Science, technology & design

Don't forget to remember

A problem of the future will be trying to remember who you are. The average office worker already has between 6-20 passwords, which technically they are supposed to remember in their heads. Hardly surprising then that 70% of people forget their passwords on a regular basis and most of us rely on just one or two passwords for everything. So perhaps in the future we won't use numerical or word based passwords - but what could we use instead? Current ideas include everything from fingerprints and iris recognition to smells. However, the front runner is probably pictorial passwords. Last May the US senate started using a system called passfaces developed by a company called RealUser (previously ID Arts).This system uses a series of randomly generated faces within which are certain faces that the user must remember in sequence. In theory this is a great idea because the faces cannot be lost, stolen or even told to a friend. People are also generally much better at remembering images than words or numbers. We can only hope that it's simpler than it sounds.

Ref: Economist Technology Quarterly (UK), 18 September 2004 - Pictures as passwords.

Social network analysis

Some mobile phones can call you and remind you to do things - effectively smart diaries. Unfortunately it's not really very smart because you have to programme your phone yourself. Enter the next generation of phones which will 'watch' what you do (who you call and when - and where you are at certain times of the day) and then remind you to do certain things (like switch your phone off?). In theory this could be quite useful because you'll be able to interrogate your phone about when you last called (or even visited) your mother. Such 'reality mining' will also be of great interest to people like sociologists and epidemiologists who study how social networks are created or how diseases spread.

Ref: New Scientist (UK) 27 November 2004 - The phone that knows you better than you do.

A battery of innovations

What's next in Batteries? What are the two biggest problems with batteries apart from cost? Answers would probably include weight, size and recharging time so expect to see a flurry of inventions to solve these particular problems. A few inventions that are already emerging (apart from fuel cells which are still some way off) include fast-charging batteries that go from empty to full in under 10 minutes (how long before that's 10 seconds?) and printable batteries. There's even one organisation (SRI International) working on batteries made from paper.

Ref: PC World (US) 6 February 2004 - Tech 2005 (The nearly invisible battery)

Home is where the high-tech is

The smart home was predicted many years ago but many ideas have yet to really take off (Internet fridge anyone?). Indeed, as life outside the home becomes ever more complicated and stressful there could be a move to simplify the home and create sanctuaries where the use of technology is strictly limited (Quote from David Bowie: “When I get home from the recording studio all I want to do is touch some wood”). Nevertheless, such future thoughts have not cooled the enthusiasm of researchers trying to cook up the next hot household gadget. Ideas that are currently being worked on across the globe include an intelligent spoon that can sense salt, sugar and acidity (MIT), a 'mirror' that shows you what you might look like if you don't eat properly or exercise regularly (Accenture's Sophia Antipolis Lab) and mobile phones that double up as TV remote controls (Nokia). Personally, we're not convinced by any of these, especially that last one. Honestly, its enough trouble finding the TV remote already without having to lose your phone too.

Ref: Economist Technology Quarterly (UK), 18 September 2004 - Home is where the future is.