In early 2014, Chief Justice John Roberts, writing on behalf of the Supreme Court in the landmark case of Riley v. California, noted that cell phones had become “such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.” While this is a tickling and imaginative thought, it makes you wonder: do Justice Roberts’ comments actually hold any weight?
Consider this: 91% of the US adult population currently owns a cell phone, of which 61% are smartphones. In fact, while smartphones are only about half as common, cell phones are just as common in Nigeria and South Africa, with about 90% of adults in those countries owning mobile devices. These little devices have become so integral to functioning in civilized societies that it’s hard to imagine existing in them without one. Think about it. If you’ve ever “felt naked” without your phone, you know what I’m talking about. But c’mon–cellphones as an important feature of human anatomy? Well… yes.
According to Marguerite Reardon, writing for CNet, some experts believe that “embeddable ‘phones’ or devices that are implanted in the body that use wireless technology could be commercially available by 2023.” Still need some convincing?
Here are 7 ways we’re slowly becoming one with our phones.
1. Human Civilization is Already Dependent on the Internet and Phones
A lot of people like to debate whether or our growing societal dependence on the internet is a good thing or not. Whatever your stance on the issue, it’s hard to hide from the facts–if the internet were to shut down globally for even just a measly 48 hours, we’d probably see food shortages, rioting, and massive amounts of chaos. This is because the internet helps to run almost everything, including business inventories, transportation schedules, financial payments, etc. Interestingly, we already have an idea of what an internet outage would look like. In 2007, somebody accidentally cut a fiber optic trunk line in Phoenix, AZ, and ended up knocking out much of the cellular and internet service throughout the state. Reddit user Splorinstuff recounts his experience:
“While in total it was probably less than 12 hours, panic was pretty clear. Banks shut their doors and dropped their bars for protection. Grocery stores told people not to come in unless they showed cash at the door. People were running all over trying to get money and supplies. Extend that 12 to 48 and you’ll have a real problem. Infrastructure begins to shut down and people start feeling actual fear. Financial loss starts to seem relatively insignificant to the other effects.”
Our relationship with the internet isn’t all doom and gloom, though. Think about all of the things that the world wide web has made possible. We have global commerce. We are able to text, call, Tweet, or Skype anybody from almost anywhere on the planet. We can learn anything at a moment’s notice. You’re able to read this article right now. Arguing whether or not societal dependence on the internet is a good or bad thing is about as pointless as arguing whether civilization’s dependence on other technologies like electricity or fossil fuels is good or bad. These things just are! Having all of the world’s information at our fingertips has changed us in incredible ways, and will continue to shape us in the future going forward–so much so that we might just want all of the world’s information in our fingertips…
2. Smartphones Are Already Pushing the Limits of Technology
Another indicator that we are slowly becoming our phones is that we focus on them more than almost any other piece of consumer technology. Every September, for example, the whole world turns its focus on Apple (AAPL) to see what new advancements will be made to the iPhone (No headphone jack?! What?!). But it’s not just Apple anymore that’s driving the smartphone race anymore. Samsung (SSNLF) has been doing extremely well with its Galaxy phones, and Google (GOOG) even has its new Pixel offerings available to the public. The problem is that most of these phones pretty much all do the same thing. Sure one may have different camera specs, screen sizes, or color of brushed aluminum–but innovation in the smartphone field has died considerably in the last couple of years. While Samsung has recently placed patents on really cool smartphone tech, including plans for flexible screens, built-in projectors, and even prototype, Star Wars-esque hologram displays, the fact is that we’ve reached peak smartphone. If history is any indicator, these pieces of tech are going to have to undergo a period of renaissance and innovation before their design and capabilities are exciting to the public again. So maybe it’s time we switch our focus from the question “how can we change the smartphone?” to “how can the smartphone change the world?”
3. They’re Already Becoming Our Cars
Intel CEO Brain Krzanich has already put a lot of thought into how smartphones can change the world–and he’s convinced that smart cars are how that change will come around. At a tech conference last July, Krzanich made a speech underlining his belief that self-driving vehicles that will use data to drive themselves represent the next frontier of mobile business. He may be right. Mobile is infiltrating our vehicles already, as those who are too busy to put their phones away while driving is turning to Apple CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto apps, which essentially turn vehicles into very large smartphones. Additionally, Cambridge University researchers are attempting to build software that “would turn a smartphone into an even more versatile device, one that would be able to bring self-driving abilities to future cars,” according to BGR. “Humans can drive using vision alone,” says Cambridge researcher Alex Kendell. “We’re hoping to teach a machine to see, to be able to do the same thing.” Check out their video, “Teaching Machines to See,” below.
4. They’re Already Augmenting Reality
There was once a time that we all thought Google Glass would be huge. This flopped for a number of reasons, one of those being that nobody wants to wear a goofy pair of non-glasses on their face all the time–but it didn’t flop because nobody was interested in what Glass provided, namely augmented reality (AR). Pokemon Go is one of the biggest pieces of evidence showing that the world is ready for and wants AR, even if most investors are clueless about AR’s potential. The point is that smartphones are already able to augment reality for us, the only thing we need to do is point the on-device camera at the world–or come up with some kind of wearable pair of glasses or contact lenses that can pair with and stream data from the smartphone itself. With this type of setup, you’d have a sort of HUD at all times that could display your location, your heart rate, stock market information, incoming messages–basically whatever you want to be displayed. Not only that, but landmarks could contain “floating” digital information too. With the way that smartphones are becoming able to recognize the world around us just as well as, if not better than humans are, it’s not that farfetched to think we’d want to form a permanent symbiotic relationship with this type of tech.
5. They’re Becoming More Like People Every Day
For awhile now Siri has lived inside of our iPhones, a disembodied voice without much personality and sometimes frustrating to talk to. Yet, we still talk to her, and we’re doing it more and more often. In 2015, up to 20 percent of all searches on the internet were voice searches. Unfortunately, Siri, Cortana, Alexa, and all of the other ethereal personal assistants have a long way to go before we sing their praises or even begin to recognize them as intelligent. Perhaps this is why Google believes AI is the next front in the smartphone wars. It’s not just Google either. Earlier this year, researchers at MIT created a low-power neural-network chip they’ve named Eyeriss that consumes ten times less power than a mobile GPU. This essentially means that smartphone-based AI tasks are much closer than many people realize. In fact, at the end of 2015, CNN ran an article predicting that “artificial intelligence and virtual reality headsets, not your smartphone, could be the way you access entertainment, apps, and services by the end of the decade.” Of course, they never mention that the two are more likely to merge into one device that one replace the other. In fact, they cite the 10 Hot Consumer Trends for 2016 report by Ericsson (ERIC) for their article, which supports the idea that we’ll synthesize AI, phones, and wearables. Some of those statistics:
- 85% think wearable electronic assistants will be commonplace
- 80% think internal sensors will measure our well-being and enhance our vision, hearing, and memory
- 33% want AI to keep them company
See? Someday that voice inside your head might actually be a voice inside your head. Creepy.
6. They’re Already Becoming the Only Computers We’ll Ever Need…
With advancements like the Eyeriss chip that could bring more computing power to your phone using less energy, it’s safe to say (and Wired already has) that in a very short amount of time, a smartphone could be the only personal computer anybody needs. Of course, not everybody agrees with this sentiment. Technology marketing analyst Chris Jones doesn’t believe that smartphones will necessarily reign supreme. “…For many,” he says, “it won’t replace the larger devices with a physical keyboard for productivity tasks… but, if a smartphone can do all the things PCs, digital cameras, camcorders, GPS navigation devices, MP3 players, and DVD players can, then yes, smartphones could be the primary computing device for many people.” It’s really not that farfetched. Motorola (MSI) tried to swing the market that way in 2011 with the Atrix, way ahead of their time, and Hewlett Packard (HPE) tried to break the same ground in 2016 with the X3 Windows 10-powered smartphone. Green Bot even ran an article positing 10 ways your smartphone has already replaced your laptop. Considering that these tiny devices are capable of running health diagnostics, playing games and movies, and, as mentioned above, augmenting reality, don’t be surprised if more people ditch their standard computers in favor of smartphones.
7. …And We’re Already Putting Computers Inside Our Bodies
It’s true. While we’ve all heard of wearables, including Snapchat’s new video-streaming sunglasses, not everybody realizes implantables, including the wireless pacemaker, the artificial pancreas, continuous glucose monitors, and even pain-blocking implants are right around the corner. While the benefits of implantables for those with legitimate medical conditions don’t seem to escape most, some do find more disconcerting the concept of implantables as a pastime or form of recreation. Nevertheless, a group of people called transhumanists believe that the future of human biology is inextricably paired with technology, to the point that upgrades to our natural hardware may allow us to live forever. Now, don’t get it twisted. Transhumanists and promises of immortality are pretty far out there, but the idea of practical implantables such as microchip birth control, RFID chips, and even computer-brain interfaces are actually pretty all pretty feasible. WT Vox ran a story covering the top “implantable wearables soon to be in your body,” and at the top of that list–you guessed it–is the smartphone.
So there you have it.
While the day when the human being merges with the smartphone is a possibility, there are a lot of hurdles to getting there. We’ll need to increase storage capacity on our smartphones, for one, and that says nothing of security. Cybercriminals using ransomware, a type of virus that takes control of computing devices and holds it ‘hostage’ until the user pays up, have been hitting hospitals across the U.S. and endangering lives by shutting down medical systems and infrastructures. Cybersec analysts warn that implantables like pacemakers could be the next target unless we drastically beef up wearable and Internet of Things (IoT) security.
The good news is that the greatest minds in the world are working on it, and as science and technology march forward in time, the things we never thought possible before will become reality. Exciting, isn’t it? Perhaps, someday in the future, you’ll even be able to search for this article online just by thinking it.
You might even be able to use the smartphone that’s been embedded inside of you to give me a call, assuming I’m still alive in that future.
Who knows? With the way technological advancements are going, I just might be.