I just had to get a new cell phone for work as my old one was dying. Of course, I don’t pay for this, the company provides. I had to change services to the one the company prefers. Pretty painless, other than entering the numbers I wanted to keep since the company doesn’t pay for data transfer. Kept the same number and the switchover was handled by the new service.The new phone is one of the “free” ones with the service. (Motorola W385 – if you care). Now free isn’t really free, you get one from your service by signing one of those locked in contracts and the cost of the phone is paid by you many times over. But anyway, this was one of the ones on the “free” list. We can get anything we want, but we have to pay the difference for a non-free phone if there is one unless we can provide a business justification for the upgrade. That really is quite reasonable.
This thing is pretty slick. It is quite small – almost on the border of too small for the aging hands to use comfortably. It is also quite light – about 100 grams. It is amazing what can fit in this small a body nowadays. It can do mobile internet, keep a calendar of events, schedule alarms and notifications, voice mail, text messaging, take pictures, do calculator work and other stuff too – you know – all the latest cool stuff.
You can have pretty backgrounds on the color screen. You can have a nice screen saver. All this is your choice. You can have every person in your contacts list have a different ringtone. You can download and play music or short movies. Amazing.
You can use Bluetooth communications for all kinds of things: you can hook into a Bluetooth enabled computer and transfer files back and forth. You can also use the phone as a modem and connect to the Internet where there is no normal Internet connection. You can use a Bluetooth earpiece/microphone and wander around listening and talking to the air – as so many people do nowadays.
Of course, this can also be abused – think of the number of people that you have seen walking around oblivious with loud music blasting or having air conversations at maximum volume. Rude is still rude and inconsiderate behavior – no matter what the technology involved.
But the most amazing thing to me is voice commands and dialing. With the Bluetooth you don’t even have to take the phone in hand – just touch the earpiece button for two seconds and then say “call whoever at work (or home, or whatever)”. Or say “check status” and get the current battery state, signal source, signal strength, message status, current time and date, and so on and on and on. Reasonably clear pronunciation will get the job done. Back to this in a moment.
I grew up in the 1950s, when the telephone company was a monolithic monopoly. I can remember numbers that started with a name – Butler-9 was our exchange. I can remember party lines. You had to listen for the dial tone and make sure that you didn’t start dialing over someone else’s conversation. You also had to be careful what you said if some nosybody was listening on the party line. Back then it was one telephone per household. If you wanted extension phones the telephone company really soaked you. All installation was done by the phone company, wiring and all. If you wanted to move the phone from one room to another you had to call the phone company and pay a service charge for their guy to move it. You could not do any of your own work or Ma Bell could take you to court and/or penalize you pretty heavily. It was a big deal when the rules relaxed and you could have extension phones and do your own wiring. It was a status symbol for a while to have an extension in every room.
Then there were cordless phones and every gadget conscious householder had to have one (or more).
Then came cell phones, they were expensive, heavy, bulky, unreliable and had pretty spotty coverage. The new status symbol became a mobile phone. Then you got pretty well soaked on minutes when you went over your plan minimum. I had a mobile phone in my truck because I was doing mechanical contracting at the time. It was not unusual to have $400 a month phone bills. My bookkeeper would have a fit just about every time.
Now cell phones are a necessity of life and more reasonable in cost.
Back in the 1960s I was working for Remington-Rand repairing office machines – typewriters, adding machines, calculators, copies and robo-typers (I’ll have to tell you about robo-typers sometime – interesting goodies). On one of the training trips to the factory in Elmira, New York (Southwest New York state) they gave us a lab tour and showed us all the neat stuff that was being developed. One of the goodies was a calculator that was made out of Plexiglas and worked from a vacuum. You didn’t push buttons; you covered suction holes with a finger to activate a number or function. Kinda neat. Never got developed into anything marketable that I know of. The other neat, futuristic goodie they were working on was a voice-activated typewriter. This was really a big, bulky thing – 60s, remember. They loved to have us Southern boys give the thing a try – the Southern accent drove the machine nuts and it would print the weirdest garbage. The machine had to be reset for each operator and wouldn’t work very well if the operator had a cold. This also could not be made dependable enough for commercial production. (I did get back to voice recognition as promised).
There is a wonderful scene in Star Trek 4. The crew has come back into the past (late 1980s, when the movie was made) to rescue humpback whales (yeah, the plot is a little lame). Scotty needs to use a Macintosh computer. He starts off by saying “Computer” and expecting a response. The local holds up the mouse. Scotty then holds the mouse like a microphone and says “Computer” again. Then he is amused and shocked to learn he has to use the keyboard. This may not be as funny in a few years (or maybe funnier) as we get used to voice control of everything. I wonder if our grandkids will look back and remember a time when they had to turn on a light manually, or actually drive a car instead of just announcing a destination.
In some of Robert Heinlein’s later works: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Time Enough for Love, Number of the Beast, To Sail Beyond the Sunset, to name a few, a computer is sentient and a regular member of the household with sight and voice recognition. These computers were really people with hardware bodies. That time may not be as far off as we think.
If the Moslems don’t destroy western civilization I dare say that before my children die – maybe even before I die – we will have affordable household robots that understand voice commands to do routine housework. Or will technology take us in directions that we cannot even imagine today? Or both?
Herself Sez: Don’t get me started on “voice technology!!” I’m waiting for Dragon Naturally Speaking(R)(TM) to start recognizing my conglomeration of Southern / Western / Kentuckian / Etc. accent. I have never been able to use it – even after hours and hours of “training” trying to get the stupid program to work. If we get voice-activated robots, I will view them with a jaundiced eye until I am sure that they will “dust the buffet” on command as opposed to “rust the tuffet”