What Mobile Phones Will Look Like In 20 Years From Now

When I started in journalism, thirty plus years ago, there were no computers, or the Internet. We used to write our stories initially with a pen and notebook and then on typewriters back in the office using carbon copy paper. It wasn’t quite the Stone Age, although there was a person called the stone sub whose job it was to make the last minute changes to hot metal used to print a newspaper. When I think about the past, I get a little misty eyed. It makes me nostalgic. There was a certain romance in the way newspapers used to be written, created and printed which I kind of miss. But you can’t stop progress. Then came computers, email and mobile phones. In the case of mobile phones, we’ve discovered we can’t live without them. They’ve undergone their own revolution. In the 30 years since the first mobile phone was offered for sale, we’ve seen it morph from a wallet busting brick, into a super slim computer that can do virtually anything we want from entertaining us to saying what we should be doing next. But what interests me is where to from here? What if we could see into the future? What is the next generation, and several generations after that, mobile phone going to look like? What are the innovations already being played with by engineers and scientists in Hi Tech laboratories around the world? Is the future of the device set to change at warp speed? So, somewhat ambitiously, I thought I would try and answer those questions. I did some digging and this is what I came up with by way of research and the best guesses on where mobile phone technology is heading. To make it easier, I’ve divided the technological predictions from the next two years, all the way through to the next 20.

Let’s begin with the next 1 to 2 years.

Mobiles were truly ugly when they were first introduced but at least they could withstand rough treatment. In recent years there’s been a tradeoff in mobile phone design, with resilience winning out in favour of artistic beauty. But the future will witness yet another transformation with the introduction of unbreakable mobile phones. Weatherproof handsets are already proving to be a surprise hit with consumers who want their mobile device to be made of tougher stuff. Manufacturers will be looking to use the latest materials, including scratch and shatterproof infused glass, as well as liquid metal for cases, to make them virtually indestructible and, able to bounce back to their original shape after being dented.

Modular mobile phones will hit the market where customers can buy a handset made from features they pick and choose to be included. There’s already a project under way that will allow consumers to decide what their custom handset can do and what it will look like so they can create a phone that perfectly fits their needs. For example, if there’s a phone that has a great camera, but you don’t need the other stuff, this modular approach would allow you to have the best of everything or cherry pick the bits that are important to you. Expect to see the pick ‘n’ mix smartphones shift the goalposts in the immediate future.

In 3 to 5 years, with smartphone screens getting bigger, and people spending more time on mobiles than any other device, expect to see super high resolution, cinema quality displays on handsets. This will be a quantum leap from the monochrome, one line displays of the 90s. We will be looking at full 4K screens, that’s four times the resolution of High Definition, right in the palm of your hand. This feast for the eyes is only just reaching our television living rooms today but mobile makers are already eyeing it up for pocket size gadgets. It’s unlikely that mobile sizes will continue to grow at this stage with around five inches or 12 centimetres fast becoming the optimum size. But within three years, stunning 4K screen will be the de rigueur. And If you think 4G browsing on your phone is pretty fast today, just wait a few years and you’ll be falbbergasted. The next generation wireless mobile network will be at warp speed by comparison, quick enough to download a high def movie in just 30 seconds. It will also make storage size obsolete as everything from your apps including entertainment could be accessed from the storage cloud within the blink of an eye. The infrastructure for this technology is being prepared for release in 2020.

The camera will also evolve in our smartphones to do far more than just your standard selfie. It will have 3D technology using wide angle lenses and sensors so you will be able to map your surroundings, that will mean you can actually walk around inside your photos. Mobile cameras will understand and process the space around you and then remodel it into a 3D image. For example, you could revisit old birthday party pictures, explore old holiday photos, or take a look around hotels, houses for sale or eBay items in great detail. The technology is currently being tested in mobile handsets.

In 6 to 10 years, the fabled foldable mobile phone, which has been talked about almost as long as the flying car will become a reality. This remarkable innovation will be brought about by breakthroughs in material technology — in particular a super thin, super strong and conductive wonder material called Graphene. There are already mobile phones on the market that have a slight bend in them and manufacturers are showing off these flexible devices at tech shows, but within ten years we could see mobiles that can change shape to suit our needs and roll up right into our pocket. There wouldn’t be a need for both a tablet and a mobile, or for you to decide what screen size to choose— imagine being able to unravel a screen that adapts to different sizes? You can make it bigger for browsing the internet or smaller if you just want to make a phone call. Mobile manufacturers are keen on this flexible, wrappable, mouldable, unbreakable mobile device and research labs like the Human Media Lab at Queen’s University in Canada have already begun producing a prototype. Batteries last about as long as a sneeze these days but in the Hi Tech future, our devices could run for 20 years on a single charge. A team at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, have developed a titanium dioxide gel that stores lithium ions in its nanostructure which makes it the Holy Grail as far an everlasting battery is concerned. But that is not the only development in battery technology. There’s a team in South Korea looking to transform the heat that’s generated from our bodies into electricity to power mobile phones. There’s also the idea of piezoelectricity, which converts movement into energy so we could walk and charge our mobile phone at the same time. Believe it or not researchers in California have created a tattoo that generates electricity from human sweat. So if you will pardon the pun we won’t have to sweat the future of a mobile phone’s power supply.

In 10 to 15 years those holographic floating displays that used to be the stuff of science fiction movies, will burst out of our mobile devices. Researchers are working on a 3D screen that materialises into thin air which we can move and manipulate. It’s already being developed by a startup company called Ostendo Technologies. Their ‘Quantum Photonic Imager’ is a mini projector that can beam a high resolution image into the open. That technology could be fine tuned so that we’re fully interactive with the floating screen — we could watch sport being played in front of us, get inside maps and play games in a 3D space created for us. Wearable technology is even trying to remove the necessity of carrying a phone and in future years the physical handset could disappear altogether. Just as the smartphone managed to overwhelm the hardware of developments like Sat Nav, MP3 players, wallets, and to some degree watches and compact cameras,the new smart watches and smart glasses will be operated by spoken command and they will become the primary communication device. The screen would be projected in front of the glasses in a Heads Up Display or through a pill sized holographic projector that would unfurl in midair. It would spell the end of the selfie. What a shame.

Finally, in 20 to 30 years we’ll look back and be highly amused at how we once had to actually hold a mobile phone to operate it. Going way beyond wearables, is a smart contact lens that could offer a device free experience to display messages, web pages, directions and video literally right in front of your eye. A lens with basic computer circuitry is currently being tested, which includes sensors that will provide important medical alerts such as when a diabetic reaches dangerous glucose levels. With nanotechnology having the potential to build robots the size of blood cells, the prospect of developing computing components small enough to fit on a contact lens is a distinct possibility. As the memory of clunky, manual mobile handsets morph into a world of invisible communication devices, plugged straight into our bodies, we will also see highly sophisticated operating systems that we can talk to as if they were another human being. Artificial Intelligence with built in personal assistants which become intuitive, knowing what we like, where we’ve been and what we’re doing.

If our mobiles can already work out and tell us when to leave work in order to catch our usual train home while reminding us to say happy birthday to an office colleague  and warning us about the number of calories there are in a biscuit even before we’ve eaten it, how hard can it be to imagine what else it will be able to do? Forget about asking Siri if it’s going to rain, you can have a full blown conversation, if you want to, about the state of the weather all over the world.

A computer has already been designed to dominate the television game show Jeopardy,  providing complex human like answers to questions. Some, like me, might find all of this terrifying but techno geeks, I’m sure, can’t wait. As one wag suggested, Artificial Intelligence is coming so you better get your small talk ready or you will run out of things to say.

Is Artificial Intelligence A Threat To Mankind? Stephen Hawking Thinks It Is.

The brave new world is no longer some Aldous Huxley flight of fancy or even fantasy. It’s here. And it’s with us now. It’s called Artificial Intelligence and it’s spawning a flourishing new, and what its advocates hope, will be a massively, profitable industry. Those involved in its development say Ai is nothing more than a benign computer program that does human quality analysis. In other words, it is designed to replace the human element in many tiring, dangerous or time-consuming jobs. Companies like IBM, Google and Apple are spending huge sums of money developing Ai. They say it will be used to manufacture very specific programs designed to improve our society.

Nevertheless, there is widespread fear and distrust of Ai. Who can forget the talking red light called HAL 9000 in 2001 A Space Odyssey. HAL, short for Heuristically programed Algorithmic computer. HAL became a living, not quite breathing personification of evil. A computer, who could talk and was capable of independent, rational thought and ultimately a threat to the human race. So is that what Ai really is? Its supporters say Ai is not alive and never will be. And while it might be capable of performing tasks that a human being would do, it has no genuine creativity, emotions, ambitions or desires other than what is programed into it or what it detects from the environment. Unlike science fiction, or what’s made into movies, Ai has no desire to mate, reproduce or have a large family of little Ai’s running around causing havoc. But in a limited context, Ai can think like us and set tasks for itself. But just like any other computer program or technology, its creators decide its role in society. And we are told those creators have no intention of using it to enslave humanity. They point to the fact that Artificially intelligent computer programs, operate as specialists. There is a network of Ai sub programs each of them individually handling tasks like computer vision, language, machine learning and robotic movement. So Ai is not a ‘he’ or a ‘she’ or even an ‘it’ but a ‘they.’

Supporters of Ai do acknowledge and concede that, like all other computer programs, Artificial Intelligence is ultimately controlled by human beings. It can be designed as a war machine, creating weapons that carry a nuclear or biological payload capable of wiping out the human race. But, they say, that is nothing new. We’ve been able to do that in the past without the need of Ai. In any case it’s not the fault of science. We human beings are to blame. We shouldn’t fear Ai but we should fear the people who might want to misuse it.

I don’t know about you but I don’t find the words and thoughts of Ai supporters particularly comforting or reassuring. And, as it turns out I’m not alone. Two eminent thinkers, Stephen Hawking, a world renowned Astrophysicist and Elon Musk, the guy behind electric car manufacturer, Tesla Motors, PayPal and rocket manufacturer, Space X. Both of these prominent individuals believe Ai is a doomsday prophecy. And while they are not talking about robotic armies rising up to take over the world, they talk of a cataclysmic event called Singularity. Hawking and Musk say ‘singularity’ could only be decades away and what will happen is that the network of world computers and Ai will have a kind of explosion of machine intelligence. By then, most of the world’s food distribution, banking and other vital systems will all be conducted through that network. So the explosion will cause all of the systems to malfunction and that will bring the world to its knees. Now you might be ready to dismiss this as something fanciful. Just as a reminder, this is not a couple of crackpot scientists talking. These two guys are highly intelligent men who the world takes very seriously. In fact, in an interview with the BBC, Hawking went further. He said the development of full Artificial Intelligence would spell the end of the human race. He called for all research into Ai to be aborted immediately, which is kind of ironic coming from someone who relies on Artificial Intelligence to communicate.

Hawking suffers from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease). For decades he has been scrolling a cursor through the alphabet, laboriously building words so that he can communicate through twitching his cheek. He was asked to express his thoughts on a recent revamp of his computer-assisted speech system by the computer company, Intel, and machine-learning software company, Swiftkey. Hawking is working with Intel to integrate new features such as predictive text with his existing suite of sensors to help him “speak” through a voice synthesiser. The astrophysicist has embraced a wide range of technologies in his quest to communicate and research.

But it was the ability of the software to “learn” and “predict” his preference in words that completely spooked him. He says while such primitive forms of artificial intelligence have proven to be very useful, he fears the consequences of creating something smarter than a human being. It could take off on its own, and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, would be superseded because they couldn’t compete.

Elon Musk thinks exactly the same way and his language is even more colourful than Hawking. Musk says ‘summoning the demon’ of self-learning, which is what he calls artificial intelligence, would ‘potentially be more dangerous’ than nuclear weapons.

“I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence, Musk said. “If I were to guess what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that … with artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. (but it) didn’t work out.”

Ai definitely has a lot of people talking. It has caused the formation of ethics panels and UN investigations, university reviews and consumer protection reports. They are saying it is a potential threat but not a clear and present danger.

Supporters of Artificial Intelligence are adamant it will benefit mankind but thinking machines are already rapidly displacing humans in the workforce: Sleepless, never tiring, performing repetitive but complex tasks in an indefatigable manner. If you are in business and don’t think beyond the size of your wallet, you’d have to be asking yourself where is the downside?