Up-Close And �"Personal” Technology

By Team Digit Published Date
01 - Jun - 2007
| Last Updated
01 - Jun - 2007
Up-Close And “Personal” Technology
Let's be modest. Most predictions never really come true, now, do they? After all, we've been prophesising about flying cars, household robots and the like for a long time now, and while many have come true in some form (like intelligent washing machines and vacuum cleaners), you'll have to admit that a majority of them have been quite a disappointment.

Then a device popped up sometime in the last decade and changed things forever: the humble cellular phone, originally intended to allow a person to be reached anytime, anywhere-even at a ridiculous cost-turned into a necessity. Soon we were sending SMSes, listening to music, clicking pics, and browsing the Web. Eventually, the big daddy of technology arrived: GPS. 

Coupled with technology currently under research and just plain technical insanity, GPS-enabled devices have enormous potential beyond just finding locations.

Happy Helpers
So here's the next generation of "Personal" gadgets-what originally started off as Personal Data Assistants now turn into full-fledged lifestyle devices that really "know" you, your schedule, where you live, and assist your lifestyle, bringing a whole new meaning to the term "smart devices."

At first it sounds spooky-surrendering your life to a bunch of electronics, but when you think about it, we've done that already; ever since we started storing contacts, e-mail, and pictures online, we did take the leap into the digital abyss.

But the implications of this can be remarkable. Imagine, for instance, you're tra-la-la-ing on the other side of town and suddenly find yourself lost. Now that it knows your schedule, and the fact that you don't normally wander around town at 10:30 on a weeknight, the device (which we shall call PLA for Personal Lifestyle Assistant) might guess that you're lost, and offer directions back home.

Or say you're all alone at home one night, and stay up watching TV till 2 AM without realising it was so late. Since most principal locations in your house would be RFID-tagged, your PLA would realise you're still in the living room and not in bed. And tell you that you're probably going to be late for that appointment at 8:30 tomorrow morning if you don't get to bed right away.

While a lot of us would probably scoff at the idea of being watched all the time and being told what to do (even though this is a reality at the workplace, every time you swipe your access card, you tell them where you are at what time), this may actually be a boon for elderly people staying alone, or someone with a medical condition. For instance, the PLA could alert a person's doctor if he hasn't taken his vital pills or hasn't come out from his room all morning, and inform a loved one that something might be wrong. While such health monitors may already be a bit of a reality in certain cases, this would be something that would merge with our everyday lives; for instance, it may very well suggest we take a walk since the weather report says it's a nice bright day, and RFID sensors indicate we haven't budged from the couch all day. Too much?

Big Brother World?
It doesn't end here. It could very well graduate into real-life extensions of social networking sites by actually allowing you to "see" which of your friends are nearby and what they're up to. Let's say you decide to go over to the nearby mall. Your PLA would, using a combination of RFID and GPS, probably stumble upon a friend of yours who happens to be there, find out if he bought that new video player the two of you've been eyeing for a while, and maybe even tell you if the store he bought it from is currently offering a discount.

Or how about if you're planning on buying a new LCD TV-a simple search on your PLA would list out stores in your city stocking various brands of LCDs and directions to get there, if you want it to. You might even want to specify your query to search only for places that are less than three kilometres away.

The best part of this is that you would still be able to "switch off" your identity once in a while when you feel the need for some space and disconnect from this instant peek-a-boo network. As with anything new, this is bound to be expensive. Not to mention the amount of research involved, especially for advertisement-oriented RFID tagging and GPS-RFID collaborations for everything to work seamlessly. But remember, when it first came, mobile calls were expensive. And if the past 10 years or so is any guide, this technology too would probably become as elemental as SMS!

Abdul Rehman Noor works as a software developer. He is "an ardent reader of Digit." This helps in his "pursuit of madness." He also loves to write-stories, poetry and stuff-a collection of such "nonsense" (his claim) can be found at his blog (http:// rahmannoor.blogspot.com)

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