envisioning the future is easy

Last week saw the release of a book by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen entitled “The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business.” In this book, and particularly in an excerpt published in the guardian, the authors lay out a vision for the future, focusing on how advances in technology may change or shape our daily lives. We found this article hilarious, not only for its perversely positivist Jetsons-like (thanks @nicktaylor3) vision of the future, but also because the authors both work for Google and the future they envision involves everyone interacting with technology that is based heavily on Google’s current research projects. It is so self-serving that it’s almost pathological. Naturally, we decided we would have a go at cynically laying out how the future may turn out, based solely on recent LiSC research projects:


Andy wakes with a start at 6am. The alarm application on his phone insists that he rise at this early hour, as it has decided that he needs to undergo a programme of sleep restriction. The application automatically shares analytical data about the quality of his sleep with his friends via social media. Within minutes, friends all over the world have taken the opportunity to comment on Andys sleep and to speculate about his physical and mental condition.


Andy moves to the kitchen where, concerned about his lack of energy this morning, he makes a cup of coffee and some scrambled eggs on toast. He uploads the results to his diet monitoring application, as not doing so would incur disastrous social media-delivered consequences. The application criticises Andy for his poor choice of breakfast. Soon, comments appear from other users of the application, questioning Andy’s motivations, and his general value as a citizen.


Andy switches his attention to one of his always-on communication devices. He is interested in learning more about his newly imposed sleep intervention. He finds that the programme involves analytics of his sleep behaviour, combined with social support delivered by other application users. Fascinated, Andy signs up to programmes that address the other mental health issues that the computer suggested he has. He spends hours engaging in these – particularly the one that helps his internet addiction.


Today Andy is travelling back to the city he grew up in. Before leaving, he checks out some information about his destination city, provided freely through applications developed by local governments in partnership with independent developers. The applications are brightly coloured and allow for lots of swishing-swooping style interactions. Andy checks out the crime map application for the areas he will visit. He rocks slowly back and forward in his chair, eyes glazed, until the taxi arrives.


Andy likes badges and collecting points. He especially likes it when a computer application tells him he has done a good job and been a good boy. He doesn’t like it, however, when the computer is mean. This is why he tells the computer where he is at all times – that makes the computer nice to him! Upon arriving at the airport Andy tells the computer “I’m at the airport.” The computer gives Andy a badge for this information and tells him “well done!” Moments later, another app on the computer notices that Andy has often been to this airport. The app criticises Andy for his lack of imagination and the predictability of his existence. Computers can be confusing sometimes!


While at the airport, Andy decides to play the most popular game of the year. It’s a game that involves secretly smuggling electronic drugs through airport security. Andy is very nervous and excited about playing this game, as the airport is a very scary place with lots of police who don’t like you smuggling drugs. The police have dark black uniforms, carry semi-automatic guns, and wear sunglasses so you can’t see their eyes. Andy walks through security and is immediately asked to step into the secret room for a very long and thorough interview.


The reason why Andy is travelling is because he wants to vote and can only do this in his home town.  Andy feels very strongly about politics and sometimes posts long comments about the current government on the internet. Since the voting system has changed to ensure that the votes of stronger, better bred people are worth more towards the election results, Andy has been training all year. He is nervous – the voting machine is operated through punching and he only has one opportunity to get a good vote.


At the end of the day, before he goes to bed, Andys computer reports that he has not done enough exercise today, and has grown 0.5% fatter. Andy turns on his alarm application and rocks gently back and forth.

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