The smartphone is eventually going to die, and then things are going to get really crazy (AAPL, GOOG, GOOGL, MSFT)



Tim Cook

Apple CEO Tim
Cook

AP

One day, not too soon — but still sooner than you
think — the smartphone will all but vanish, like beepers and
fax machines before it.

Make no mistake, we’re still probably at least a decade away from
any kind of meaningful shift away from the smartphone. (And

if we’re all cyborgs by 2027
, I’ll happily eat my words.
Assuming we’re still eating at all, I guess.)

Yet, piece by piece, the groundwork for the eventual demise of
the smartphone is being laid by
Elon Musk
, by Microsoft, by Facebook, by Amazon,
and a countless number of startups that still have a part to
play.

And, let me tell you: If and when the smartphone does die, that’s
when things are going to get really weird for
everybody. Not just in terms of individual products, but in terms
of how we actually live our everyday lives and maybe our humanity
itself.

Here’s a brief look at the slow, ceaseless march towards the
death of the smartphone — and what the post-smartphone world
is shaping up to look like.

The short term

People think of the iPhone and the smartphones it inspired as
revolutionary devices — small enough to carry everywhere,
hefty enough to handle an increasingly large number of our daily
tasks, and packed full of the right mix cameras and GPS sensors
to make apps like Snapchat and Uber uniquely possible.

But consider the smartphone from another perspective. The desktop
PC and the laptop are made up of some combination of a mouse,
keyboard, and monitor. The smartphone just took that model,
shrunk it down, and made the input virtual and
touch-based.

So take, for example, the
Samsung Galaxy S8
, unveiled this week. It’s gorgeous with an
amazing bezel-less screen and some real power under the hood.
It’s impressive, but it’s more refinement than revolution.


Samsung Galaxy S8

Samsung Galaxy S8
Business
Insider


Tellingly, though, the Galaxy S8 ships with
Bixby
, a new virtual assistant that Samsung promises
will one day let you control every single feature and app with
just your voice. It will also ship with a new version of the Gear
VR virtual reality headset, developed in conjunction with
Facebook’s Oculus.

The next iPhone, too, is said to be shipping with upgrades to the
Siri assistant, along with
features aimed at bringing augmented reality into the
mainstream
.

And as devices like the
Amazon Echo
,
Sony PlayStation VR
, and the
Apple Watch
continue to enjoy limited but substantial
success, expect to see a lot more tech companies large and small
taking more gambles and making more experiments on the next big
wave in computing interfaces.

The medium term

In the medium-term, all of these various experimental and
first-stage technologies are going to start to congeal into
something familiar, but bizarre.

Microsoft, Facebook, Google and the
Google-backed Magic Leap
are all working to build standalone
augmented reality headsets, which project detailed 3D images
straight into your eyes.
Even Apple is rumored to be working on this, too
.


Microsoft’s Alex Kipman recently told Business Insider
that
augmented reality could flat-out replace the smartphone, the TV,
and anything else with a screen. There’s not much use for a
separate device sitting in your pocket or on your entertainment
center, if all your calls, chats, movies, and games are beamed
into your eyes and overlaid on the world around you.


apple airpods in ear

Apple’s AirPods keep the
Siri virtual assistant in your ears.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Meanwhile, gadgetry like the Amazon Echo or Apple’s
own AirPods
become more and more important in this world. As
artificial intelligence systems like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s
Alexa, Samsung’s Bixby, and Microsoft’s Cortana get smarter,
there’s going to be a rise not just in talking to computers, but
having them talk back.

In other words, computers are going to hijack your senses, more
so than they already do, with your sight and your hearing
intermediated by technology. It’s a little scary. Think
of what Facebook glitches could mean in a world where it doesn’t
just control what you read on your phone, but what you see in the
world around you
.

The promise, though, is a world where real life and technology
blend more seamlessly. The major tech companies promise that this
future means a world of fewer technological distractions and more
balance, as the physical and digital world become the same thing.
You decide how you feel about that.

The really crazy future

Still, all those decade-plus investments in the future still rely
on gadgetry that you have to wear on you, even if it’s only a
pair of glasses. Some of the craziest, most forward-looking, most
unpredictable advancements go even further — provided you’re
willing to wait a few extra decades, that is.

This week, we got
our first look at Neuralink, a new company cofounded by Elon
Musk
with a goal of building computers into our brains by way
of “neural lace,” a
very early-stage technology
that lays on your brain and
bridges it to a computer. It’s the next step beyond
even that blending of the digital and physical worlds, as
man and machine become one.

Assuming the science works — and
lots of smart people believe that it will
 —  this
is the logical endpoint of the road that smartphones started us
on. If smartphones gave us access to information and augmented
reality puts that information in front of us when we need it,
then putting neural lace in our brains just closes the gap.


Ray Kurzweil

Futurist Ray Kurzweil has
been predicting our cyborg futures for a long time
now.

Tech Insider

Musk has said that this is because the rise of artificial
intelligence — which underpins a lot of the other
technologies, including voice assistants and virtual
reality — means that humans are going to have to augment
themselves just to keep up with the machines. If you’re really
curious about this idea,
futurist Ray Kurzweil is the leading voice on the
topic
.

The idea of man/machine fusion is a terrifying one, with science
fiction writers, technologists, and philosophers alike having
very good cause to ask what even makes us human in the first
place. At the same time, the idea is so new that nobody really
knows what this world would look like in practice.

So if and when the smartphone dies, it’ll actually be the end of
an era in more ways than one. It’ll be the end of machines that
we carry with us passively and the beginning of something that
bridges our bodies straight into the ebb and flow of digital
information. It’s going to get weird.

And yet, lots of technologists already say that smartphones give
us superpowers with access to knowledge, wisdom, and abilities
beyond anything nature gave us. In some ways, augmenting the
human mind would be the ultimate superpower. Then again, maybe
I’m just an optimist.

__

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