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The RoBlog
Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Life in the Year 2014 Deconstructed
Ok, I promised a few posts back to take a closer look at Robert J. Saywer's prediction of what life will be like in 2014, as posted on Backbonemag.com, so here we go.

Sawyer begins by describing a waking up scenario where your bedside clock will track your brainwaves and wakes you up in a gentle fashion right at the point where you are most rested.

Is the general idea of this scenario possible by 2014? Yes, but only just.

Let me start, however, by pointing out that this gentle waking will probably only be possible on the weekends for most people as the kind of mass social re-engineering required to allow you to sleep in to whenever you want and then come to work would probably take 10 years longer than the technology that enables it, if ever. You'll still have to show up somewhere (even if it's your home office) in time for some meeting or other, and given the increasingly global reach of businesses, this will probably mean meetings at 7am in San Francisco to catch the people getting ready to leave in London. And, of course, we're only talking about white collar workers at this point. The vast majority of the working population will still need to be at work by 8 to flip burgers and great customers with a smile.

Back to the technology. First of all, if this process is possible at all, it's unlikely to be in a clock by your bedside. A clock is probably going to be too far away from your head to accurately monitor your brainwaves with the technology available in 2014. More likely, it would seem, would be some sort of Smart Pillow whose primary function will be to gather biometric information about you like your brainwaves, body temparature, and maybe one or two more things. The pillow will then report the data wirelessly to your personal computing device, which will then communicate with whatever home systems have finally been network activated to manipulate your environment in the manner you have predetermined.

The challenges, beyond the commoditizing of the brain wave reading technologies, that will need to be overcome for this vision to be realized include:
- Supplying power to the pillow regularly (this will become an increasing problem that will need to be solved generally in the next 10 years as more and more non-computing devices become electrically active without ready access to a wall plug).
- On a similar note, placing the required electronics into a pillow without interupting its comfort value.
- Identifying whose brainwaves are being read and what device to report the information to. Probably some sort of brain wave fingerprinting is possible (I don't know enough about brainwaves), but your computing device and your pillow will probably have to have some kind of conversation that goes like this: Computer: "Any pillows in the area that receive biometric information from a person whose brainwave patters match this, report that information to me".
- Encrypting the data to prevent it being intercepted (I assume this will be a minor barrier).
- Handling the case where there is more than one brainwave in the area to pick up. I don't know if it will be easy to discern two brains that are, for example, on the same pillow or not.
- Privacy issues related to sleeping on a Smart Pillow that is not your own (e.g. hotel, one-night-stander, etc) that could feed back your biometric information to an undesireable (a challenge that will come up again and again in discussions of the near future where such things as toilets that can monitor your urine for various reasons are predicted to become common).

Hmm, seems I've already run out of time and I haven't gotten beyond the first paragraph of the prediction. Looks like this will probably take me a week's worth of entries to cover. Ah well, it's interesting anyway. Tune in next time, and don't forget to check out the original article: It’s 2014, and life is the same. Only better

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