Advances in mobile computing will soon revolutionize nearly every facet of our lives.
Picture this scenario: As you walk into an unfamiliar building, your smartphone instantly provides a map of the facility and turn-by-turn directions to your destination, while reminding you of the names and your personal connection to everyone waiting for you there.
Or this: A monitoring device senses your elderly mother’s blood pressure rapidly decreasing. She is about to become unconscious. The device immediately calls for an ambulance, delivers all of her vital stats to the paramedics, and signals your smartphone to alert you of the emergency.
Just a few years ago, these scenarios might have sounded like scenes from a sci-fi movie set far in the future, but these types of applications are being developed right now. The future, it seems, is just around the corner.
Developing the Future
Over the last several years, mobile technologies have advanced by leaps and bounds. This explosive progression was the driving factor behind Bradley University’s decision last fall to create undergraduate and graduate concentrations in mobile computing for its Department of Computer Science and Information Science (CSIS)—giving the university a leg up on the competition and preparing its students for career opportunities in a field that’s rapidly expanding.
While big-name universities like MIT and Stanford offer individual courses in mobile development and wireless networks, Bradley is just the second university in the nation to develop an entire concentration focused on mobile computing. Not only do students have a rare opportunity to focus their studies in this area, they can also contribute to the next generation of mobile innovation. “We are not just introducing the technology,” explains Dr. Yun Wang, assistant CSIS professor at Bradley. “We are also talking about cutting-edge research in this area.”
“It is a very active collaboration between students and the faculty,” says Dr. Vladimir Uskov, a CSIS professor and director of Bradley’s Interlabs Research Institute. He and three other faculty members are currently conducting research in mobile learning, advanced mobile programming, mobile security and more. These are some of the forces behind Web 3.0—the Semantic Web—which are propelling our mobile devices to new, higher levels of intelligence.
A lot has changed since the Internet first took off in the 1990s with Web 1.0—the Information Web. This first iteration of the Internet was characterized by static displays of information, and the vast majority of users were readers, not creators, of content. With the onset of Web 2.0—the Social Web—the Internet as we know it today emerged, with billions of users sharing content with one another in a rich, multimedia environment. Social media sites allowed users to share all types of digital content, while blogs, wikis and other interactive sites enabled public communication and collaboration in a global digital sphere. In turn, Web 2.0 gave rise to the smart devices we now find so difficult to imagine living without—but this is just the beginning.
Between now and 2020, Web 3.0—the Semantic Web—will continue to take shape, driven by smart mobile technology, distributed computing (“the cloud”), advanced software, 3-D telepresence and personalization. Users can expect software agents with the ability to collate and integrate information to offer “intelligent” responses, and search engine results tailored to the individual based on their interests and preferences. And this on-demand, dynamic content will be accessed almost exclusively on mobile devices, as desktop computers inch closer to obsolescence.
Current trends all point to smart mobile devices becoming most people’s primary communicators in Web 4.0—the Intelligent Web—in which all of the world’s knowledge and resources will be available on demand to virtually everyone, with highly intelligent applications able to understand, interact with, and satisfy both human users and machines. “It is expected that the Web… will play the role of [a] universal, planetary, very powerful computer,” Dr. Vladimir Uskov explains.
The Mobile Web… Trending
At the end of each year, Mary Meeker, partner at the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, releases a widely-cited report on Internet trends. Here are some key points from her latest report, released on December 3, 2012:
- The number of worldwide Internet users grew by eight percent in 2012 to 2.4 billion. The U.S. market grew by three percent to 244 million—78 percent of the total population. China had the most users (538 million), and Iran was the biggest grower (up 205 percent).
- The number of global smartphone users grew by 42 percent in 2012 to 1.1 billion. China is once again at the top, with 270 million smartphone users (up 50 percent), while the U.S. is second with 172 million users (also up 50 percent). Nearly 30 percent of U.S. adults now own a tablet or e-reader, up from two percent less than three years ago.
- Thirteen percent of worldwide Internet traffic was from a mobile device in 2012, up from less than 10 percent last year, a trend that will continue to accelerate. In India, mobile traffic surpassed desktop usage last May, a sign of things to come from other countries. The mobile app industry made about $19 billion in revenue in 2012, up from $15 billion last year.
Source: 2012 Internet Trends Update, published December 2012 by Mary Meeker and Liang Wu, available at kpcb.com.
“It’s all moving toward this one big cloud… of servers where the mobile device is more or less a terminal,” continues Dr. Alexander Uskov, assistant CSIS professor. “It may not have a lot of resources in terms of computing power or memory, but it can use the gigantic resources available in the cloud or whatever the next technologies [are]. What that will allow is for a fairly simple device to display some really powerful applications.”
The artificial intelligence expected to be employed on our mobile devices in this coming era will essentially be able to predict our next move—making contextual, educated decisions for us based on our habits, the content we access, how we live, and our wants and needs.
Consequences of the Cloud
Just as these projections have prompted universities to direct their focus toward mobile computing, all of the leading technology firms are making major investments in cloud computing, virtualization, mobile software and the other ingredients of Web 4.0. Already in 2012, IDC reported that cloud services topped $36 billion, an amount expected to grow exponentially.
Not only will these rapidly developing changes equate to more jobs for Bradley’s CSIS majors, they’re going to transform the way society functions in nearly every facet of life. And the possibilities go well beyond the “traditional” mobile computing areas like gaming and social applications. Advances in mobile software, mobile learning (m-learning) and augmented reality will continue to change how we conduct business, both locally and globally.
“When the Web arrived, we didn’t think a lot about the global economy and… international teams,” Dr. Vladimir Uskov says. “Mobile will amplify this [trend]… They can take their communicator… and be anywhere, but they will be connected to their virtual office, virtual documents, virtual projects [and] virtual teams.” The Bradley professor expects that current research will soon yield serious enterprise applications that provide users on-demand, contextual information and insight in industries ranging from healthcare to retail to hospitality and beyond. Meanwhile, advances in areas like 3-D holographic technology will take the idea of teleconferencing to a whole other level.
Sensors in Motion
While the fully-formed, highly intuitive Web 4.0 is still years away, its foundation is already being laid with the current generation of smart mobile technologies. For instance, geo-fencing—which establishes a virtual perimeter in a real-world geographic area—is already standard in iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system. It can use GPS to alert drivers if their vehicle is stolen or notify parents if a child leaves a designated area. The same technology is being applied to interior mapping, location-based automation, advanced security applications, and a myriad of future uses yet unforeseen.
Mobile apps like First Person Vision employ a network of wearable cameras and sensors to recognize a user’s gestures, actions and expressions, offering intelligent cues in a whole range of activities, from home healthcare assistance to public safety. Its technologies are being further integrated into eyeglasses, hats and other wearable gear, optimized and personalized for each user.
Directly embedded in the objects of our everyday lives, these tiny sensors are the “secret sauce” of mobile technologies. The DriveCap project at the Quality of Life Technology Center in Pittsburgh uses sensors to track drivers’ behavior behind the wheel. In the future, this technology will not only complement driving instruction, it will allow smart devices to completely take over the driving. Meanwhile, VitalClip, an iPhone accessory about to go into beta testing, uses sensors to measure users’ vital signs, opening up a world of possibilities for tracking our health and well-being.
These are just a handful of the applications on the horizon. No one can predict the exact path mobile computing will take in the coming decades, but the CSIS professors at Bradley and their students are prepared not only to follow its course, but to help create it. iBi