What’s the name of that bloke in that film? You know, the one about that telepathic girl stranded on an island? How long would it take to walk to the Arctic Circle and how many people actually live there? And how long would we survive on Mars, if we took off our helmets?
The answer to these, and a billion other banal questions, lies at our fingertips in the form of that little slab of black glass, our GODs (Great Overlords of Data) who will endeavour to answer precisely, however scantily clad in fact our ridiculous enquiry. Yes, we have the sum of all human knowledge with us at all times. This digital augmentation happened almost overnight. There was no surgery involved, no implants, no cocktail of drugs or injections. All we had to do was to pop into town to scrawl like a five year old across a screen and we were connected. Everyone knows everything now. We are already Cyborgs.
We used to joke about the smartphone being our most valued possession, prized even more than our homes and our children. Today, of course, we know the smartphone owns us. For a start, it knows a lot more about us than we do. Say you were witness to a serious incident, your account of where you were, what you did, how long you stood there looking hopeless, who you spoke to and what you talked about would be pretty unreliable. Perhaps you would adjust the times to bolster your importance, and you certainly wouldn’t mention the rude texts you sent your brother a few minutes earlier. No, no. You are a fully grown human being and reliable witness. Your GOD, on the other hand, will snitch on you in an instant, brazenly showing the authorities exactly where you were on a real-time map, and the fact you were staring at your screen most of the time anyway. Suddenly, those rude texts don’t look very funny.
We may convince ourselves we’re pumping iron at the gym three times a week, reading intellectual tomes regularly and tucked up in bed by eleven, but our beloved personal snitch may beg to differ, raising its digital eyebrows as you illuminate your spellbound colleagues. Our routines and preferences have long been engraved into its memory. We each carry a personal black box computer, literally, wherever we go (which incidentally, is stupidly predictable) that records our every move for eternity. Coming of age now arrives almost a decade before puberty. We hand our eight year olds their first ‘phones’ so that their inane musings can be published instantly, and globally. Stitched into the ether forever, waiting in fear of being disinterred for public ridicule in generations to come.
You may think you are an independent life-form with absolute free will, but sadly you are not. You could run into the chip shop today wearing nothing but an Ikea lampshade and demand a free battered sausage. But you don’t. You my friend, just like the rest of us, are utterly predictable. You go to the same handful of places to do the same things, listen to the same music and watch the same sort of films on Netflix. This is what gives predictive algorithms their limitless magical power.
Your personal, digital assistant is ready to manage your life in ways we cannot yet imagine. Alexa, Siri and their chums will plan and even negotiate with the businesses and organisations you deal with on a daily basis, making booking, form-filling and applications soon seem quaintly nostalgic. Your regular Friday night takeaway will be negotiated and ordered as you sleep, perhaps with a competing curry house. Regular train or plane journeys will be reserved long in advance and adjusted accordingly. A smart digital assistant will know when your family needs a holiday and will research and negotiate with companies eager to bid for your business. A greater sense of trust will emerge, as ultimately of course ‘they know where you live’ and probably have your bank details too.
The benefits for those of us plugged into the economy will be obvious. And for those of us less fortunate? Well, that’s for another blog.
But rest assured, far too many predictions are set in the world of the busy executive with a minute by minute diary and a Starbucks pitstop scheduled on route to an airport. The true power of technology is much more democratic and even handed than that, I’m pleased to say. Remember how we all shifted to WhatsApp while the so-called Masters of the Universe were still fumbling with the pinhead keys on their Blackberries? The same will be true of AI as it sweeps in to revolutionise entertainment, health services, access to credit, public services and education and probably even democracy itself. Right across the population it will lubricate lives and eliminate the impotence of anonymity.
Smartphones may have almost reached saturation point here in the West, but their journey to improving our lives has barely begun.
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