Monday, August 16, 2010
A Singularity (of Sorts)
While it may not be as dramatic as the end of the human era when machines become smarter than people and "wake up", a la Cyberdyne Systems, we have reached a minor milestone in personal technology. For several years, I have been saying that our phones would get bigger and our computers would get smaller (no, I don't think I'm the only one that has made that obvious prediction) and now we have the Dell Streak. The iPad came close but it doesn't have any native telephony capabilities (Thank goodness this is not a Windows Mobile device. Dell chose Android and while it will be interesting to see how Oracle's suit against Google for allegedly violating Java copyrights will turn out, I think that is a great long-term strategy).
As Mr. Mossberg points out, the Streak is a "tweener" device, either a tiny tablet or a jumbo smart-phone. What the Streak gives up to the iPad is screen-size, which begs the question, "How big is too big?" We love our big-screen TVs and our 20"+ computer monitors, but we don't want to carry them around. And, aside from the initial cool-factor of being seen at the coffee shop with an iPad in your lap and a steaming latte on the table next to you, how long will this foray into the tablet-world last? The reality is, people will want bigger screens but they won't want to carry them around.
The next move will be toward personal heads-up devices (HUDs) and while I don't think this model solves the problem, there are some interesting things happening with much smaller form factors. Of course, that is also the next step in the devolution of social interaction. It's bad enough that we see people talking and don't realize they have a small blue-tooth earpiece in. Imagine having someone looking at you with their eyes darting all around, a visual shakedown, only to realize later that they were reading the news on their contact lens-based HUD.
I expect Oakley to develop a very stylish HUD that will also incorporate wireless connectivity and that will be the one people scoop up (after all, the problem with contact lens HUDs is getting the cable from the lens to the wireless radio!).
Don't get me wrong, I love technology and all of the things it has and will continue to provide. The problem is with how we use it. At that point, we will have moved even closer to the William Gibson view of the cyberpunk future, one in which we are able to "jack in" to a virtual reality that is more appealing than our physical one. No, our greatest threat is not that the machines will become aware and take over the world; our greatest threat is that we will become so "hooked" on them, that there will be no separation or identification of us without them. That is the singularity that should concern us.
Posted by Joel T. Hutton at 7:17 AM