To understand where the smartphone is heading we must first acknowledge that using the word ‘phone’ to describe these devices is the equivalent of describing a modern car as a ‘horseless carriage’. We never have appropriate language for new technology when it first arrives.
The intelligent networked device we still call a ‘phone’ is becoming the hub of a wearable network of on-body devices which will develop to allow us to communicate in voice and data, to track our fitness and monitor our health, to extract information from our surroundings, to provide us with audio and visual entertainment, to track our movements locally and globally, to provide navigational guidance, to record in sound and vision every moment of our lives and to provide an effective personal security system (we will all have our own personal CCTV system which will always be on). Personal networks will also supply two-way, real-time foreign language translation, ID verification and globally-accepted payments services.
Just as robotics is about to provide powerful exo-skeletons that will support and enhance human bodily strength, so personal body networks will provide humans with an ‘exo-neural system’. All of our senses and our mental facilities will be enhanced and amplified by personal on-body networks based on the hub of today’s smartphone.
Fitness and health monitors which communicate via this ‘hub’ will, at first, be located in ‘smart watches’ which, in addition to telling the time and providing many other location-specific services, will also act as ambulatory collectors of data which will record a wearer’s activity levels, pulse, blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, etc. This information will be stored in personal networks but will also be uploaded to the cloud and, if required, made available to physicians monitoring health and physical performance. It may also, if the wearer chooses, be made available to health insurance companies.
Other body sensors – some contained in ‘smart glasses’ – will track breathing rates, alertness, ophthalmological health indicators, ECG signals, blood glucose levels and other health indicators. Wearers with known or suspected health conditions will add specialist sensors to their personal networks.
And, once again, we do not yet have language for the components of the personal on-body network. A ‘smart watch’ is not primarily a time piece and ‘smart glasses’ are not for optical enhancement.
Many of the personal network components will also double as jewellery – watches, designer glasses, earrings and earbuds for audio reception – and many will primarily be described as fitness devices.
Personal networks will make the human body ‘smart’ and will provide sensory input from smart surroundings. In the short-term personal body networks will protect and enhance our health and will couple us to our intelligent surroundings. In the longer term personal networks will become a protective ‘halo’ of information around the body within which most people will reside.
We are only at the beginning of the movement to bring network intelligence onto and into our bodies. Within a decade we will have developed language to describe these concepts and we will look back and marvel at the fact that human beings once had to live without the many benefits provided by such personal and intimate networks.