The Future: When Apple, Amazon and Google Rule the World
I’m not going to be modest about this. I’m pretty good at Googling. Sure, I’m a little smug, but I think I’m a bit above average at finding stuff on the interwebs. So much so that, when I’m crafting particularly sweet search strings, I daydream that maybe my brain and the Google algorithm are, if not soulmates, then, y’know, at least a little simpatico. Two of my favorite characters in the cultural canon are Penelope Garcia, the BAU hacker played by Kirsten Vangsness on CBS’s Criminal Minds, and Taz “Rat” Finch, the rodent-faced kid played by DJ Qualls who was tasked with “hacking the planet” in the sci-fi flop classic The Core . (The only way out is in!)
Where am I going with this? Well, I’ve been joking—but not really—for a while that I can’t wait to get Google in my brain. Just pop a little node right into my frontal lobe (it’s the part that controls conscious thought—I Googled it) and, so long as I’ve got a wi-fi or 4G connection, let me search to my little brain’s content. Maybe there’ll be some crazy goggles involved, maybe I’ll see a little search bar when I close my eyes, or maybe Google Brain will just already know when I need it. (And, while we’re at it, if I can check in on Foursquare and Untappd without pulling out my smartphone, it’d save me a lot of grief from a girlfriend who, quite rightly, finds this sort of thing annoying, especially on a date.)
I continue to digress. If you follow tech news. Or book/magazine publishing news. Or music news. Or, well, news, you know that there are three companies jockeying for control of just about everything: Google, Apple and Amazon. This is the sort of thing that typically makes me angsty. But when I saw this article, “Disruptions: Wearing Your Computer on Your Sleeve,” on the New York Times Bits blog, my heart skipped a beat. Nick Bilton wrote:
“Wearable computing is a broad term. Technically, a fancy electronic watch is a wearable computer. But the ultimate version of this technology is a screen that would somehow augment our vision with information and media.”
Read that and then watch this video from Samsung, which futurecasts its flexible AMOLED screen into a paper-thin, see-through tablet, and, well, doesn’t your mind race, too? As I embarked with the aforementioned girlfriend for a whirlwind of holiday travel, stuffing an iPad, a smart phone, an iPod and a brand new Nook e-reader—aka more computing power than you could fit into a gymnasium a half century ago—into a small shoulder bag, it occurred to me that it’d be a lot more convenient to, y’know, just have this stuff, like, built into your clothes … or your skin. Anyhoo.
“In Google’s secret Google X labs, researchers are working on peripherals that—when attached to your clothing or body—would communicate information back to an Android smartphone.”
Bilton talks to a few scientists, one of whom, Michael Liebhold, a senior researcher specializing in wearable computing at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, imagines a blurring of the lines between virtual and real.
“Over the next 10 years, he says, he envisions that people will be wearing glasses with built-in screens and, eventually, contact lenses—with working displays.”
While Liebhold postulates that this development would lead to virtual clothing that would display differently to different people, like peers or your boss. It would also mean a world of content in the blink of an eye (all downloadable through an Apple-designed brain chip, via an Amazon-powered content cloud, parsed and indexed by Google, natch). Imagine a winter holiday morning in this magicfuturetime wherein you open your new Apple iLens 4S (available in classic silver and black, in which, say, new Russian digital assistant Jiri can pop into your screen to remind you via face-recognition software of the name of the person whose name you’ve totally just forgotten), sync up to Amazon ThoughtCloud to “brainload” the new bestselling Jeff Bezos biography One-Thought Purchasing (still just $9.99), which you found reviewed by thinking “Search: Jeff Bayzos One-Think reviewed” with Google Lobe, which politely interrupted your internal monologue to ask Jiri if you meant “Jeff Bezos One-Thought reviewed.” And, of course, you can brag about all of this on Facebook (which is now known simply as “Face”) and Twitter (which will still be called Twitter) by, like, wiggling your nose.
Yes, I imagine that in this scenario Bezos has found a way to scrub and pre-process our thoughts for us so we can store them for retrieval at a later date, Google’s found a way to whisper text ads to my subconscious and Apple’s about to introduce iTongue, the computer you taste (which everyone thinks is ridiculous until they can’t live without it). It’ll mean that three giant companies will have more power over us than local, national or international law, and presupposes an inevitable further dissolution of our ever-dissolving concept of privacy, but I say, bring it on.
I personally can’t wait to Google “‘DJ Qualls’ ‘the core’ ‘free long distance forever’,” then watch this without moving a muscle. That’ll be sweet.