Tomorrow’s tech: Going mobile

  • 13 August 2012
  • From the section Technology
  • comments
Customer looks at smartphone in Bangkok, Thailand

For the World at One on Radio 4 I've done a series of essays on how technology will change our lives over the next few years. The first is on the rapid changes we can expect in the way we use the internet as the web goes mobile.

To look forward, it is sometimes instructive to look back. Remember five years ago, when hardly any mobile phone was smart, when most of us thought social networking was exchanging telephone numbers at a party, and the cloud was something that could threaten play at the Test Match?

Since then, smartphones have put mini-computers into our hands, Facebook and Twitter have transformed the way we relate to each other, and more invisibly, much of the vital information that we use every day now resides in the cloud - which often means Californian computers.

Over the next five years, all of these phenomena will become even more important. Mobile phones - already the first route to the internet in much of Africa and India - will become the main way we all get access to the online world.

They will become even smarter, knowing more about where we are and what we want so as to deliver us bespoke services. We will use them differently, talking to them and perhaps waving at them rather than tapping on keys.

They will change form - experiments are already underway with glasses which provide a constant stream of information while allowing users to share what they see with friends far away.

And the next stage of the internet will see not just people, but things connected - your car, your fridge, the clothes on the rail in a shop, all may be linked up on an ever smarter network in the cloud. But the key change is in our relationship with computers of all kinds - the futurologist Peter Cochrane says up until now we've had to tell them what to do:

"The machines are not proactive, they're not anticipating what you might need. Facebook doesn't come to you, Google doesn't come to you, they are passive entities and they are going to become proactive. Where are the goods I'm trying to buy, I've been searching for something online, I've been shopping, I've not been able to find it but now it locates me."

Another phenomenon on the horizon is 3D printing which promises to allow anybody to make anything using digital blueprints delivered over the internet. There is already excited talk of a new industrial revolution, as machines small and cheap enough to have in a back bedroom produce all manner of goods.

Some of this may never happen - after all, where are the personal jetpacks that we were promised decades ago? But, we can be pretty sure of one thing - the ever growing power of the internet is going to transform our lives over the next five years in ways we've not yet imagined.