Tech companies love to produce flashy videos gazing into the future. If only all their dreams could come true.
You've probably seen a few of them yourself. Well scrubbed little children and their affluent family enjoy a happy home life while a silver fox of a dad carries out his business oh-so-efficiently -- all thanks to the magic of technology.
Yeah, you've probably sat through them and felt a lump rising in your throat -- not emotion, just your dinner stirring from the cloying portrayal of the next-generation of wired civilisation.
Normally, all these promotional offerings remind me a little bit of the "Microsoft big-ass table parody" (see embedded video below) but this week I saw Japanese mobile operator NTT DoCoMo's own crystal ball gazing effort which piqued my interest. It's got all the prerequisites -- perky offspring, distinguished dads, happy families -- but it did manage to showcase a few interesting ideas.
One of them is a little on the silly side -- mobile functionality will be built into the specs of high-powered businessmen. When one bigwig arrives for a high-powered lunch with his high-powered friends, the glasses will use GPS to plot said bigwig's movements around the office as he makes his way to the rendezvous. Say your client is just getting into the lift on level nine -- your computer will tell you, based on GPS reports from their glasses, and then show you precisely whereabouts they are in the building.
Ridiculous, no? Facebook users will testify how annoying the etiquette is -- should you add business contacts as friends? What happens if you want to turn someone down? -- and such location based services would be just another type of this annoyance. Would you really want your boss to know you've been in the second floor toilets for 20 minutes, let alone give them a pictorial representation of which cubicle you're in?
Technologies like these are not merely a threat to privacy, they are the most invidious type of threat -- the type that cause users to erode their own privacy willingly. If the boss, or a favoured client, asks for permission to track you, you won't say no. And once you've given it to the boss, the client, your partner, whoever, there's so little of your privacy to protect you might as well give it to the supermarket, the mechanic, the direct marketing agency. You get the idea. I'll be sticking with glasses 1.0 for a while yet.
DoCoMo's future vision also shows an alternative health system, where mobile phones are used to connect people with doctors. Too ill to leave the bed? Video call the doctor, flash your rash over the phone and give him or her the gory details on your symptoms. The doc can tell you whether it's "take two aspirins and call me in the morning" or "take a deep breath and call the ambos" without either of you having to leave home.
All round, a good idea. But before DoCoMo suits get to take their bows (they're not the first to have thought of this, mind) pause for a second: who really needs this technology most, particularly in Australia? Those in remote areas, where there are hours of driving between residents and the nearest medical help.
Alas it's not that simple. In remote areas, mobile coverage sucks. The high-speed 3G that would be needed to set up a video call between a patient and a doctor just doesn't exist and probably won't for years to come. Mobile health is a good idea but it's a white elephant without the infrastructure in place. Back to the drawing board, DoCoMo.