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Archive for the 'Disintermediation' Category

Q: Your smartphone has just been stolen. What should happen next? A: Your phone should get the cops on the horn and lead them to the thief.

Here’s the truth of your life: Your so-called smartphone is pretty damned dumb. For one thing, it’s always interrupting your work with phone calls, wiping out whatever screen you happen to be working on. It does this because Steve Jobs, genius though he was, never quite wrapped his head around the idea of the cell-phone function as just another arrow in the quiver of your smartphone’s capabilities. What you actually want, when your phone rings while you are working at something else, is notice that you can drop everything to take the call — or not — without the phone making that decision for you.

I can do more: There is no reason for caller ID to be as stupid as it is. I want Heidi, of course, a full-blown database look-up when a new caller shows up on my phone. But lacking that, a truly smart smartphone would at least Google the number and display whatever information that search suggests about the caller.

But once we’ve gone that far, we get to an important question: Why is your smartphone shipping phone calls to you as phone calls? Data is data, and there is no longer any hardware or software reason to transmit phone calls by Ma Bell’s antiquated protocols. There may be cost or efficiency reasons, but it remains that a file-server-based “switchboard” could be a whole lot smarter than present-day cell-phone vendors seem to be. A lot of the Constance the Connector ideas would be best implemented on a truly smart phone system — one that pre-manages your calls before anything in your pocket sets off a racket.

But here is an entirely new way of thinking about smartphones, one that lets me solve a problem Jim Klein threw my way way back in the last century: Your phone can manage your online security better than any other means devised so far. With the right hardware and software, your phone, together with Sarah and Constance, can manage all of your financial transactions with perfect security and impenetrable encryption. Your phone can identify you — by way of your Constance profile — to any other hardware devices or software services you might use, effortlessly networking you — and handling all of that idiotic password diplomacy. Best of all, your phone can monitor your personal security, calling the police when you are at peril — or when it is.

I want for any device that draws electrical power — wired, battery-powered or generated, as with your car — to be IP addressable, controllable and reprogrammable by remote software. Why would this matter for, say, a refrigerator? So that its performance can be optimized, both according to your own usage patterns and in keeping with the manufacturer’s design profile, as it ages. If the data collected by your refrigerator is shared into your Constance profile, then anyone who might be able to make productive use of that kind of data will have a lot of it to play with — which suggests that you might get some fat coupons around replacement time, with that replacement having been designed in cognizance of all of that real-world data.

That’s a simple example, but here’s a better one: Imagine that you’re at a wedding. The professional photographers are in control of their own equipment, but they’ve also made several PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom) video cameras, mounted high over the crowd, available to the guests. Those cameras are IP addressable, like every good thing, so you can log-in to an ad hoc network that lets you control a camera remotely from your smartphone or tablet computer. Precedence is negotiated by the age-old “dibs” system, with limits on access so everyone gets a chance to play. At the end of the wedding, the video from those cameras is available to everyone who participated, each one of whom can edit his or her own perfect wedding video.

Making devices remotely IP addressable enables a new style of networking. By interacting with my smartphone, by way of Constance, I can take super-user control over any new hardware I install. The act of installation itself implies the integration of the new device into the existing network of computing devices, and the negotiations needed to effect that integration are all handled by hardware and software, with no immemorable passwords or arcane networking protocols needed from me. Where are the APIs and drivers needed to set up communication? On Constance, of course, with each type of device capable of this kind of networking having its own Constance profile, and with each new device in your network reporting its performance and usage data out to your own Constance profile.

So I just came home with a brand new printer. I unbox it and plug it in, and, as I am doing this, Sarah on my phone is watching me do it and is pulling all the data she will need to successfully network that printer. She knows where it is in space, approximately, but she knows precisely where it is in my network topology. What’s left to do comes down to hardware and software hand-shaking — and Sarah can put an unhackable password on that printer that will protect it from unauthorized use but which I will never have to even see, much less learn or remember.

Meanwhile, I need to let Sarah know who else in my home or office is also authorized to use that printer, and which of those people share super-user powers with me. Ideally, I will have already set this up in my “circle” for this particular network. In other words, my printer will have been fully integrated into my network by Sarah, and all I had to do was plug it in. For the PTZ cameras at the wedding, the “circle” for that temporary network might have been the wedding invitation list or perhaps just every smart device within a radius of 50 yards or whatever. Once we have established that your smartphone is your digital ID card, any sort of networking is just a software problem.

So let’s think about what might make for a smarter smartphone. Sarah and Constance are doing the heavy lifting, but first the phone needs to be able to know that it is dealing with you and you alone. It must be able to identify you perfectly, without error. How can it do this? Biometrics.

I want for Sarah to be watching you all the time, as much as you will let her. She should be watching you from your phone’s cameras, but she should also watch you from any other camera in your vicinity that she can control. The data from those cameras is actually more than enough to identify you in a fault-free fashion, but your smartphone should also be monitoring your pulse, your skin temperature, your breathing, your speech patterns, etc. Your phone — and hence Sarah — should know with absolute certainty if the hand holding it is yours or someone else’s.

And that’s why your phone should call the cops as soon as it is stolen: It will know this has happened at once, since all of the biometric data will be suddenly and wildly different. Apple’s “find my phone” feature is cool — for now — but there is no reason that a truly smart smartphone should not be able to manage its own theft and recovery. Note the implication: No phone this smart would ever be stolen. The manufacturer would have to build a special procedure to permit resale, which, essentially, would mean reinitialization.

Jim Klein’s problem was this: How can I shop online without exposing my credit card information, possibly making it accessible to thieves? Just that much is a Constance job — my identification at checkout is @gswann. But Constance could easily take the next step of querying my phone to see if it’s really me shopping, or if someone is pretending to be me. All of the security hand-shaking can be handled by Sarah, deploying robust encryption and using protocols that are not even available to wet-ware devices like you. This is perfect identification coupled with perfect security — all of it super-fast and unimaginably cheap.

And all of the personal security ideas I wrote about in my discussion of ubiquitous video can be effected by these same means. If your smartphone is watching you and everyone around you all the time, it would be duck-soup to do the kind of facial recognition, behavioral profiling and data-base mining I talked about in that essay. With nothing more than a phone sticking out of your shirt pocket and the appropriate software on the server side, you would be forevermore protected from virtually all common crime. There is no accounting for madness or rage, but crimes-of-calculation against your person — mugging, pick-pocketing, rape — would be a thing of the past. You don’t even need elaborate software to achieve this outcome, just live streaming from your phone into the cloud — one snapshot a second would be plenty — so you create an incontrovertible evidence trail wherever you go.

There’s a lot more to this that I can take up in a weblog post. Because your phone is your personalized interface into the universe of IP addressable hardware and password-mediated software, a smarter smartphone endowed with the kind of software I am talking about, both in the phone and in the cloud, could take over most of the management of the devices and software services you use. At some point I plan to talk about the software design paradigm that will have to replace the ever-more-chaotic world of “apps,” but this, ultimately, is what you have to look forward to: Not a world without “apps” or desktop applications or browser-based software, but a world where your smartphone and its support software are smart enough to handle virtually all of the things you are currently doing by touchpad, mouse or keyboard.

How will you know when this day has arrived? When your smartphone shoots you an email to let you know that it had been swiped but that the police have already recovered it. If you want for that day to be soon — and it easily could be — you’ll have to let Apple, Samsung, HTC and all the other vendors of dumb-ass smartphones know that they can, should and must do better.

Our story so far: Lately, I have been tap-dancing around an idea for a new kind of computer-user operating paradigm. I haven’t explicated the central thesis yet, but it should be easy enough to infer from the essays I’ve written so far:

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