Intel Labs director: There isn't just one future of mobility, but billions

The director of Intel Labs argues that the future of mobility will be defined not by devices -- but by how people already live their lives.


SAN FRANCISCO -- New data center architectures have been the big focus at IDF 2013, but Intel is closing things out with the spotlight on mobility.

But many of us might be looking at mobility with a very narrow perspective, based on Thursday morning's lecture by Dr. Genevieve Bell, director of interaction and experience research for Intel Labs.

Citing internal research, Bell said there are 6.3 mobile subscriptions on the planet. Considering there are roughly seven billion people worldwide, Bell acknowledged it would be easy to assume that the majority of the world's population has a mobile device, but she declared there are only 4.4 billion people with mobile subscriptions.

To handle those data demands right now, Bell said there are 1.9 million cell phone towers in the U.S. alone (with another million in China), moving five exabytes of data this year. Looking at Google and Apple's mobile app stores alone, she added that there are roughly 6.25 million apps downloaded each hour.

"This is about efficiencies and making our lives a little easier. Mobility isn't just about devices -- it's about the places we will visit," Bell asserted;

Mobility can also be considered to include "the technologies that carry us," Bell posited. With approximately 850 million cars on the road, Bell said we spend 5.5 billion hours sitting in cars in traffic in the U.S. alone each year.

Numbers are interesting, and they give us a framework, Bell sighed. But she continued that it is her job to figure out the more tangible human elements at play here.

"How do we engage with the world, and what are the technologies we need?" Bell asked. "In our industry, we tend to focus just on the devices. That's the anchor point to a conversation about mobility."

Being an anthropologist working for Intel, Bell's logical argument was that we have to think about the compute infrastructure and the cloud immediately.

"We have a capacity here to imagine technology everywhere," Bell declared, outlining that while the global population rises (and becomes more connected), the costs, sizes, and power consumption rates of devices are dropping.

The end result is multiple versions of a connected world, or as Bell depicted, "seven billion futures" and counting.

Bell touched upon wearable technologies, or wearables, reminding the keynote audience at Moscone West that mobile devices aren't just about smartphones and tablets.

She offered the example of sensors woven into athletic clothing to monitor health stats while also keeping runners and bikers on the road visible to drivers, improving safety and perhaps preventing unforeseen injuries.

Another example, as described by Bell, of connected technology thinking outside of the box (or rather inside) is a smart kiosk in Japan on a train platform that recognizes the consumer and makes drink and treat recommendations based on shopping habits and pre-defined preferences.

"This is about efficiencies and making our lives a little easier. Mobility isn't just about devices -- it's about the places we will visit," Bell asserted.

Image via Intel