The future of interchangeable information devices

When the IPad came out in 2010, I had a vision of a universal anonymous device. When you picked up any IPad that happened to be handy, its front facing camera would recognize you. That would then become your IPad, customized with your data and preferences, until you put it down again.

Clearly this is not what happened. Like the IPhone before it, the IPad became a singular possession, a sign of status and wealth, like a car — as in: this isn’t your car, this is my car.

There are many examples through history of technological objects which are anonymous: The telephone booth, the piano, the typewriter and the taxi cab, to name just a few. You don’t need to own any of these devices to use them. They are designed to be more or less interchangeable with other devices of the same type.

But the data tablet and smart phone are different, because they contain your personal data. Which means you don’t want anybody messing with them, and thereby potentially messing with your private information.

Yet we now live in the world of Blockchain, of end to end encryption, of fully secure WhatsApp messages. There now exist widely adopted mechanisms by which individuals can store their data in the Cloud without needing to worry that their data will be stolen.

So the next wave of personal information devices — arguably the first generation of wearables — might be able to get it right. The moment you put on a pair of cyberglasses, the device will do a quick retinal scan, fetch your data from the Cloud, and essentially become your personal customized device for as long as you are wearing it.

And the next person who puts on those same glasses will have a similar experience. Which means that wearables will, like pianos, and guitars, and plates and bowls and forks and spoons and screwdrivers, become anonymous interchangeable machines.

They will not be tethered to any one person, but rather will be equally useable by anyone. And that will make a lot more sense, won’t it?

7 thoughts on “The future of interchangeable information devices”

  1. Since you mentioned Blockchain, I think you might be interested in the concept of a “Brainwallet” . It’s the practice of a long mnemonic password seed used for generating private keys used to authorize cryptocurrency.

    You can create a “Brainwallet” by creating a mnemonic seed / long password. Using the seed, you can instantiate a bitcoin account and transfer funds to it. Once that is finished, you are free to destroy that computer without losing any currency.

    All of the information, except your mnemonic seed generated private key, exist on computers distributed around the world. You can regenerate authorization on from another computer later, e.g. after a 10 year prison sentence, and regain access to your funds.

  2. Re: interchangeable devices, let’s not leave out the humble “dumb” terminal of old!

  3. A good current example is the Chromebook. Wheel a cart of them into the classroom. Each student grabs the next one off the stack, logs in, and voila, fully personalized computing environment. (Assuming the WiFi is up!)

  4. These are all wonderfully thoughtful comments.

    I love the Brainwallet! Sometime soon there I suspect a good action/adventure story will be built around that — a kind of modern Count of Monte Cristo.

    Great point about the old dumb terminals. And the fact that the Chromebook is already doing this sort of thing, albeit in a limited context, is a good harbinger of things to come.

  5. Before the cloud became the big deal that it is, I always wanted to carry all of my data, software, and preferences around on a USB device hung from my key ring, which I could plug into any computing device and it would instantly become mine. For a long time, I did keep a thumb drive with encrypted backups of a lot of my data.

    It’s true that people need not worry about their cloud data being stolen. They can rest easily knowing that it almost certainly will be.

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