minority_report

Recently a number of technologies have begun to surface commercially that seemed like science fiction only a few years ago. This includes improved virtual reality experiences, foldable displays, transparent displays, improvements in augmented reality, and many other technologies that seem to come straight out of movies like the Minority Report.

For this week’s Friday Debate, we discuss what “sci-fi” technology we’re most excited to see evolve and how it might be applied to Android, and/or mobile devices, in the future. This can be both technology that we’re still far away from seeing, or tech that has recently started to emerge in early form — though we’ll try to keep ourselves at least semi-grounded in reality.

We’ll start by hearing what Team AA has to say, and then we invite all of our readers to sound off with their own thoughts in the comments below!

Gary Sims

The one piece of future tech that I am most looking forward to is the miniature fuel cell. By that I basically mean a battery, but not a battery. Batteries work by using a chemical process to store electricity and they are either disposable or rechargeable. All our phones and tablets use rechargeable batteries.

A fuel cell is slightly different, it doesn’t store electricity, but rather it generates it by converting chemicals into electricity. Fuel cells in the future will probably use quite different processes to the ones we see today. But if a clever spark (pun intended) could invent a cell that works from a small amount of fuel material, but can produce low levels of electricity for long periods of time, that would be brilliant.

You would no longer charge your phone, you would just pop in a battery sized fuel cell which could work for several months, even years. When fuel in the cell is depleted, you could take it back to get it recycled and buy a replacement cell, and so on. Bliss!

Other than fuel cells, I think there is some great potential in flexible displays and also in projector technology. The latter will influence not only smartphones and tablets, but also other devices like smart glasses and interactive displays.

The one thing I would like to see sooner rather than latter is peer-to-peer syncing between my own devices. The tech for this exists but it doesn’t yet seem to have been implemented on a large scale. By peer-to-peer what I mean is that my tablet and my smartphone sync everything between them, so that at one level they are an exact copy of each other, the same emails, the same photos, the same movies, the same music. But rather than them both syncing with the cloud, they sync directly with each other, over Wi-Fi or some other local network connectivity. That way I can keep things out of the cloud but duplicated amongst my devices. If and when I want to access the cloud, say for email, only one device needs to do it and the other will sync locally.

Bogdan Petrovan

By far, the “sci-fi” technology I am most excited about is human-like natural language interaction and artificial intelligence. Think the “Computer” aboard Star Trek’s Enterprise, which can understand and execute whatever command the crew is issuing with (super)human-like intelligence. In fact, Googlers have repeatedly offered the Star Trek Computer as an example of what Google is working to achieve long-term. Deep learning algorithms sifting through petabytes of data are already learning to see the world, and hear the world, like we do. One day, and I believe it’s a matter of years, rather than decades, all this intelligence will be available from our smartphones (or whatever gadgets we will be using to get online).

We call Google Now a “virtual assistant” now, but let’s face it, that’s a very generous description. 10 or 15 years from now? Google Now will probably be able to do anything a human assistant can, save for fetching you coffee. Though there will probably be an app for that.

Like Gary, I look forward to a big battery breakthrough. Batteries are still in the dark ages compared to the advance of other technologies, like processors and displays. Fortunately, a lot of research resources are dedicated to solving the battery problem, as illustrated by the stories about promising new developments that pop up almost every month. The problem is commercial implementation, or getting the phenomena observed in the lab to work in real life situations. In sci-fi movies, heroes never run out of power, and I believe that’s where we’re heading towards. And if the battery tech conundrum can’t be solved soon, ubiquitous wireless charging may help hide the issue.

I look forward to seeing what can be done with folding displays as well. The idea of transforming a 5-inch smartphone into a 10-inch tablet is extremely sexy, and truly the stuff of sci-fi.

All of these developments are likely to become “real” in a decade or two in my opinion. If they don’t, I will sure be disappointed.

Matthew Benson

The sci-fi genre question is a bit like the old chicken and egg debate. One thing that is a bit clear is that sci-fi movies often take technology to new levels simply because they don’t need to be grounded in reality. I think back to the infamous “evleaks” fake render of the HTC One M9 and how great it looked. Manufacturing such a product however, is a totally different issue.

Still, I think movies like Minority Report are fantastic catalysts that give real tech things to aspire to, in no small part because they actually put it out there for the masses to notice. I dare anyone to ask ten random people what the original Microsoft Surface was and see if they actually know. Chances are, assuming any of those 10 people saw the Philip K. Dick short story-turned-movie, they would definitely know what “scrubbing an image” was and could probably recall the exact scenes in Pre-Crime that made use of the giant display.

The funny thing is that we are now getting ever so much closer to the technology depicted in Minority Report (the movie that is) and yet it’s not even detectable. Our smartphones and tablets can often recognize ten different touch inputs at a single time. You can use apps like Bump to literally push your data onto someone else’s device. Products like the Moto X 2014 respond to floating hand-gestures. Just stop and think for a minute: what would your reaction have been 20 years ago at such a spectacle. Heck, go back just 10 years if not even less time. Isn’t it ironic that we’re practically living in the future we dreamed of and yet now that it’s here, it seems neither exciting nor revolutionary?

I have always found it interesting to consider the earlier visions of the future if only for the fact that they were typically of things that are still today impossible. Look at The Jetsons, or Total Recall, or Blade Runner. You had androids, flying cars, space colonies…it seems like these visions are still impossible because they weren’t based on any present reality. When Minority Report (the movie) was created, touch screens had already long since been invented. The movie simply presented a futuristic version of what we already had. One might argue The Jetsons was the same, but it was in no way based on reality.

I find the whole virtual reality craze now to be rather…anti-climactic to say the least. While I will fully admit that listening to the Friday Debate Podcast (MWC Edition) did manage to convince me the HTC Vive may be truly awesome, I can’t help but feel deja vu. Surely some of you reading this can recall, back in the mid 90’s, how virtual reality was going to be the next big thing. Nintendo went all out making a disaster of a “portable” console ‘inspired’ by it, movies and television like The Lawnmower Man or VR.5 were revolving around it, and the entertainment world as a whole was trying to convince everyone it was coming soon and would change everything.

In the end of course, nothing changed and virtual reality was dropped as quickly as the 3D television fad that was arguably designed as little more than a way for Japanese television companies to try and remain relevant in the face of dominant Korean players. While I eagerly wait to be impressed by things like Oculus Rift or the Vive, I am looking forward to something more like the technology in say, Interstellar, Elysium, or Oblivion.

BTW: +1000 to anyone who actually knows what VR.5 was.