A hint of where they may go lies in a mobile phone we use today. The best digital display in the world is undoubtedly that of the iPhone. The reason why there is so much fuss over what is effectively a niche-market phone is because it’s a device that represents a paradigm shift in computing.
At the moment it’s a high-end, expensive device out of reach of the masses. But its genius lies in its simplicity. Ironically it’s easier to use than some of the cheaper mass market phones. Children as young as three are able to operate iPhones due to their intuitive touch-screen simplicity. It won’t be long before Apple releases a mass market, cheap version of its phone much like they did with the successful iPod. Then the iPhone will truly rule the world.

Scary and beautiful

Interfaces on our TVs, microwaves, car radios and other domestic appliances will resemble the computing and connectivity advances of the simple iPhone.

The battle for domination of the mobile phone and desktop computer is over. The real war is over the every-day digital devices and appliances in our homes and cars.

As these spring to life and come online so a rich world of automation and artificial intelligence will open to us. It’s as scary as it is beautiful.

- Matthew Buckland is the founder of

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