Personal Electronic Gadgets
The use of personal electronic devices will reduce in the digital future as we live in an increasingly connected world. In this image, reporters take notes outside the Central District Prosecutor's Office as former South Korean presidential aide Ahn Jong-Beom is summoned for questioning in Seoul, Nov. 2, 2016. ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images

Discussions about the most important personal device of the future (watches? glasses? implanted chips? or the most radical example, neuro-interfaces?) always remind me of two-decades-old arguments about “the next cable.” Suffering from painfully slow ADSL, we were listening to descriptions of a bright future: Ethernet cables will be brought to every apartment and home… never happened; TV-cables will do the work, as soon as we develop cable modems… never happened either; We should forget all the copper and build massive optical networks… which happened at some scale. Good job, prophets of the past, all these technologies are still working. But no, they were never the future.

The future was not about cables at all, it was and is about cord-cutting for the end user, the internet spread wirelessly through the air, 5G, global satellite networks, ultra-fast Wi-Fi.

Now, thanks to AI technologies, computers can listen, see and understand what they have heard and observed (and even what they felt with senses not available for us humans). They can talk back, draw images with various tools and perform quite a few actions in the physical world. Therefore, the entire environment around us (at least in urban areas) becomes smart and attentive.

Imagine a drunk person leaving a bar on a Friday night. He or she erratically walks to a lamppost, leans on it and whispers “Hommmmme…” And a taxi shows up 3 minutes later to take the person where they wanted to go. Because the camera on the street or at the bar door can easily recognize the person, the lampposts understand speech, and the city AI in the cloud perfectly understands what the word “home” means under the circumstances.

This picture of an attentive, smart city is not dystopian. The difference between dystopia and true utopia lies not in technologies and not even in the products based on new technologies, but in regulations and default settings of the products. High-tech which can transform the space around us into a universal interface is already here, and the technologies are not just speech-related. A brilliantly smart city has many more senses than a human: a sense of vehicle traffic in the street and human traffic across the city, including public transportation, a full sense of weather in the city and around it, and a sense of power consumption from the grid and individual generators are just a few examples. And those are not only senses reflecting a current state. Thanks to AI, a smart city and many of its subsystems have clairvoyance of sorts; they can predict upcoming changes in the situation and be proactive in smoothing potential problems like traffic jams.

And a city, in turn, is only an example. The smart environment obviously starts from home, where we already do not need to pick up a phone or a remote to turn on a TV or to set up an alarm clock. Smart speakers or other attentive devices (like smart TV) in our homes listen to us, no matter where we are. A smart connected car is another example of a place where you do not need a personal device in order to interact with all digital services, public or personal.

The future promises further expansion of these already existing models of smart homes and smart cars into other spaces, from public areas to workspaces, eventually. And this expansion of a smart environment will not require new personal devices.

But of course, I am not saying that personal devices will disappear. Modern “mobile first” life did not kill desktop and notebook computers. They just ceased to be the tools of disruption and progress, we keep using them the way we’ve been doing for years. But we continue to use them — this is what matters. And in the future of the smart environment, we will be making private calls and participate in secret chats using personal devices. The difference is, we still will be pretty well connected with no devices on us at all. And at the same time, we will use an ever-expanding list of devices for specific tasks, so that laptops, smartphones, goggles, watches, wristbands and lots of other hardware not yet invented. But none of them will become a centerpiece of our digital life.

Andrey Sebrant is director of product marketing at Yandex, and has been editor-in-chief of the Russian Journal of Internet Marketing since 2002.