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Brightest idea ever: A.I. light bulbs

Mike Elgan | Jan. 19, 2016
The best place for Siri isn't your iPhone. It's the nearest lamp.

The smartphone we all carry every day is arguably the most important invention of all time.

It has enabled 2 billion people to gain instant access to artificial intelligence, as well as hundreds of Libraries of Congress worth of information. The processing power of the smartphone dwarfs 1990s-era supercomputers and has turned instant communication through voice, text, photos and video into an everyday banality.

What's the next invention that will change the world like the smartphone has?

I believe it will be the artificially intelligent light bulb.

Predicting the smartphone

It should have been possible in 1994 to predict the smartphone.

In 1994, the graphical Web existed. There were personal digital assistants, mobile phones and wireless data. We should have known these would converge into the smartphone.

In the 1990s, we should have recognized that the IBM Simon represented the future of consumer tech.

In fact, there already was a "smartphone" by then. At a Comdex show -- the CES of that era -- IBM demonstrated a prototype device code-named "Angler," then made it commercially available two years later as the IBM Simon. It was the first cellphone with email, a "word processor," an address book, a calculator, maps, stock prices and news. Crucially for it's time, but hilariously for us now looking back, the IBM Simon could send faxes. Amazingly, the Simon didn't have a physical keyboard but an on-screen keyboard, plus a stylus. It also cost pretty much what an iPhone costs today.

IBM Simon was purchased by just a small number of early adopters and made little impact. But we should have realized that it was a first glimpse at a device category that would completely change human culture. It was unimportant as a product, but massively important as an idea.

For lack of a better term, Moore's Law, or the inevitable improvement in computer-related devices as a function of the cost, makes rare machines ubiquitous and expensive computers cheap. We knew that processing power, screen quality, memory chips and all the rest would become fast enough and cheap enough for mobile use.

We should have known enough about human nature to realize that high-quality smartphones would be extremely desirable, and that they'd become cheap enough for most people to own.

In hindsight, the smartphone was a technology of perfect inevitability that we should have predicted.

The A.I. connected light bulb is the next world-changing device we should be predicting, if you think about it. So let's think about it.

The technology already exists

Sony last week launched a connected light bulb that contains everything needed for the ever-present A.I. appliance of the future.


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