Brave new world…Unwired: The Future of Mobile

Mon 09 Nov 2009

Doug Richard










Speaker guest post by Doug Richard.

When I was a boy, the first PCs crawled out of the darkness, stupid step children of sluggish giants that rumbled away in the caves of the US military industrial complex. Those little boxes, which people had to assemble themselves from mimeographed instructions looked like grey boxes of tangled wire.

Then came a raft of improvements, the machines came assembled, they ran DOS not CP/M, Xerox thought of windows, and someone came up a mouse.

My first business sold state of the art computer aided design systems, across platforms. Unix workstations from Sun Microsystems quickly became a best seller for us because they could cost-effectively deliver a robust multi-user design solution. I found myself implementing X-Terminals in my office because putting a PC on everyone’s desk was becoming a maintenance nightmare. Those cheap little “thin-clients” ran slow some afternoons, but when the servers were up, the terminals were up, and everyone could always print. One X-terminal could drive applications on multiple terminals, I remember being quite impressed by that.

Then the Internet escaped DARPA and the universities, almost replacing clunky proprietary networks like AOL and Compuserve. Suddenly computers everywhere hosted very brightly colored pages that frequently blinked like Christmas lights. Through internet browsers and web-based mail applications, one computer could start processes on millions. The rise of the Internet rivaled the fall of the Berlin wall for me. I knew, from the start, we stood on the edge of a brand new world.

The web made it to the phone, and now millions of people worldwide, from the jungles of South America to the mountains of the Himilayas, are on the Internet and interconnected almost 24/7.

I’m fairly sure these new “thin clients” will become just slightly larger than the pack of cards they try to be now, and that the gap between cell phone and laptop will disappear. I expect the telecoms will eventually drop charging people per minute for voice communications, since they no longer do it for most data applications, and they’ve stop doing it for most land line communications. I think word “roaming” will stop appearing on cell phone bills because everyone will be never be outside their calling zone.

Augmented reality, the ability to project meta-data on maps and images of the real world in real time and to display that data on your cell phone and other mobile internet devices, will be a technology everyone uses. It will be a way to stand in a mall and surf for bargains, to stand in a parking lot and find your car, to locate wayward children and find gas stations in real time. There will be video games based on this technology so gamers can finally get outdoors. There’s a whole new level of web design and architecture currently being developed that will address how to display multiple realities in real time. I look forward to watching that evolve.

Voice applications are getting much smarter, so you’ll be able to talk to your apps and they’ll be able to talk back in a sensible fashion. Protecting data, ranging from credit card numbers and home address to who your kids are, will become a true challenge because information that is anywhere online will keep seeping out of the boxes we put it in. Criminals will continue to drill holes in data containers and the data protected will be of greater and greater value.

I was an enthusiast, long before it was popular, of William Gibson and that peculiar backwater of science fiction called Cyber Punk. There’s no way to tell those who aren’t my peers in age as well as personal experience, what its like to see that universe unpack itself into a world I and my family will live in. I’m both terrified and enchanted.

But ultimately, I’ve decided I’m hopeful. We are better off connected, human to human, in a way that was unimaginable the day I was born. This is now a very small planet. I think we can get some great things done. My personal experience has always been that closely connected groups of people find a way to do remarkable things. Given time, proximity breeds community breeds prosperity. With a bow to both Aldus Huxley and Shakespeare, I think this truly can be described as a “brave new world”, and maybe not one we need to fear. I must confess I’m rather looking forward to to the future.

Doug Richard is a serial entrepreneur that Dragons Den fans will remember from the first two series.
He is the founder of School for Startups.
Follow Doug on twitter: @douglasrichard


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