Last night, the CEO of electronics giant Huawei delivered the keynote address over at the Consumer Electronics Show in the Venetian, Las Vegas. He talked live to tens of thousands of people about a future where we move beyond the smartphone, toward the Intelligent Phone. To coincide with this, Huawei asked me to think about how I’d want my intelligent phone to look in 10 years time, from a health & fitness perspective. I jumped at the chance as I hold strong views on it. You might already feel that today’s smartphones are god-like remote controllers, ruling over our entire lives, and maybe my future aspirations for it will sound as crazy as the concept of Facebook would have seemed in the ‘90s. Regardless, my view is that it’ll be a blend of digital doctor, nano-nutritionist, mechanical butler, cyber security guard and Artificial Intelligence unit all in your pocket. It will help us live longer lives, and enjoy higher-quality, safer lives. It’ll take care of the trivial so that we can focus on what’s most relevant to enriching our lives. It will be a complete game changer for humanity. A bold and dramatic claim; click more to see why…
Physically speaking, in terms of how it looks, I don’t think it’ll be that different to the form factor of today; yes, perhaps it’ll be flexible, made entirely of glass, or will be on digital paper (etc… something futuristic), but the format of ‘speaker at the top, microphone at the bottom’ hasn’t changed much since the earliest days of telecommunications. The real change will be what it can do, and essentially, I think the future phone will be all about ‘background automation’. Currently, smartphones do A LOT when we tell them to do it (foreground automation, if you will); that process of instruction can often require complex/tedious commands and many taps of the screen. I think the future intelligent phone will learn your habits and patterns to become a seamless packaging-up of all possible functionality, curated with thoughtful, tailored convenience. In essence, it needs to do things automatically to make life appreciably better!
“OK, Like what?” – Here are my top 6 hopes…
1) FEEL WELL: This is a biggie. For me, the future intelligent phone will be fitted with a smart ‘sequencing’ sensor (https://nanoporetech.com/products) that will automatically take regular background samples from my skin/sweat whilst I hold the phone during use. The samples will be decoded locally on the device, to detect early signs of illness, infection, and disease, long before any symptoms ever show. The phone could then remotely log this and share it with my GP, suggest health advice or highlight over-the-counter medicine I might like to get at the pharmacy to help me ward off the ailment. This, combined with heart rate sensing, fitness tracking, and activity monitoring can help me to meet goals more intelligently, to operate in my environment more efficiently, and to live more healthily. It’s like having a digital GP who’s with you all year round. For the 2.3m people living with Coronary Heart Disease in the UK (e.g.), it could alert them to the presence of the heart attack chemical Troponin ahead of a cardiac event. It could constantly monitor for Cancer markers in the bloodstream to ensure the earliest treatment and the best chances of survival. The medical oversight could be transformative for our quality of life, and for the health services of the world.
2) TASTE GOOD: I’d love for my phone to KNOW what I’m eating/drinking and keep a tally for me. Ensuring accurate nutrition can be incredibly difficult for anyone who isn’t a trained dietitian. Quantities can be impractical to measure, logs can be arduous and easy to neglect, and honesty-with-oneself is another consideration too. Were my phone able to observe and quietly record what I’m eating, then help to prompt me through the day as to what I’ve not had enough of (or what I’ve had too much of), that would be incredibly helpful. ‘Faya, it’s time for another 200ml of water – get to the cooler!’. With the aim of ensuring optimal nutrition and hydration, this always-on, background technology is just what I want out of an intelligent phone. I haven’t a clue how one would begin to achieve this, but I strongly hope it’ll be possible in the future.
3) GOOD ‘HAL’: Setting aside concerns around malevolent machines overthrowing humanity, ideally my phone would be a pocket-based Artificial Intelligence (AI), coordinating everything else technological in my life. I want all the other devices that speak to my phone to grow more intelligent, in a digital hub-and-spoke model. The phone which will have advanced AI, sits at the center and is the hub, whilst the other devices that touch my life (watch, central heating, smoke alarms, door locks and alarms, cameras, shower, TV etc) are the spokes. A truly connected smart home is controlled by the remote that is your phone, but given the degree of AI, it’s not just you pressing the button and seeing the result; it’s a more 2-way dialogue, with intelligent, habit-based solutions. It’ll constantly listen to what’s going on around it, process the unstructured data it encounters (audibly or visually), and create suggestions around pertinent things I’m likely to have missed in that environment; a supercomputer brain, providing extraordinary insights from within my coat pocket!
4) SPIDER SENSE: If there’s danger, future-phone can warn me. It may know that there’s a fire at home, as the connected smoke and alarm and thermometer have triggered the camera. It can show me that I shouldn’t worry as it’s not a burglar scratching at the window, but a super cute puppy. It’ll even be able to perform in-depth statistical analysis of choices it thinks I’m going to make, to give me the odds of a specific adverse outcome happening, to help me make smarter decisions.
5) WAKEUP SERVICE FROM JEEVES: This is how I’d love my daily experience to look… My phone, linked to a suite of sensors, would perceive that I’ve woken, gently raise the blinds and softly switch on BBC News, start the shower running as I walk towards the bathroom, set my coffee machine into action as I exit the shower, unlock my front door for me to leave (coffee in hand), and switch off the lights/heating whilst the house remains empty. At my meeting, it might provide a live link to my Laptop, which is docked at home, by using an in-built projector to simulate the display, and another to create a touch-keyboard on the work surface. There are all sorts of automation tasks I’d want it to do to make home life more simple, and whilst these might sound like ridiculously privileged comforts to us right now, they’ll one day be as standard as airbags in a car.
6) MAKE IT BETTER FOR THE WORLD: I want it to have an ethical footprint. The extraction of rare earth minerals leaves an impact on the planet and it would be nice to offset this footprint in some capacity; could there be solar-paneled properties to future phones so that they can charge whilst I’m out on my run? My household / personal care products are increasingly being sold in biodegradable packaging – couldn’t my mobile phone have that characteristic too?
So there it is, my kind-of wacky view, but everything awesome starts somewhere that’s quite ‘out-there’! I’d love to know what you want to see in your future phone too so please share it below and let’s make this future phone happen!