An Interesting Moment of Future Technology

There’s a common theme in scifi where humans have some personalized technology which only they can hear and interact with, transparent to those around them. I think we’re near that point, I give it less than five years before something iPhone-like takes off in this space.

I’ve always liked these gadgets in scifi but I only reexamined their possibility the other day. I was driving with my partner (we’ve been together too long for me to say “girlfriend” but have no other incentives to get married so we live in a perpetual middle-ground with no word to describe it. Thanks culture) up above the bay on a trip that I wasn’t familiar with so I set up turn-by-turn on my phone.

I don’t have a phone mount in the car, nor do I think I need constant feedback that I am on the right route. I just want a handy aural reminder when I’m getting close to a turn. To accomplish this I used my headset in just one ear so I could continue listening to the radio and interacting with my passenger. I thought it was a nice solution; I don’t have to rely on anyone else for directions and I’m not distracted by an extra screen.

The robot direction lady said something I found funny from an engineering perspective, something like repeating the direction I was supposed to go three times in the span of five words.

And I laughed. I laughed at a joke told to me by a computer that was completely disconnected to whatever was currently on NPR or anything that anyone else in the car could hear. Maybe it’s difficult to imagine but it felt like scifi in that weird way that scifi does when you realize that it’s here.

No matter if you like it or not, this is where technology is going. People already create their personal technology bubble when they start fussing with phones in what would otherwise be a social environment. Having your personal assistant in your ear is just a bit less obvious to your companions.

I’m sure your first thought is that people interacting with their cell phones while other people are around is obnoxious - and it is - but we have a long way to go.

What’s the next step? I think we’re well on our way towards more unobtrusive personal interactions with our technology, be it with Google Glass or the new Apple wearable thing. I mean the next, next step.

Just as we already dislike loud-talking bluetooth set-wearers in public places (too easily confused with people who talk to themselves), we’ll quickly tire of people with funny glasses saying “Glass, take a picture” and “Glass, call my wife”. Even Siri, despite its novelty and usefulness, is rarely used in public because its embarrassing to talk to yourself.

So if you want to bet on technology that will be snatched up by the Apples and Googles, buy companies working on sublingual communication. That is, companies who use various technology to turn unspoken speech into parseable words.

In the close future this will probably be in the form of detecting muscle movements in your neck and mouth. Think about forming all your sentences but not making any sound, or talking without opening your mouth. That may take some practice.

Until then, I will continue to laugh at my turn-by-turn directions, somewhat awkwardly now, and want a Glass headset even though it’s not stylish and totally weird to talk to yourself.

And yes, I will probably want an Apple wearable thing - as long as it’s not a watch. Ugh, who wants to wear a watch again?

A thing: Andre has an interesting take on the other obvious sense, the very sight of wearable technology.

Fri, Feb 22, 2013