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Keeping a head for a smarter phone


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Keeping a head for a smarter phone

Keeping at least one step ahead of emerging technology can be tricky. For example, the characters in my novel The Truth about the Shiners are implanted at birth with chips capable of doing everything and anything you can do with a rucksack full of today's portable devices. It's the logical solution to the problem of fitting enough switches and buttons onto a gadget without making it too big: Just invent a gadget that doesn't need them. And, if the gadget's inside your head, you won't care if you lose it.

Letitia Wilson wearing env-suitIt won't be long before everyone has a chip capable of recording anything they see and hear. Already, technologists have figured out how to fix some forms of blindness by feeding signals from video cameras directly into the optic nerves. From there, it's a relatively trivial step to develop a bi-directional tap that can shunt sights and sounds back and forth between organic and electronic systems, eliminating the need for microphones, cameras, headphones, display screens, and other "peripheral" devices.

Last week's Science magazine ran a couple of articles about recent progress with conductive polymers. These materials have been used to build circuits on flexible, stretchable, ultra-thin foils, only a few nanometres thick. Kiwi scientist Alan MacDiarmid in 1988 mentioned the potential for bioimplanted circuits based on conductive polymers. That possibility is looking increasingly likely. But technologists have other possibilities besides conductive polymers, and we can never rule out entirely new materials that help technologists bring the chip to fruition.

Wowsers and fusspots worry about people wearing Googleglasses in public toilets and changing rooms. Googlespecs have red lights that are supposed to indicate when the built-in video camera is recording. Theoretically, if the bloke in the next cubicle's spectacles have brightly-lit red LEDs, he's filming your junk. In practice, smart scumbags will have no trouble making sure those red lights never light up. Computer hackers will spend days glued to their keyboards, living on pizza and coffee, to crack a problem like this. A smart technologist would drill out the LED and then glue a piece of red plastic into the hole. Presumably, as manufacturers move from smartphone to smart-spectacles to fully implanted chip, architects will design changing rooms and public dunnies to eliminate privacy problems.

Commercialising cybernetic implants begins with medical applications, especially products for disabled people. If you're blind, or if you have no arms, you're much more likely to accept the risks associated with having electronic gadgetry implanted into your nervous system. Manufacturers who suss out the problems will then be able to get serious. It'll be the end of the smartphone, the tablet, the ebook reader, the handheld video camera, the steering wheel, and all sorts of other stuff we don't yet know we don't need.

The next decade or two will be fascinating. As a science fiction writer, my problem is figuring out what happens next. I've got some pretty good ideas.


Kevin Cudby is a Wellington-based Freelance Writer and Technologist who loves writing about cool new technology. Email him to discuss your communication requirements: hello {a}

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