POWER IN OUR HANDS

China Daily (Canada) - - ANALYSIS -

The smart­phone has be­come the gate­way be­tween you and the world.”

as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor with the sci­ence and en­gi­neer­ing fac­ulty of the Queens­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy Karl Wil­son

There was a fa­mous ad cam­paign once for Amer­i­can Ex­press that used the phrase: “Don’t leave home with­out it.”

When credit cards were in­tro­duced, the lit­tle pieces of plas­tic that slip so neatly into the wal­let or purse helped to re­place cash in our pock­ets.

To­day, our smart­phone could well be ad­ver­tised as some­thing “you can’t leave home with­out”.

Not all that long ago, phones were sim­ple hand­held de­vices that al­lowed us to make and re­ceive calls. But now, smart­phones have be­come in­dis­pens­able to our lives.

Sen­sors in our phones al­low us to take videos and pic­tures, nav­i­gate where we are go­ing, lo­cate peo­ple and read our heart rate, among many other things. Ev­ery day, apps are be­ing produced for just about ev­ery­thing, and there is no end in sight.

Richard Yu, CEO of the con­sumer busi­ness group with Chi­nese tele­com gi­ant Huawei, said in a speech last year that the next gen­er­a­tion of smart­phones will see the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the phone and hu­man be­ings be­come “even closer, evolv­ing to­wards a syn­the­sis of man with his world”.

Yu said the next-gen­er­a­tion phone will be the “su­per­phone” and pre­dicted that we should see it around 2020.

“The su­per­phone will be a liv­ing or­gan­ism, like our fam­i­lies and friends, record­ing our be­hav­iors and habits, and un­der­stand­ing our likes and pref­er­ences.”

He said that through the devel­op­ment of sen­sors such as ob­ject recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy and 3D scan­ning, the su­per­phone will “en­hance its per­cep­tion of hu­mans, ob­jects and the en­vi­ron­ment, cre­at­ing a vir­tual re­al­ity which mir­rors the phys­i­cal world”.

“In fact, many sen­sor tech­nolo­gies are sim­i­lar to the senses of hu­mans and an­i­mals. In the fu­ture, gus­ta­tory sen­sors will be able to dif­fer­en­ti­ate tastes, and au­di­tory sen­sors in­te­grated with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence will be able to iden­tify the source and dis­tance of sounds,” Yu said.

Dian Tjon­drone­goro, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor with the sci­ence and en­gi­neer­ing fac­ulty of the Queens­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, said: “Sen­sors are tak­ing us to a whole new level.

“The smart­phone has be­come the gate­way be­tween you and the world.”

The tech­nol­ogy web­site Ven­ture-Beat said that each sen­sor opens the door to new pos­si­bil­i­ties.

“Chemists at the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy re­cently de­vel­oped a smart­phone sen­sor that de­tects when food has gone bad,” the web­site said.

“Imag­ine us­ing your phone to check if the ro­tis­serie chicken you brought home three days ago is still safe?”

The ar­ti­cle went on to ex­plain that sen­sors col­lect raw data that make our phones more aware, and putting that data to use re­quires ma­chine learn­ing.

“By search­ing for pat­terns in the data, in­tel­li­gent apps can fig­ure out whether you are tall or short and even guess at gen­der. It may sound spooky at first, but not so when you con­sider how use­ful apps will be­come.”

The most in­tel­li­gent apps will use sen­sor-based data to pro­vide con­tex­tual in­for­ma­tion.

Fit­ness apps, such as Fit­bit, track how fast and how far you are walk­ing or run­ning. And many apps such as OpenTable for re­serv­ing restau­rants and Uber for trans­port use GPS as their main com­po­nent to serve in­for­ma­tion based on the user’s lo­ca­tion.

Some apps to­day are even crowd-sourc­ing sen­sor data for traf­fic and weather fore­casts.

Tjon­drone­goro said no­body pre­dicted that smart­phones would be­come smarter and smarter.

“They are no longer just de­vices used to talk to one an­other with. They have be­come the gate­way to vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing we do.

“They tell us when to get up, what we are go­ing to do, who we are go­ing to meet, how to get to places, they en­ter­tain and in­form, they have re­placed wal­lets and the list goes on and on. Even in health they are be­com­ing in­dis­pens­able.”

Ac­cord­ing to Mar­cel Fenez, pres­i­dent of the Hong Kong con­sul­tancy Fenez Me­dia, the con­sumer will think “smart­phone first and last for ev­ery as­pect of his or her life”.

“Ev­ery con­sumer ac­tiv­ity will be sup­ple­men­tary to smart­phone com­mu­ni­ca­tions. If we think of any crit­i­cal as­pect of our lives, whether it be health or sim­ply get­ting from point A to point B, it will be fa­cil­i­tated by smart­phone tech­nol­ogy.” Fenez said lo­ca­tion-based ser­vices are key to the new mo­bile world.

“So much of this is al­ready in place, and over the next few years the kinks in those ser­vices such as con­sumer con­cerns over in­tru­sive­ness, pri­vacy and trust will be re­solved so that adop­tion be­comes uni­ver­sal.”

On a macro level, Fenez be­lieves that a strong smart­phone ecosys­tem is key for ur­ban plan­ners at all lev­els in their quest to be the “smart cities” of the fu­ture, “with gov­ern­ment ser­vices and se­cu­rity sys­tems ac­cess al­ready in­ter­linked”.

On a day-to-day ba­sis, Fenez ob­served that for many peo­ple health is al­ready be­ing mon­i­tored through wear­able tech­nol­ogy that checks vi­tal signs to pro­vide warn­ings to med­i­cal work­ers and re­minds them to take med­i­ca­tion.

Mean­while, the ground has al­ready been cleared for the wide­spread adop­tion of dig­i­tal wal­lets, for third-party pay­ments and peer-to-peer trans­fers.

“Smart­phone com­merce and all bank­ing ser­vices are al­ready cen­tral to so many ar­eas of eco­nomic growth,” Fenez said.

On­line games and video con­tent have also been grow­ing ex­po­nen­tially in terms of use and rev­enues. But they are still a long way from peak­ing.

The con­cept of a “dig­i­tal home gate­way” has long been pro­moted as a key ac­cess point for all com­mu­ni­ca­tions en­ter­ing do­mes­tic premises: De­liv­er­ing tele­coms, data and video to homes via a sin­gle set-top box, mo­dem or router, Fenez said.

Tjon­drone­goro said the rise of the In­ter­net of Things, a net­work of phys­i­cal ob­jects linked through on­line con­nec­tiv­ity and big data, has given “all of us an in­cred­i­ble in­sight into ev­ery­thing we do in our daily lives”.

“This is lead­ing to self­quan­tifi­ca­tion tech­nolo­gies that will en­able us to not only bet­ter man­age our health but our daily lives as well.

“What started out as a con­cept has now be­come a move­ment, and our smart­phone will be at the cen­ter of it,” he said.

The tech mag­a­zine Wired said the self-quan­tifi­ca­tion trend of mon­i­tor­ing ex­er­cise and daily rou­tines will evolve be­yond phys­i­cal health to “en­com­pass all as­pects of peo­ple’s daily lives, in­clud­ing time spent at work”.

“Just as in­di­vid­ual con­sumers have em­braced well­ness self-quan­tifi­ca­tion data, in­clud­ing min­utes spent mov­ing and calo­ries con­sumed, em­ploy­ees will em­brace tech­nolo­gies, such as peo­ple an­a­lyt­ics, at work to bet­ter in­form in­di­vid­ual and team per­for­mance trends.”

The mag­a­zine said that data gleaned through feed­back and peo­ple an­a­lyt­ics tech­nolo­gies will pro­vide “un­prece­dented in­sights around work­place habits, in­clud­ing time spent on e-mail, col­lab­o­rat­ing with oth­ers, walk­ing to meet­ings and even chat­ting with co­work­ers”.

To­day’s top-end de­vices al­ready carry mas­sive pro­cess­ing power and at least 128 GB of stor­age space, sup­port­ing high-def­i­ni­tion video dis­plays.

Ac­cord­ing to Gart­ner, a tech­nol­ogy re­search and ad­vi­sory com­pany, 1.5 bil­lion smart­phones are ex­pected to be sold world­wide this year, 7 per­cent more than last year.

Most of us take for granted the things we can do with our phones. But where does all that data our phone col­lects on us end up? “That is the big ques­tion,” Tjon­drone­goro said. “The prob­lem for the fu­ture is not so much what is on your phone but what it is con­nected to and who has ac­cess to it … and that is the scary part.”

This was some­thing Ni­cholas Ne­gro­ponte, founder of the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy’s Me­dia Lab, touched on at the World Busi­ness Fo­rum in Syd­ney in May.

He was asked about who we should trust when it comes to our data: The com­pa­nies or gov­ern­ment?

Ne­gro­ponte re­ferred to the re­cent court case in the United States, in which the FBI tried to force Ap­ple to un­lock an iPhone used by an as­sailant in a ter­ror­ist at­tack in San Bernardino, Cal­i­for­nia, last year.

The FBI aban­doned the case, but as Ne­gro­ponte pointed out: “What in­ter­ested me is Ap­ple said it would not open the phone, which is very dif­fer­ent to could not. Would not means you can, but will not, which means we have to trust them (en­ter­prises) more than gov­ern­ment. And that both­ers me.”

Con­tact the writer at karl­wil­son@ chi­nadai­lya­pac.com

LIANG ZHEN / FOR CHINA DAILY

An ex­hibitor shows how to con­trol home ap­pli­ances us­ing smart­phone apps at a smart city ex­hi­bi­tion in Hangzhou, Zhe­jiang prov­ince.

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