Our Future Smart World

on May 18, 2012

One of the things our firm does for our clients in the technology industry is help them think about the future. This one thing alone is one my favorite things about doing trend forecasting, future scenario planning, and analysis. In fact, many of my absolute favorite types of conversations are ones that include extensive use of words like someday and in the future. However, it comes with a downside. Spending quite a bit of time envisioning the future leads can often lead to disappointing experiences with technology in the present. Mostly because we dream big about all the possibilities with technology and how smart technology will continue to solve problems and make our lives better. This happens to a degree today but not to the extent we envision. It all comes down to dreaming about what is possible with technology and realizing we are no where near having our smart devices fulfill their potential.

I see so much more potential for smartphones, smart TV’s, the smart home, smart health, traditional computing products, game consoles, cloud services, etc., than exists today. However, for some reason tablets are the category exciting me the most and not disappointing me. I can only conclude the only reason why that is the case is because tablets are so new and still in the process of defining their roles in the lives of consumers.

Smart Devices Aren’t Really Smart–Yet

This perhaps is one of the things that frustrates me the most. I know we are pushing these devices to their computing limits today but I know truly smart devices are not too far off. My point on this topic is that today devices we call smart contain no real artificial or adaptive intelligence. The only reason my smartphone or tablet may be different than yours is because I put the time in to personalize it. I don’t go buy a new smart device, let it learn about it me, and then have the device customize the experience for my unique uses. For it to be smart, in most cases I have to add the intelligence to make it smart. Someday this will be the case.

To illustrate this point I would like to use App stores as an example. You and I may use our smartphone in entirely different ways. A smartphone can represent a number of different things to a number of different consumers. Take Apple’s app store for example. If two consumers open the app store and look at the featured section for example, they will see exactly the same thing. Yet how these two consumers use this phone may be polar opposites; they see the same static information. The only time this changes is via search and perhaps Apple’s Genius suggestions ( which I have never found useful for my own needs.)

If my smartphone was actually smart when I went “app store shopping” I would be presented with a fresh and dynamic view of applications based on the things I have primarily been using my phone for lately. This would be a fresh personalized app shopping experience that could change on a daily, weekly, or monthly time frame depending on the things I have been doing the most lately with my phone. Or perhaps even change with the seasons. When Football season starts, my smart device would know I like football and specifically the 49ers. I would like to see whats new in software for Football experiences like games, news, and more.

Of course one may say that this is the point of search. I agree, however search is best, in my opinion, when you have a general idea what you are looking for. It is less useful when you have a vague idea or no idea and are in a browsing mode. I do this quite a bit as I just open the app store to do some general browsing. I would love a more customized app store experience based on my unique uses with my smart device. It is these kinds of adaptive and dynamic experiences with smart devices that are unique to my personal habits and needs that I am looking forward to with the next generation of smart technology.

What it will really boils down to is that our smart devices will move from being useful to also being helpful. That, I feel is the root, of the artificial intelligence element of the smart device future. A world where smart technology is helpful as well as useful is a vision I can get behind. And by helpful I mean able to anticipate the user needs and preferences and offer up assistance based on context and situation.

Right now we are in the stage where our personal computing is more personalized by me than dynamically customized by the devices intelligence in order to become truly personal. In the future I assume the ideal scenario will be where both exist. There will be times where I want the assistance of the device to customize or anticipate my needs, wants, and desires in any situation, and other times where I want to spend the time to customize it myself.

Many things, from more advanced semiconductors, better predictive software and artificial intelligence, and cloud technology need to come together to make this future a reality. As I survey the landscape today we still have a long way to go before this vision of the future is realized, and I can’t wait until this happens.