Where’s the technology I want at CES?

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Veg...

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas Nevada in January 2010 (cc) David Berkowitz http://www.marketersstudio.com (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My technology needs are simple. I want my phone to check the weather half an hour before I get up. If there’s likely to be frost, it will communicate with a gizmo in my car that will not only defrost the windows, but it will warm up the seats and the steering wheel for me. My heating should also be given a little boost so that downstairs is nice and toasty. Five minutes before I get up, I want it to switch the kettle on downstairs. I want it to gradually bring the lights up in the room so that I wake up gently.

My tablet should automatically download today’s copy of the Times rather than dumbly waiting for me to fire it up and press the button. My phone should check my diary to see whether I have any appointments in London. If so, it should check that the trains and tubes are running OK. If for any reason I need to deviate from my normal route it should be ready for me by the time I look at my phone. I want my phone to check the balance on my Oyster card, If it’s running low, it should automatically top it up. The TV should switch on and automatically turn to my favourite news channel.

If it’s dark and I walk into a room, the lights should automatically come on. If a room is empty for any length of time, the lights should switch off. If any bulbs are blown, and we are running low on replacements, something will magically buy some best value ones from eBay. I should be able to watch or read any media on any visual device in the house. My wife and I should be able to start watching something on the TV and half way through independently watch the remainder on our mobile phones.

The fridge should have a touchscreen that shows the contents in order of sell by dates together with suggestions for recipes. There will be buttons next door to everything so that we can add them to the next order from the supermarket. The cooker will be told what temperature to warm the oven up to and how long the dish needs. The microwave should be clever enough to work out what’s inside it and set the timer accordingly.

The car should go and fill itself up with fuel. As it sits there most of the time not doing anything, it should also automatically check all those annoying comparison sites and renew my insurance and my tax disc. The car should also book itself in for a service, preferably on a day I’m taking the train into London.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Everything connected up intelligently. The frustrating thing is that much of this technology is here today. The reason I can’t do all these things is because consumer technology is so disjointed. You might be able to get some of these things individually, but making then all work together is either ridiculously expensive, difficult or both.

So what do I think we’ll see at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas? Higher resolution TVs, flexible phones and a sea of tablets.


The games people play


Game designer and author Jane McGonigal at Mee...

Game designer and author Jane McGonigal at Meet the Media Guru in Milan, Italy, May 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Picture the scene. You see 3 children sat on a sofa. Each of them is playing on some sort of electronic device. What thoughts come into your head? The chances are that the words “waste of time” are uppermost in your mind. Up until 24 hours ago, I would have agreed with you, but I was lucky enough to see Jane McGonigal’s presentation at IBM Impact in Las Vegas.

Jane is a self professed future forecaster and author of Reality is Broken. She has a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. An enthralling speaker, she rattles off facts and figures about gaming and the effect on society in convincing fashion. According to her figures, there are a billion gamers in the world today. Angry Birds alone is played for a total of 300 million minutes a day by the human race.

Wikipedia has become an exhaustive knowledge source for just about everything. At the time of writing, the site consists of approximately 4 million articles. Encyclopaedia Britannica contains about 85,000. If all the gamers playing Angry Birds stopped, and turned their attention to recreating Wikipedia (assuming they had the knowledge), it would take them just three weeks.

Interesting – but why does that make gaming anything more than a frivolous waste of time? Apparently, gamers regularly experience 10 distinct positive emotions ranging from curiosity to joy. They are more innovative. More creative. They are more resilient (chiefly because they spend 80% of the time during games failing). Gamers are also more likely to help other people.

There are medical benefits too. According to a Nature Reviews study, gamers with ADHD find that their symptoms are massively diminished or even disappear whilst playing games. Gamers with autism show increased social intelligence. In clinical trials, games give more positive results than pharmaceuticals in patients with depression.

She gave the example of a game called Remission. The hero in the game fights against the agents that cause cancer. Patients suffering from the disease who play the game have better outcomes than patients who just watch the game being played. Observation or brain activity whilst playing the game shows increased activity in the Thalamus (responsible for not giving up) and the Hippocampus (responsible for long term memory and habits). If you play the game, you are less likely to give up  and much more likely to continue treatment.

During her presentation, she told us that we were going to play Massively Multiplayer thumb wrestling. As I was surrounded by 9,000 other people, I decided in an instant that I was far too British to take part in any such nonsense. When the time came, I became wrapped up in the moment and I was thumb wrestling with the best of them and I won with one thumb, which apparently makes me a grand champion of thumb wrestling! Jane asserted that we would all feel a number of positive emotions afterwards, and I did, once I had composed myself and straightened my tie.

I can’t wait to read the book.


We have no time to stand and stare…


Rainbow in the Fountains of the Bellagio Hotel...

Rainbow in the Fountains of the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is nothing quite like a good view. You can almost feel your batteries being recharged as you take in the sheer magnificence of the spectacle before you. Unfortunately, the reverse can also be true. It can be draining when you take in a view that is not quite so pleasing. Unfortunately, I find myself in just such a place right now. I am in Las Vegas for a conference and whilst I can understand why the location appeals to some – I am not amongst them.

I am impressed by the technological achievement of some of the developments here. The synchronized fountains outside the Bellagio are undoubtedly a sight to see. I can appreciate the design work that must have gone into the intense choreography as the individual jets shoot carefully controlled pulses into the sky. The architecture behind some of the buildings is astonishing in the sheer scale of these monolithic cathedrals to hedonistic consumerism.

But to me, these buildings have one essential ingredient missing – they lack a soul. Somehow when you walk around the buildings in an old part of London or York, the history around you almost seeps out into the street as you walk through. Of course, they are nowhere near as opulent as the structures of Las Vegas but they are genuine.

Aside from the old town, Hemel Hempstead, my home, will never be renowned as a site of beauty. Despite the fact that we have the tallest building in Hertfordshire in the form of Kodak House, the skyline is never going to rank amongst the most impressive in the world. One day though, I did manage to see it from a different perspective. I was working for BP at the time. Whilst waiting for a job to finish on my machine, my gaze happened to wander over to a field outside the building where there was a team busily preparing to launch a hot air balloon. The balloon was festooned with BP logos, and in that moment – it occurred to me that there might be a way to hitch a ride.

I pleaded with my team leader to let me go outside to the balloon until she let me go. I ran downstairs, climbed over the prickly hedge and ran over the muddy field. As I neared the balloon, puffed out from my exertions, I caught sight of the man leading the crew. For an instant, he gave me a look that told me my travails had been in vain and then his face softened into a broad smile and he lifted me into the basket.

At that moment, they gave a blast with the burners. It sounded like a primeval, unearthly roar and the searing heat washed over us. Little by little, the balloon started to rise and the basket floated beneath. Before too long, my office was disappearing below us. The higher we ascended, the more amazing the view became. As I saw Hemel Hempstead stretched out below, I realised how verdant and green everything looked. The rivers and canal  framed the town, and it looked quite stunning from up above. Fortunately, there was not much else to do in the balloon other than drink in the view.

Aerial views show a completely different perspective on the familiar. There is an approach to Heathrow where the pilot makes his final approach low over the Thames. I never tire of roaring along the river from East to West taking in all the famous London landmarks. Nowadays, with Google Earth, you can see the same view from the comfort of your own home, but somehow, it’s not quite the same as feeling the experience of flight at the same time.

One view I will never forget was from high up in the World Trade Centre in New York. I was there early one morning to give a training course. Because it was in December, sunrise was fairly late. The streets in Manhattan are laid out in a lattice so that all the buildings share the same orientation. As the sun came up, the skyscrapers that make up the famous New York skyline lit up in unison. It seemed almost as if the city was made of huge gold bars standing to attention in the morning light.

If you ever find yourself with a spectacular site before you, take my advice. Take the time to stand and stare, unless you find yourself in Las Vegas.