Written on the Eurostar between London and Paris, and dispatched to silicon.com via my Paris hotel LAN a day later.
After suffering yet another healthcare presentation that proposes littering the homes of the old and needy with sensors so their activities and health can be monitored, I decided to compile a list of what my mobile phone knows about me - and you.
I'm sure what follows is a modest list, but it is revealing all the same. Our smartphones routinely know the following:
- Where we are.
- Where we have been.
- Where we are likely to be going next.
- Who we have met, where and when.
- Who we are going to meet, where and when.
- Who we call.
- Who calls us.
- Who we text, instant-message and email.
- All our contacts.
- All our URLs.
- All our passwords.
- What we are doing now.
- What we did in the past.
- What games we play.
- What apps we use.
- What music we listen to.
- What we watch.
- What we read.
- What other smartphones we have been close to.
- What 3G, wi-fi and Bluetooth signals we have detected or accessed.
So our smartphones are inherently capable of gathering information about our habits and behaviours. They can detect if we are standing, sitting, walking, running, riding a bike or travelling in a car. It is also obvious that our habits are useful indicators of our level of fitness and mobility.
It is therefore a short step to program a mobile to ask us if we are OK should we deviate from the norm. And if we don't respond or we're unable to, it can text, email, or send a voice message requesting help.
What a neat engineering solution. No mega expense for devices and their installation. No centralisation and analysis of data, just very simple exception reporting.
The key thing here is that current multi-distributed sensor systems will not scale, and nor will the centralisation of data collection. However, the straightforward mobile phone approach satisfies the vast majority of practical cases. It scales and it's low-cost.
But this is the situation today. As more and more sensors become integrated into the same mobile device, the capabilities and information recorded and extracted will escalate.
Add a modest amount of intelligent software and the possibilities rapidly expand further. This is all a long way from the original concept of the mobile phone 30 years ago.
Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.