Today, technology serves us well because it collects data on what we do. It knows who we speak with. It sees what we look at. Devices will know to wake us up earlier if it snowed overnight or contact our friends when we’re running late. For tech journalist Robert Scoble, this is not about privacy loss—it’s about utility.
Along with coauthor Shel Israel, Scoble has written Age of Context: Mobile, Sensors, Data, and the Future of Privacy. The two interviewed more than one hundred technology pioneers and studied hundreds of products and noticed five key areas converging at the same time: sensors, wearables, location, social, and data. The key with all of these trends is context. Scoble explains how highly contextualized data will affect society’s future.
Products will become more and more personalized according to the person using them, and while this means our information will get tracked, Scoble points out that it also means products will cater specifically to our individual needs. He cites Oakley’s Airwave goggles, which track your speed, measure your jumps, and review your runs, among other features. With the information that tech can gather, devices will start to know us better—in some ways, better than our closest friends.
Anticipated products and services
We’ll start to see more apps that look deep into our context to assist us, says Scoble. For example, if your to-do list says you need a screwdriver and you’re by a hardware store, your phone could send you a reminder. These apps will automatically change throughout the day according to the people, places, and machines around you.
Union Pacific Railroad has placed sensors on rail cars to monitor flat spots on wheels and temperature on wheel bearings, among other things. This way, the company can better forecast preventative maintenance needs, improving safety and reliability. Scoble says we’ll see more technology that can better predict our needs.
Deep customer insights
|Companies can gain this trust by doing three key things: remain transparent on the data collected, make data correctable, and allow people to better control the consequences of the data.|
Years ago, explains Scoble, the Ritz-Carlton would look through customers’ trash and keep an index card about their interests. Werther’s wrapper in the trash? Maybe you’d have one on your pillow during your next visit. In the next few years, Scoble believes we’ll see loyalty programs that will help companies understand their customers better by pinpointing where their customers are on the property or what their favorite drink is.
Avoiding the freaky factor
For consumers to adopt this new technology, Scoble emphasizes the need for trust. Companies can gain this trust by doing three key things: remain transparent on the data collected, make data correctable, and allow people to better control the consequences of the data.
As he notes, collecting data has been going on for years. The difference is now we have more awareness. There’s always a risk and benefit to weigh, but just as most of us have accepted credit cards and the information they collect from us, Scoble firmly believes that if there is utility, people will adopt.
This post is part of our ongoing coverage of Microsoft Research and its Visiting Speaker Series. Microsoft Research supports its mission to educate and foster innovation and growth through inviting authors and speakers that inspire big ideas, spark new ways of doing things, or help people see things from a new perspective.