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An in­no­va­tion Alexan­der Bell would ap­prove of

A phone does many things, but Itaru Sasaki re­minds us what makes it mag­i­cal


My poor old mo­bile phone. When it left the fac­tory, it was fea­tureper­fect. It was fast, ef­fec­tive and won­der­fully un­clut­tered. Then I filled it full of crap. Like, 128GB worth of crap. It’s my job to fill it with the sorts of crap you’ve prob­a­bly never heard of. Sure, I’ve got Candy Crush Saga and Face­book, but I’ve also got some dodgy things such as Wi-fi packet snif­fers, bea­con tri­an­gu­la­tors, con­tact­less credit-card read­ers and Blockchain wal­lets.

Sounds ob­vi­ous but apps, phone cases and var­i­ous Blue­tooth wear­ables sim­ply up­grade my phone to my own ver­sion of “next gen”. It’s an on­go­ing process that started with voice but we have ar­rived at an in­ter­est­ing in­flec­tion point in mo­bile form and func­tion.

Let’s start with Snapchat. It has re­cently an­nounced a part­ner­ship with Or­a­cle Data Cloud to close that ir­ri­tat­ing hole in the mar­ket­ing loop – ad­ver­tis­ing in­flu­ence on phys­i­cal pur­chases. Or­a­cle has ac­cess to the trans­ac­tion data of two bil­lion global con­sumers and, when you buy some­thing, it can now run al­go­rithms to see if you were inf lu­enced by a Snapchat ad im­me­di­ately be­fore. Turns out 92% of Snapchat cam­paigns drive a pos­i­tive lift in in-store sales. Cool.

Ma­chine learn­ing is be­com­ing main­stream and is be­ing em­ployed in fields such as au­to­matic ob­ject recog­ni­tion. Take a pic­ture of an ap­ple and it will recog­nise it! What’s more in­ter­est­ing is that it’s be­ing used to “read” the con­tent of video as it streams through your phone. Great for ad­ver­tis­ers or copy­right own­ers to know what you’re watch­ing but also great for cen­sor­ship. If used wisely, it can be em­ployed to stop ev­ery­thing from pub­lic view­ing of pornog­ra­phy to fake news videos. If used un­wisely… well, you can join the dots.

Hard­ware up­dates are com­ing thick and fast too. SCIO (de­spite a rocky Kick­starter jour­ney) is now ship­ping its tiny molec­u­lar scan­ner that can fit on a phone. You can scan the nu­tri­tional val­ues of fruit, tell chicken from pork or in­stantly read the chem­i­cal make-up of a pill. It will tell you how much sugar is in that ap­ple you just scanned, by the way.

Want to feel that ap­ple too? No prob­lem – Tan­vas has un­veiled a hap­tic screen (that’s “touchy-feely” to you and me). Rub your fin­ger over your screen to feel the tex­ture of the im­age. There have been Braille screens that use bub­bles to cre­ate tac­tile bumps for a while but this is all kinds of next-level voodoo.

My phone knows where I am, where I’m prob­a­bly go­ing to be in ten min­utes, who I just spoke to, what my pass­words are… the list is al­most end­less.

So where’s all this go­ing? Con­sider this ver­sion of the not-so-dis­tant future: wire­less charg­ing will re­move the need for bat­ter­ies. Di­rect op­ti­cal-cor­tex con­nec­tions will re­move the need for a screen. All that com­put­ing power will sim­ply be off loaded to cloud-based ser­vices. A “phone” will re­quire al­most no hard­ware and be small enough to be im­planted. It will be con­trolled by thought. Ob­vi­ously.

And just when you start to rock back­wards and for­wards mum­bling “We’re all doomed!”, you hear about Itaru Sasaki, a 70-year-old man from Ja­pan. He in­stalled a phone booth in his gar­den as a way of com­ing to terms with the death of his cousin. Af­ter the dev­as­tat­ing tsunami in 2011, many peo­ple lost loved ones and asked if they could use the phone box. Now, Itaru’s so-called “wind phone” has be­come a des­ti­na­tion for peo­ple from all over Ja­pan.

This is some­how re­as­sur­ing in a world rac­ing at break­neck speed to­wards the uni­corn and a rain­bow-sparkle-filled future. We can learn a lot from Itaru-san… peo­ple, soul and con­ver­sa­tions are what re­ally mat­ter. Cre­ate a place or a brand (or a hut in a gar­den) where this can hap­pen, and peo­ple will come.

“My phone knows where I am, where I’m prob­a­bly go­ing to be in ten min­utes, who I just spoke to, what my pass­words are”

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 ??  ?? Sasaki’s ‘wind phone’ has be­come a tourist des­ti­na­tion
Sasaki’s ‘wind phone’ has be­come a tourist des­ti­na­tion
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