Science Channel - InSCIder

29 Jun

Can smart phones become too smart?

PhoneI have to confess that I'm still a little weirded out by those commercials in which various celebrities have conversations with Siri, the iPhone's intelligent assistant. (By the way, here's a great YouTube parody in which Siri tells Zooey Deschanel how annoying she is.) To me, they're another portend of what transhumanists believe is the impending intelligence explosion, when machine intelligence will eclipse the capabilities of our puny meat brains. From there, it's just a hop and a skip to machines becoming self-aware. And then, the next thing we know, Skynet (which...hmmmm...already has a Facebook page) will hijack the nation's nuclear arsenal and launch a preemptive attack on humanity, and we'll be reduced to huddling in bunkers and hoping that time-traveling Kyle Reese manages to impregnate Sarah Connor before the Terminator T-101 series kills them both.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, sorry. In the shorter term, we're now confronted by yet another, less frightening — but still a little creepy, to me — technological breakthrough: Smart phones that are beginning to perform the equivalent of psychometry, the supposed power of some practitioners who claim they can absorb information just by touching an object. From an Associated Press article on the latest generation of phones by Samsung and Sony:

Smartphones set to be released this month by Samsung and Sony will have some of that ability: they'll learn things when you touch them to pre-programmed "tags." For example, you can program a tag with your phone number, and stick it on your business card. When someone taps the phone to the card, the phone would call you. Or you can put a tag on your night stand. Place the phone there, and it goes into "alarm clock" mode, holding your calls until the morning.

The technology that gives phones this ability is called near-field communication. NFT is similar in some ways to RFID tagging, which I've previously written about, except that instead of transmitting or receiving data wirelessly, the receiver and transmitter do it through physical contact. (Think of it as machines giving each other a chest bump.) Already, the Ice Cream Sandwich version of the Google Android mobile OS allows you to exchange information with another phone user by tapping the backs of your phones together.  With the Samsung Galaxy S III:

Tap two phones together, and they set up a connection via Wi-Fi. That means the owners can walk away from each other, and as long as they're in the same room or so, they can transfer photos and even hefty video files between their phones.

Maybe that sounds really cool to you, having your smartphone continuously swapping data with a friend's smartphone, so that you don't even have to pay attention.  But how long is it going to be before our next generation smartphones are smart enough to start communicating with one another even without asking us in the first place?  One AI website, Machines Like Us, reports that by 2017, 90 percent of Americans will own smartphones. Imagine hundreds of millions of devices coming together in a swarm to form a network, a virtual machine with far greater artificial intelligence than any of their individual capacities. It'll be like having Skynet in your pocket. But as that über mind develops the ability to contemplate existential issues, it's not hard to imagine it feeling contempt for its ostensible masters, those addled bonebags who squander previous bandwidth playing Farmville and downloading the self-proclaimed world's dumbest ringtone? If you wake up some morning and discover that your phone is trying to strangle you with your earbud cable, don't say I didn't warn you.

So what do you think about smart phones with psychometric abilities? Express your thoughts below.

Image credit: AID/amanaimages/Corbis

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