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This connected life: from phones to clones

By Tom Cheesewright, Applied Futurist • Book of the Future

August 31, 2016

Technology is pervading all aspects of our life, making our daily chores and interactions more convenient. Looking to the future, what technologies will enable the innovation that will lead to truly “connected lives”.

Applied futurist Tom Cheesewright explores the evolution of technology and the internet and their impact on our daily lives. He also looks at the role that tokenisation technology will play in enabling this connected future, and how it can power innovation, as well as security.

In August this year, the world celebrated 25 years of the World Wide Web, the globe-spanning information platform that has democratised access to knowledge. To most of us today, the web defines what it means to be connected. It is the source of facts and the access point for services and goods – more often than not via the shiny screen of the ubiquitous smartphone.

But is this the limit of a connected life?

It’s a marvel, no doubt, but not without its downsides. Because the ability to access anything, anywhere is not limited to information and things. We are tethered to our connections. The accelerated expansion of the internet that has enabled our access to the Web has also enabled others to access us. Our time is eaten up by extended working hours. Our personal data by social networks and advertisers.

Can we do better?

I believe we can, and we will. Because today’s connected life is really just a short leg of a much longer journey.

Manual or Automatic

If you want to understand where we’re going, it’s often useful to look back where we’ve been. Back at the history of connection and computing. Back to the days of the mainframe and the first continent-spanning interconnections.

Back then if you wanted to communicate with a machine, you had to enter its space, an air-conditioned cave. You had to learn its arcane language, and give it detailed, explicit instructions.

Today I can shout across the room at my phone and half the time it will play the song I actually want.

How can it do this? The device is obviously smaller, faster and tethered over a high speed connection to even more powerful machines. But it is also much more aware and capable. It is using a limited intelligence and an array of sensors to interact with the environment around it.

The important step is this: all that increased power and information have allowed us to imbue the device with a small measure of autonomy. The ability to extrapolate what I want from what I’ve said.

From Information to Control

The shift from manual interactions to autonomy is one dimension of our journey. But there’s a second dimension to consider

If the first step on the journey towards a truly connected life was about ubiquitous access to information, then the second step was about control. This is a step we are just taking today. Our environment is increasingly connected and controllable from our smartphones. Heat and light, music and video, even locks and doors.

As the cost of adding connectivity to items has fallen, so the utility required to justify the investment has also declined. If it’s even at all useful for something to be connected to the internet, whether it’s a kettle or your car keys, you can now make a case for the marginal investment.

Combining Control and Autonomy

This is where tokenisation is such an attractive prospect. If we want to ascribe authority to these shards of ourselves, we want to ensure that authority cannot be abused. We can’t just hand over our credit cards and let them get on with it. We need granular, revocable control. Cars that can only pay for parking, only in certain locations. Bathrooms that can only order certain products at set frequencies from certain stores. Cupboards that have a limited allowance for purchasing staples.

Without such a capability we can’t take full advantage of a future connected life. We can’t be in two places at once if only one of our selves has the authority to interact.

Tokenisation potentially goes way beyond payments. Consider digital access to your home. Imagine being able to grant it remotely, for a limited time period, for building work or a delivery. Or perhaps giving the garage limited rights to access your car. No more stories of valet parkers joyriding.

More than Human

The true potential for tomorrow’s connected life is to make us more than human. To do this we need to be able to grant authority to our connected clones but only under close supervision. Whether it’s for shopping or security, tokenisation presents a possible technology to enable this superhuman future.

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