We are currently living in the Digital Age, where the ever-present internet gives our entire lives an online dimension. This is also known as the Social Age, since we rely on social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate.
Already, there are signs we are moving towards the IoT (Internet of Things) Age – where ordinary parts of the real world, the stuff of our everyday lives, become ‘smart’ and connected online. Our televisions, cars and homes can all now talk to us via the internet.
But what’s next?
Within the next decade or so, we will find ourselves in the Auto Age. This is a time when you no longer have to think about how you interact with the world via technology. It’s all done for you, automatically. At the heart of your life will be an ‘auto’ – a super-app that knows every aspect of your life and can mimic your behaviour, representing you online.
When writing the fictional Auto Series, I have taken inspiration from many current news stories and articles about developing technology. More than once, I’ve invented something that I considered imaginary and futuristic, only to read about it on the news or see it on sale!
This series of blog posts looks at some examples of where the Auto Age is clearly being developed in the present day.
What was once, not too long ago, a truly science fiction concept is now fact. Voice-activated digital assistants have replaced the concept of ‘robot butlers’ and become artificial companions, always ready to respond to our questions and demands.
Siri, Cortana and Google Now are the three most common systems, since they are tied into the platforms of Apple, Windows and Google products. Each is a digital assistant that never leaves your side, assuming you always have a smartphone or tablet. Other systems are tied into hardware, such as Amazon’s Alexa which forms the interface of their Echo speaker.
It’s easy to see that these are the forerunners of the auto – a digital assistant that automatically manages every single facet of your life. And it’s clear that this is the direction Siri, Cortana, Google Now and Alexa will all be taking in the near future.
“The common goal now is to turn your personal assistant from a ‘passive’ to an ‘active’ one, which means doing useful things before you’ve prompted it to. How? By carefully studying your behavior and pre-empting your next move before that tiny spark in your brain turns into an actionable thought. Or, in other words, becoming a fully-fledged stalker.”
One thing which digital assistants and autos are not is artificial intelligence. We are still a long way off from building a computer that can think like a human. But what is possible is software that accurately mimics human behaviour patterns: artificial intuition.
Underpinning the effectiveness of this is the increasing use of data pools, which contain very specific information about millions of individuals. For example, Amazon uses algorithms to make recommendations based on each customer’s purchasing history – the more you buy, the more targeted they become. Website adverts also display products suggested by your browsing and buying habits.
This is an accepted side-effect of using the internet, something we have become accustomed to very quickly. As we all generate more and more data about ourselves, the sophistication of predictive algorithms will increase enormously.
“There will, at some point, be a dematerialised, duplicate you. While this seems sort of horrifying in a Stepford Wife-y kind of way, the difference is that instead of killing you, your replicant meta-entity, your synthetic doppelgänger will merely try to convince you to buy a piqué-knit polo shirt in tones flattering to your skin at Abercrombie & Fitch.”
Online Life After Death
A key part of the Auto Series is that autos can continue to function after a person has died, and continue interacting with the living. A kind of electronic afterlife.
This may sound unlikely and creepy, but there are already several websites offering this service, by scanning your existing social media accounts and then copying them so they can continue after your death.
This is something that has become more of a popular idea in recent years, but has yet to be accepted by the mainstream. As in many areas, Facebook is likely to change that and already has a feature called ‘legacy contact’. This memorializes the Facebook profile of the deceased and allows their friends and family to continue using it as a way of sharing information.
A universal part of life in the Auto stories is smartscreens. These intelligent monitors are everywhere, from homes to shops to vehicles. They allow people to interact directly with their own autos, which know their users’ location and always make themselves available at the nearest available smartscreen.
As TVs become smarter and voice recognition gets more sophisticated, it seems inevitable they will evolve into always-on smartscreens that act as your permanent window onto the online world. But even with modern-day TVs, caution is needed to prevent them becoming two-way windows onto your private life.
“Careful what you say around your TV. It may be listening. And blabbing.”
Can You See The Future?
Have you come across any news stories or articles that look at our digital future?
Is there anything you think is similar to what’s described in the Auto Series?
Does modern technology excite you? Intrigue you? Frighten you?
Let me know using the contact form. Your findings could be included in future blog posts!
The Auto Series which looks at how digital technology and social media will evolve in the near future. Find out more about the Auto Series.
Auto is available in multiple eBook formats and Auto 2 will be published later in 2015.