“In the year 2038, computers won’t matter any more,” Paul Ford says. “That’s because they’ll be everywhere — small and cheap embedded in everything. And all the little rituals I do to get through my day will be unnecessary — like swiping a MetroCard or buzzing into the office. I might still use a desktop computer, but mostly I’ll ask my earbuds to play music, and those earbuds will also serve as a wallet. Or maybe I like carrying a wallet, that’s fine, too — it’ll have a little screen on it. My shoes will talk to my earbuds and the song will speed up if I walk faster. I’ll be just a little walking cloud platform with lots of hard drive space, all talking to the internet.”
In the latest episode of 2038, Intelligencer’s podcast about the future, the author of What Is Code? talks with Max Read and David Wallace-Wells about the true meaning of the “internet of things” — when everything is a computer, and everything is connected, everything is also being surveilled, constantly. Including you.
How are we going be charging all of these computers?
This is a wonderful question, because I think that actually the future is battery technology. I want to take my children aside and say, get into batteries!
It’s the plastics of 2018.
This is why Elon Musk is actually interesting, when he’s not losing his mind on Twitter.
I really do think that this is a killer problem and nobody has solved it. As things get smaller and smaller, it gets more and more ridiculous to have these giant adapters that you have to plug into. So who knows? Maybe they’ll be like a little basket and it’ll be like the smart-charging basket. Or nano drones come and plug in your ears for five minutes during the course of the day because you signal to them the batteries were low.
But I’m charging basically everything on my body at this point, right?
You’re not going to have much choice. Your sweater’s going to be smart. Your glasses are going to be smart. Your suppository will be need to talk to your buds. All that needs juice. Maybe there’ll be some biotech thing going on — maybe that solves America’s obesity problem. That’d be cool. If we could figure out a way to make fatties like me into battery sources, and then I could just hook myself up to a server, I could be the future of cloud platforms.
If we’re already wearing sweaters and sneakers and jeans that are computers, we’re getting closer to putting them under our skin.
You can see it happening with Apple already. They’re super into your heartbeat. Every part of you that throbs, Apple would like to pay attention to.
But if literally everything about your life down to your heartbeat is being sucked up by some corporate entity or government entity — I mean, it does open a huge set of questions about surveillance and what gets watched and how that gets processed.
I know. But my wife and I track each other now on Google maps, because it’s so convenient! We are a surveillance.
Now the internet is everywhere, but our devices are kind of passports into it so we can kind of elect to be participating in the surveillance state. If the internet is everywhere and literally wired into you, there’s no opting in and no opting out.
Listen, I have nothing but bad news on this one. Machine learning is getting really smart. We all have faces. Those two facts alone are pretty bad. There’s going to be screens everywhere. They’re going to be incredibly cheap. They’re going to be connected to the internet and there’s going to be live footage of everybody’s face. And the minute one system can correlate one face to a token in a database, that face is kind of on record forever.
Do you think there’ll be a hacker culture in some way?
There already is. People have hairstyles and makeup that will block facial recognition. But the average human is already fully opted in. It’s going to be total surveillance at all times.
To hear more — about a future of Apple razors that are so much better, shave so much cleaner, and last so much longer than those Android ones; about whether Facebook and Google can survive this internet of things; about the limits of speech recognition and the benefits of white-paper-to-write-on technology — click above to listen to the episode in full. You can subscribe for free wherever you get podcasts.