Forget wearable technology and wireless payments, the technologies that are going to have the biggest impact on our daily lives in the future are those focused on improving the present.
Technologies that understand context and perform searches based on it are becoming more common and more efficient, capable of alerting us to deals at a store around the corner. Photo: AFP/Adam Radosavljevic/shutterstock.com
In a recent piece in the MIT Technology Review, John Pavlus described the much-hyped Google Glass
project as "jetpack technology" because, like jetpacks, the technology is cool and exciting but essentially pointless. "Can we build jetpacks? Sure. Does anyone actually need or want them? No," he says. This is because the technologies and devices that will change the way we live and have the biggest impact on our lives are the ones that are focused on the present and improving it and not on what might be possible in the future.
Unlike wearable technology, wireless or induction charging is already widely supported by a number of technology firms and already has a number of proven uses, chief among which is not keeping a smartphone's battery topped up, but cutting the cords on electrical appliances in general. Adapting kitchen counters, coffee tables and TV stands to support wireless charging plates means that any supported electronic device can be placed on the surface and work, without the need for a nearby power socket. While away from the home, the technology is already being used to charge electric vehicles. Wireless charging plates built into the road at bus stops and terminals enable electric buses in Turin, Italy to run all day without having to be recharged. A brief connection while passengers get on or off the bus at a stop is enough to charge the battery by as much as 15 percent. Embedding the same chargers at busy junctions, traffic lights and in parking spaces could do the same for consumer electric cars worldwide.
At the moment, most consumers use the cloud for email or storage, but cloud computing offers many other possibilities. For example Dell is currently developing something called Project Ophelia which is essentially a virtual computer that can be accessed anywhere. At the moment, a consumer can use any computer to check a web email account or update their Facebook status, but Dell's project would allow a user to access their own computer and its applications on any connected device -- turning a kind stranger's television into your Apple notebook when a USB drive is attached. As cloud services become more powerful there will no longer be a need for huge amounts of RAM and multi-core processors in computing devices and everything from smartphones to desktop computers will become much cheaper. This is already happening with Google's Chromebooks. They use the internet and web-based applications so the computer itself only needs enough power for simple computing tasks.
Contextual search and applications
Expect Labs's MindMeld grabbed headlines when the technology was first demonstrated in 2012. It follows voice and video conversations in real time and provides information and performs web searches based on what is being said. Google Now, a feature built into the latest version of its Android operating system, uses geographical location, appointments and the handset owner's preferences to display information it thinks is important in that particular moment -- whether it be traffic updates or the special offers at the Italian restaurant around the next corner. Meanwhile, Apple's Siri can interpret natural speech in order to perform tasks and has already proven a huge hit with iPhone users since its introduction on the iPhone 4, while at the University of Texas, a new type of search engine called Gander is being developed that will tell users things that Googling can't, such as how long the queue is at a restaurant, or how long it will take for the next bus to arrive. Each of these technologies work on the same principle of being able to understand context and perform searches based on that context. The technology will continue to improve and increasingly become part of daily life.