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The De-Centralization of Your Digital Life





by Ashwin Rajan

A different sort of microchip revolution is underway in Sweden. Thousands of Swedes are having microchips inserted in their hand. Their aim: make life simpler and more convenient. For a start, the chip helps do things like open doors and pay for products. But what's the one common hidden benefit for inserting this in your arm? As one of the guys interviewed in this video said: "I don't have to carry my smartphone around anymore."

The microchip implant is the latest attempt by connected humans to escape their smartphone. It frees up precious capacity which would be used in operating a phone, or remembering passwords.

It is sometimes hard to believe that the smartphone was introduced as recently as 2007. This one screen has since grown to dominate our digital lives at an unreal pace. Now we fight to balance smartphone overuse with it's many benefits. And so as people find ways get rid of the smartphone, opportunities arise for other technologies to step in.

The smartphone centralised our digital lives. Now as people seek to minimise smartphone use, some of its core functions are starting to be 'outsourced' away. A de-centralisation of digital life has begun.

Here is an example of an outsourced smartphone function. For years we controlled music by tapping controls on it's screen. Now at least at home, you can speak into a voice interface to control music. And that changes the act of music listening itself. The interaction is transformed from a series of taps into a verbal conversation. This gives the conversational interface (say Alexa) opportunities to drive the experience in ways your phone app could not.

The intuitiveness of this shift in interaction underplays how tremendously significant it really is. To spot opportunities for greater value creation with such shifts, we should not focus on specific technologies such as voice or VR. We should zoom out and focus on contexts of human experience.

There are at least five human experience contexts competing to usurp the position of primary interface from the smartphone. They are the Body, the Home, the Car, the City and Space.

Here is a little about each.

Context 1: The Body

The body is easily the most intimate and powerful technological context for new interfaces. Advanced wearables such as the Oura ring are competing with the invasive microchip mentioned above. A number of brain-machine interfaces including the advanced Neuralink are on the hoziron. Others are finding ways to sew technology fibers into the body itself. Body-based interfaces, while being ever easier to adopt, tread new ground in the complicated space of privacy and user consent. Apple is trying to make the transition from the smartphone to the body via it's Watch.

Meanwhile, we are also enveloping human bodies and minds in XR (VR/AR) immersive worlds. Touch is the yet unexplored or little explored human sense in the context of the body

Context 2: The Home

Immediately outside the zone of the body is a rapidly 'smartening' home. Voice interfaces are vying to be the primary interface in this context. Voice, developed in sync with embedded IoT sensors, has the potential to create a home where the screen becomes the second interface. Screens then become more focussed on display rather than on control.

Context 3. The Car

As we step out of smart homes and into less private spaces, we have the car playing primary interface to the world. A home on wheels, and soon almost entirely autonomous in some areas. Connected and autonomous cars will need to balance rider needs with urban infrastructure demands. I had written about this earlier.

Context 4: The City

The smart city is the next layer of technological interface emerging around us. This context includes elements like air quality monitoring, transport and lighting. Greening and food systems will be increasingly integrated into this layer. The City could be the context where citizen rights will be most easily threatened and most hotly contested.

Speaking of cities, Helsinki just recently put out this cool video talking about itself as City-as-a-Service!

Context 5: Space

Space is poised to become a radical new context from which to deliver human experiences and services. The first space crime has been committed, bringing space into our relatable world in a tangible way. Space is where anything seems possible. And probably is.

A race to own the primary interface to you

The boundaries between these contexts will become more blurred as technologies and brands vie for domination in them. We should expect decisional intelligences to emerge. These will arbiter which technology or service has the primary interface to a human in a particular moment of their experience.

The way to understand how these contexts might co-operate (or clash) could be developed through scenarios such as the

one below.

A scenario for 'decisional intelligence'

Imagine I'm home furiously working to finish up a presentation. My computer knows I am racing for a deadline. My watch senses that my body will begin dehydrating in under an hour at the current rate. And my home knows that a water service interruption is scheduled for the afternoon. Now imagine these systems could talk to each other, unknown to me. What should they do in my best interest? Alert me to stop work now and fix the water situation? Or let me get to my deadline first? Or something else?

This is a relatively simple scenario. It is easy to imagine more complex ones. Then we see that there are a number of ways the scenarios could play out based on if the systems are co-operating, or competing, or have any number of other biases or vested interests. These may be the sorts of decisions future networked systems will need to make to truly add quality to the lived human experience.

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