Paul Bloom is Chief Technology Officer for Telecommunications and Mobile Computing at IBM Research.
When considering the future of mobile computing, here’s the advice I give people: Don’t think about mobility as a device or technology. Think about it as a state of mind.
The trap we fall into when it comes to transformative technologies, such as mobile, is trying to figure out how they fit into how we go about doing things now.
Today, most people approach mobile computing the way they did the Web 15 years ago. I have some business process or operations. Here’s this new channel, the Internet. How do I take what I’m doing now and put it on the Web?
We know how that worked out for most companies — not so well. Entire industries and operations were transformed by the Web, just not in ways that people initially imagined. But human nature being what it is, this is exactly the approach people are taking again with mobile.
It’s not until we take a step back and say, let’s just forget the old business processes and consider what’s new and innovative about this new technology. Then we can get a true picture of the future of mobility.
Mobile equals data that’s available to anyone at anytime. Mobile computing provides instant access to data, past, present, future about my tastes, purchases, opinions, actions and locations. It makes it possible to combine it instantly with similar data from millions, even billions of people.
Through mobile, the power of sensors to create real-time information is unleashed. These sensors could be tags in shipping containers at sea that automatically direct inventory to stores based on demand and what people are saying on a social network. Or they could be a tag on a pair of glasses that understands my thoughts by reading my brain activity and, in response to me thinking about dinner on the way home from work, orders a pizza.
Mobile allows data to be transmitted, yes, by the mobile device I’m carrying, but also from billions of wirelessly enabled machines around me, whether a traffic sign on a highway or a heart monitoring system embedded in my chest or a can of peas sitting in my kitchen cabinet.
The result is there will be so much data created (in part by the device we think of as a phone that really isn’t a phone) that it will change how we as individuals perform our daily tasks and how enterprises interact with customers, clients, partners and employees.
Consider just three different examples:
–The concept of buying will be very different. I won’t go into a store and pluck something off the shelf based on some research I did at home on the Web. Now there is my whole social network influencing and informing me and the network of retailers vying for my money. I’ll know more about products and my needs in real time, just as the retailer will know a lot more about me and my future needs.
So how, using those insights, will they entice me to buy their product as opposed to someone else’s? One approach I can easily imagine is real-time auctioning. A whole group of retailers could automatically court me, using information including the price points that work for them based on the market, the amount of follow-on sales they could expect from me, my value to them as a customer, and their willingness to lower their price to gain me as a loyal customer.
–Health will be transformed. All of our body parts will be “sensorized” in one fashion or another. It could be something as simple as a pill we swallow that relays information back to our doctors and specialists as we go about our day after a checkup. Or it could be sensors implanted in or on us over the long term to automatically track existing or potential conditions.
Using these kinds of tracking technologies and pulling the data they’re collecting together with information I’ll already have stored in my universal electronic medical record files about my specific DNA, the history of my ancestors, and millions of other people, I’ll be able to forecast with a high degree of probability what is going to happen to me and what preventative or treatment measures I need to take. It will help me determine what I should eat and when, and how I should exercise and when I should see a healthcare professional.
–Then there’s the notion of transportation. If I want to go from point A to point B for a particular reason, there will be a system in the network that says, “I know why you’re going there,” including your objective and the urgency of the trip. Based on different environmental aspects, such as weather, traffic, or time of day, such a system would take into account other elements, such as your family and business requirements, and indicate how you would get that task done the most efficiently.
Today, when we’re planning where and when we go, we don’t optimize our time around all of the different elements affecting it. We react. Mobile enables us to be proactive. For instance, the system could alert you to a storm forecast for tomorrow at 9 a.m. when you’re planning to go to the store. And it will warn you, based on traffic configurations following similar storms, that you’ll likely be late for your meeting at work, which means you’ll likely have to stay later to work on a project deadline, which in turn will force you to miss your kid’s soccer game.
Data is potent. But mobile computing’s real-time data, available to you when and where you need it and analyzed based not just about you, but about millions of other people is revolutionary data. Still, we won’t know how transformative this will be (until we figure out how to make the most of what makes mobility unique), until we remove the constraints on existing life processes and insert the innovative capabilities that mobility enables.