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Gadgets that know what you want

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Have you ever been to a fancy restaurant and had the distinct feeling the waiter knew before you did what you wanted to order with dinner? It’s wonderful when they recommend just the perfect wine or desert to compliment the evening’s meal. However, I’m not sure I want my electronic gadgets to begin getting the same notion.

That kind of foresight is exactly the motivation behind the latest wave of technology, "context aware computing." Electronics makers are seeking not only to assist people accomplish the tasks they set out to do, but also to anticipate what they might want, or need, in the very near future. This will be accomplished by assessing the "context" in which we find ourselves at a particular point in time. Say we are going through the security screening at DFW Airport and looking forward to a good lunch in New York. At that point the device will consider and set priorities and offer suggestions.

How in the world could they accomplish such a complicated task? Simply by knowing everything about us, our likes and dislikes, habits and desires and by keeping track of where we are and what we’re doing. Are we a little scared yet?

"Future devices will constantly learn about you. They’ll learn your habits, the way you go through your day," according to Intel Labs chief Justin Rattner speaking at a recent technology meeting.

"They’ll know where you are and where you’re going. They’ll anticipate your needs. They’ll know your likes and dislikes."

Whether or not having an electronic device know all about your life is a good thing depends entirely upon your point of view.

"Intel reveals the future of technology, and it’s curiously friendly," stated one headline while another said, "Your next phone may read your mind."

Who can argue with the fact electronic gadgets have made communication easier? The same holds true for learning about the world around us and staying current on happenings near and abroad. So, the next step according to developers is to take the capabilities of our devices, make them learn about us and use that knowledge to figure out what we might want or need to do next. This goes way beyond "augmented reality" capabilities where your devices tell you what’s going on around you, such as restaurants, shops and inns in a particular location. Context aware computing would tell you not just what was there, but would also suggest what you might like. For example, there might be a restaurant that serves your favorite kind of food cooked just the way you like it in New York, San Francisco or London.

In order to accomplish that, Intel envisions devices collecting, collating, and analyzing data from a variety of hard and soft sources including GPS, which tells the device where you are, accelerometers – used to great effect in the Nintendo Wii system – to determine whether you are walking, running, sitting or driving.

It would also consider entries in your appointment calendar as well as what you are currently using the device for, such as email, Web surfing or social media applications.

How about having your phone tell you that you need to leave early for that 10 a.m. meeting because of a traffic jam and then offer you alternate routes to arrive on time? Are we a little scared yet?

Devices could be used to monitor health issues, such as a sensor that analyzes the gait of an elderly person to predict the possibility of a dangerous fall when changes in the way they walk are detected.

Technology companies fully realize the extent to which we are dependent upon our gadgets and would like nothing better than to make that relationship even more personal – and dependent. – to the end they will become not just impersonal hardware, but the "indispensable companions" device makers would like them to become.

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