6. Where Now?

Putting together all these innovations on a time line from 1950 to the present day gives an interesting perspective on how the innovations mentioned in the previous chapters relate to each other. It also highlights the "innovation gap". At the moment there are no obvious big innovations since 2010. Of course this is unlikely to be true. Innovations take time to be picked up and become mainstream, and are only perceived as important with the benefit of hindsight. Nevertheless, the lessons of history can perhaps give some insights into the way the wind of change is blowing in the way we interact with one another.

First and foremost is the importance of the smartphone in our lives. Not only a phone and a store of our personal music and video taste, but also a vital series of applications that enable us to find our place in the world and to interact with various institutions, such as banks and government authorities. Whether we like it or not, the smartphone is increasingly vital to interaction in society. The phone however is such a small format, it is not optimum for more complex visual activities, in particular creative ones such as artistry, music composition, technical and graphic design, system and computer programming, word processing, spreadsheeting and presenting, web meetings, and gaming, and there are no doubt others. Whilst computer manufacturers are willing to sell us specialised devices - laptops and desktop computers - for those creative activities, the continued presence of the television to view broadcast and now streamed materials in its smart-TV form leads me to believe a more sensible (and probably more environmentally-friendly) solution would be to hitch the phone to the smart-TV, or smart-TV laptop, and allow it to support a keyboard and mouse, to provide for all those extra activities, obviating the need to store so much information "in the cloud" where it is no longer clearly private. The computer companies have tried to persuade us with their intermediate solution - tablets - but these seem to include the restrictions of both the small format and constrained operations of phones, and still lack functionality compared to the open software architecture of laptops and desktops, which encourages innovation.

Another item which has been tried over the last decade but has still not found quite the right form for mass adoption, is enhanced reality, whereby additional information about the scene in front of your eyes or around your ears is projected into your visual field, usually on special glasses, or spoken in your ear. If a good implementation were developed, many people would be grateful. There are underlying activities which are contributing to this of course. We don't yet have an instant translation programme - the babel fish of Douglas Adams imagination. But increasingly Google Translate already does a fairly good job of translating from one language to another, and this is being harnessed to provide prototype applications for speech translation. And the ever-helpful Siri's, Alexa's or Google's, or their thought-reading successors, are there to provide the information we want to see on demand as soon as we call for it, and to help us out as we navigate the world around us. It won't be long before these helpers give us a convincing illusion of artificial intelligence, although it will probably be only an illusion if we dig deeper, for quite a while longer.

Or we could go a step further, with virtual reality, totally immersing ourselves in a fabricated world where we could interact with others, as in various online games, such as Minecraft. This has the advantages that we would be in control of how we appear to others, we could meet for business and pleasure and have relationships, all without the need to travel, reducing our environmental footprint. With "immersive" visuals it could be just like really being there. Of course it will need safeguards, such as to ensure that those we meet are who they say they are, but I do expect this to be a popular way to interact once the visual and acoustic effects become more lifelike.

These systems will probably be integrated seamlessly before too long, and are another idea of Douglas Adams, way back in 1978. In fact he probably warrants a separate innovation entry in this list, as more of his flights of fancy come to fruition. We should probably also remember his maxim - not to panic!

Chapter 5 Contents