I lead a very “must not do” lifestyle – I am retired from active corporate life; I snack on unhealthy junk almost everyday; I drink gallons of fattening beer every weekend; I don’t sleep all that much; and, most importantly, I read almost NO elevating/ informative/ educative stuff – all I read is some news on the web on technology, and LOTS of trashy fiction – specifically, romance and who-dun-it novels.
My current favorite author is Nora Roberts, maybe because she combines the above two genres really well! In reading avidly her futuristic cop thriller series, written under the pseudonym J.D. Robbs, I begin to see a strange similarity between her world of the 2050s and 60s; and what is going on in the Internet of Things/ Connected Device world.
Quick summary: the Internet of Things is essentially nothing but a world in which all devices are connected, and many of them are wearable on the human body, to enable use of the data generated in one place in order to predict actions in another! This means a world of tiny embedded “sensors” all over – on highways, in thermostat boxes, glasses, bras, beds, wind mills….you name it….that then allow seamless living!
Look at how some parallels exist between Robb’s world and the current endeavour of most of the technology world, with leaders being Zuckerberg, Bezos, Benioff, Musk and many many many other smaller/ niche players:
1. Virtual Reality:
Arguably, one of the stars at this month’s CES was the Oculus Rift Crescent Bay prototype with Spatial Audio feature. It seems to have excited people, specially VR enthusiasts all around, with the advancements it shows over previous versions. A look at some applications – driving simulations and Gaming excites even boring ole’ non-gamer me!
But hey, in the JD Robb world, VR and Holo videos are very much par for the course! Not only can you program VR headsets in the gym to give you the real experience of whichever setting you want, HoloRooms are like Star Trek Holo Decks and owned by the wealthy, and can be programmed for interactive vacations at the beach, street scenes for training in fighting techniques, or rescue missions, or jogging along a path, or dining in a mountain chalet, etc. HoloGlasses provide 3-D life-like scenarios, similar to the HoloRooms, but worn on the head. And, to me, the extreme use was very very evil! In the book I last read, “Fantasy in Death”, a gamer whizkid actually injected reality into virtual reality – and as a by product killed a couple people!
“Roarke took another sip of coffee – “Let me understand you. You are suggesting that a holographic image, which is essentially light and shadow, attempted murder and committed it…Neuro and nano-tech have advanced, and the images produced in holo programs act and react, according to that program. They appear 3D, appear to have substance. The player’s senses are involved and engaged……found a way to enhance wave front, increase the power stream of the light….to create a kind of current that is an electronic replication of the substance….that could, cut, slash, sever….or could replicate an impact where the currents could inflict the same damage as they have been programmed to inflict”
2. Customized Talking Billboards:
Talking billboards are now old hat. Even a lot of the motion/ temperature triggered ones. But, essentially in that they use sensors to activate a series of actions that could be customised depending on you/ your location/ your preferences, they are very I0T!
Then, ofcourse, google glass is (was) the ultimate in customized billboards in a way – plus much much more. Despite its lukewarm performance in this round, Google is sure to get it back with a bigger bang …soon!
And, in a J D Robb parallel, Eve Dallas, the main protagonist, is forever catching customised billboards looking down at her on her drives/ airlifts through crowded noisy New York streets:
When she caught a familiar face burst across one of the animated screens…over the street at thirty fourth….she..whirled…jiggled, spun, in a few sassy and amusingly placed scraps of electric blue. With each revolution, her hair changed from red to gold to blinding green…her oldest friend…
3. Robotics/ Artificial Intelligence:
From Super Mario’s latest AI induced self aware tricks, to Facebook’s intense use of AI, the world of AI is definitely here. (After all, what was Siri, but an early version of AI). In fact, this is becoming a controversial area, with recently, Tesla’s Elon Musk coming out in strong opposition of the potential evil fallouts of AI!
Then there are drones, which have been used for military purposes (e.g. in Israel and Afghanistan) for a while, and infact are now being advanced, e.g. with mind controlling technologies. Amazon also created news a couple of years ago with their pilot of deliveries using drones (Amazon Prime Air).
In J.D. Robbs’ world, there are “Droids with human characteristics that can be programmed to cook, clean, man office desks, physically fight and wrestle, watch over children and the elderly, teach, bartend, waiters and waitresses and even be programmed for sex. There are also droid animals – dogs, cats and birds.”
“The droids were well represented as well- mechanical looking household and yard droids, cheap mini droids, and a number of the human replicas lined up like suspects….”This model’s top of the line. She’s designed to exactly replicate the character physically, and she has top-flight programming capabilities””
“They were droids..you couldn’t even smell them…she swung back, slamming her knees into the droid behind her…catching him by the ankles as he deployed the weapon….he didn’t buckle as a man would, but teetered back, arms pinwheeling for balance.”
Then there are AutoVehicles that can fly and zip around, but also be driven like normal cars and buses.
“Three cars ahead of her, two rapid cabs shot into vertical lift at the same time…airlifts hovered above, shooting out their streams of light…..”
4. Home Automation
With Apple’s Smart Home project, Google’s Nest and the earlier versions of the IoT which almost always had a pre programmed refrigerator ordering eggs when you ran out, Home Automation was one of the earliest applications of the IoT. And, lets face it, its also the sexiest/ most widely adoptable one; hence catching consumer eye balls far more than windmills, gas meters and smart highways! (Marc Benioff had addresses the Dreamforce 2013 attendees with a case on his Philips toothbrush!) It is also the app where a lot of work is being done without suffering reverses (like the glass). Companies like Philips, Logitech, Nokia and many more are working flat out to address and dominate their respective inches of the home automation turf. This article is a nice look at the news on home automation.
At the centre of everything – most things consumer IoT atleast, is the ubiquitous smartphone – that device that most other devices link to, that very soon 1 in every 4 earthling will possess, that works as your personal friend, philosopher guide, but also has millions of app developers working day and night on, that you use to talk/ email/ measure sleep patterns/ order cabs/ check restaurants/ listen to music and watch movies…in short, everything…And now, the smart watch
Cut to Robbs. She has the AutoChefs that can deliver home-cooked meals and coffee.
“He walked to a large Autochef “What is it then – Pizza or Burger”….Took a large bubbling Pizza out…headed to the AutoChef, programmed coffee….He’d already programmed their meal in the recesed Autochef – I thought we’d have ham and eggs today”
The Drying Tube that senses your temperature requirements and then dries you up.
“…Like the warm, clean scented swirl of air in the drying tube…”
The biometric scanning device, that tells you where anybody in the house is (Roarke has programmed all answers to Eve such that it always starts with “Darling Eve!”, a fact that really irritates the heroine!
“Where is Roarke”?.. Welcome home, darling Eve!..As usual the recorded voice using that particular endearment had slivers of embarrassment pricking up her spine”
Links that are a modernized video cell phone that can hold and transfer data besides making calls – both audio and video; Memo Cubes that are modern, electronic Post-Its, without the sticky paper, Wrist Units that combine most functions!
“Nice wrist unit…“Serviceable.” Eve turned her wrist to admire the simple band, the flat, silver-toned face….“It‟s got a couple of nice features,” she added as she fiddled with it. “It‟s nice,” Peabody said again, then drew her beeping communicator out of her pocket. “Give me a sec, I . . . hey, it‟s you.” Mouth dropping, Peabody jerked her head up. “It‟s got a micro-com in it? That‟s pretty mag. Usually they‟re all fuzzy, but this is really clean.” “Nano-com. You know how the vehicle he rigged up for me looks ordinary?” “Ordinary leaning toward ugly,” Peabody corrected. “But nobody gives it a second look or knows that it‟s loaded, so . . . same deal?” Automatically Peabody dug out her ‟link when it signaled, then paused. “Is that you? It‟s got full communication capability? In a wrist unit that size?” “Not only that, it‟s got navigation, full data capabilities. Total data and communications—he programmed it with all my stuff. If I had to, I could access my files on it. Waterproof, shatterproof, voice-command capabilities. Gives me the ambient temp. Plus it tells time.”
But, this article shows that despite security concerns, IoT is definitely growing.
J.D. Robb has her own version of the security issues – all data devices are controlled by the federal mother computer – the CompuGuard. This is very big brother-ish, and supposedly can track everything going on in any computing device. (Ofcourse, Mr. Know-it-all, ex criminal, richest man in the world Roarke can get past the Compuguard – and often does, thus, often aiding Ms. Dallas in her investigations, much to her irritation!)
“Compuguard monitored all e-transmissions and programming on planet and off….I’m obliged to caution you that this transmission is being traced through CompuGuard, and it’s being recorded.”
J.D. Robb has a few other interesting gadgets strewn about her books – Skids are high-tech sneakers that can float above ground and there are skateboards that hover a few inches above ground instead of on wheels; Glide carts are moving food carts on the street; Credits, which are tokens used instead of coins…
At the end, a lot of it is illusory and advanced stuff – both in the IoT world, and the JDRobb one. As an example, the much touted wearables have abysmal penetration and even worse usage figures for consumer devices (at an average, all wearables get discarded after 6 months). This article is interesting too.
Having said that, there is no doubt that some if all all of this, is coming, and coming sooner than later! Most pundits say the world should focus on “real” applications with substantial impact – healthcare/ infrastructure/ utilities, rather than consumer products – but, if consumers didn’t show an interest, a lot of the glitter and shine wouldn’t be there!
In my opinion, the question is no longer – “will it come” but ‘when will it come”….Maybe, some of the companies in the arena should consider hiring Ms. Roberts as strategic advisor.
In the meanwhile, interested in reading some of the JDRobb books? Here’s where you can download some free – enjoy!