I Don’t Carry A Smart Phone Because What I Want Isn’t Really A Phone At All

I Want An Artificial Intelligence Device That Does EVERYTHING By Voice Command

By David Grace (www.DavidGraceAuthor.com)

I don’t think we need to be or even that we should be available to others 24/7. For me, all of the following are, to some degree, bad things:

  • Being available 100% of the time to anyone who has your phone number
  • Sharing every little thing you do with someone else
  • Constantly accepting or sending information in real time instead of in “batch mode.”
  • Thinking that the rule, “It can wait” doesn’t apply to the people with whom you communicate

Yes, if you’re a heart surgeon or a CEO in the middle of a multi-billion-dollar transaction you do need to be available to some limited number of people for crucial communications, and you have to be able to send crucial communications from time to time, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be getting phone calls every minute of every day.

Unless I’m on vacation someplace, I refuse to carry a phone because I don’t think that constantly making or receiving calls is really, actually, truly more important than paying attention to the things I’m actually DOING right now.

Put another way, I can either TALK/LISTEN or I can DO. For most phone calls, talking and listening can be handled all in a batch at a set time or at the end of a current task.

When that talking/listening time is over I go can back to actually doing something. In the interim people can send me written messages that I can review in batch mode at the next time period that I choose to reserve for that purpose.

I tell you all this so that you can evaluate the validity of the ideas in this column in light of my personal prejudices and attitudes.

Yes, I know, the people who are as hooked on constant, instant, perpetual availability as an addict is on his/her crack pipe are getting the withdrawal cold sweats about now.

They argue, “But Dave, you’re ignoring all the great stuff your phone can do besides communicate. It can navigate for you.”

“I have a GPS in my car that does an excellent job of giving me real-time directions.”

“Okay, but your phone can find restaurants and gas stations and the like.”

“My GPS does all that too.”

“You can use your phone to buy movie tickets and even pick your seats.”

“OK, what are the steps I would need to follow to do that?”

“Well, you turn on the phone, then you find the Fandango icon on one of the three or four screens filled with dozens of tiny, tiny icons. Then, twenty or thirty seconds later you tap it. Then you . . . .”

At about that point I start half shouting: “Too hard, too inconvenient, too many steps, too much of a pain in the ass.”

What I Want & How It Would Work

So, here’s the thing — I don’t want a phone. I want a DEVICE that has a fingerprint reader as the “on” switch.

I press my finger on the reader and within two seconds the thing turns on and, very quietly, says “Ready” or it blinks a green ready light if that’s how I’ve set it up.

By the way, I don’t want to actually have to do anything to set it up other than talk to it. I don’t want to have to press a gear icon and then tap a “Device Settings” line in a menu, then . . . well, you get the idea.

I want to turn it on with a press of my finger then say, “Waldo” or whatever name I’ve given it, “Don’t say ‘Ready’ when I turn you on. Just show me a green circle in the center of the screen when you’re ready” and the device will change its own settings in accordance with my instructions.

OK, so now I’ve turned it on and it’s ready. I want to just tell it what I want it to do. I don’t want to have to find and tap an email icon, then tap WRITE, then . . . well, you get it.

I want to just say, “Waldo, take an email for Rick Davis.”

It should itself load the email program and Rick’s email address and then either say “Ready” or blink the green circle twice or however I set it up to let me know that it’s ready to go.

Then I will start dictating, “Hi Rick. I read your last article and I liked it a lot of it but I don’t agree . . . .”

When I’m done I’ll just say, “Waldo, done dictating” or “Waldo, end email” then I’ll say, “Waldo, send this email to Rick Davis.”

If I want the thing to record a conversation I’ll just say, “Waldo, start sound recording.”

If I want to take a picture, I’ll say, “Waldo, I want to take a picture” and the camera will turn on and the “Take Picture” button will appear on the screen.

If I want to make a movie, the same thing except I will substitute the word “movie” for the word “picture.”

If I want to send a package, I’ll just say, “Waldo, where’s the nearest Post Office” and when Waldo answers I will tell him, “Give me driving directions from here to there.”

In short, I don’t want any icons on a screen at all. I want Waldo to figure out what app I want to use, find that app, run it and control all the menus and commands inside the app so that I don’t have to see or know any of them.

If you don’t have to show all those icons you don’t need the screen for anything except framing a photo or reading a web page, and if Waldo is going to do everything for me, I won’t have to read many web pages.

If I want to order a pizza I won’t have to open the browser, go to Big, Fat Tony’s web site (or find his app), scroll through his menu, etc. I’ll just say, “Waldo, order a medium mushroom, pepperoni and Italian-sausage pizza from Big, Fat Tony’s for pickup.”

Waldo will then communicate with Big, Fat Tony’s system, place the order, and tell me, “Pizza ordered. It will be ready in twenty minutes.”

I’ll then say, “Waldo, give me driving directions to Big, Fat Tony’s” or, if by that time I’m in a self-driving car, I’ll say, “Waldo, tell my Lexus to take me to Big, Fat Tony’s.”

If that’s how I use the device then a much smaller screen will be fine. Why do I care about screen size? Because the screen is heavy and eats power and I’m far more concerned with run time than screen size.

If you made the device as big as a current phone and, for example, got rid of 80% of the screen you could make the battery three or four times bigger and the power drain half as much. That would increase the use time from, say, 8 hours to maybe 32 hours, meaning that you could use the device for four full working days before you would need to recharge it.

“But, Dave,” you say, “you can’t get along without a big screen. There will still be some web sites you’ll need to view, some movies and pictures you’ll want to take, and a tiny, little four square-inch screen just won’t cut it.”

Well, yes and no.

Suppose you have a bluetooth micro-laser projector that clips onto a pair of glasses, or two of them for stereo vision, or a pre-built pair of plastic glasses with two micro-laser projectors fitted where the lenses would otherwise be.

When you want to do something that needs a screen you slip these on (let’s call them “Readers”) and the device sends the image that otherwise would have appeared on your old, heavy, power-hungry, big, enormous, five-inch screen to the glasses.

The lasers will “write” the full color, stereo image directly on your retinas and you’ll be looking at a virtual sixty-inch flat-screen as if viewed from seven or eight feet away.

You slip a “thimble” on the tip of one of your fingers and you use that finger to select and tap buttons or icons or whatever on your virtual screen.

When you’re done, you say, “Waldo, close screen” or “close browser” or whatever.

If I want to make a phone call I’ll say, “Waldo, call Perry Hackett” or “Waldo, start a conference call with Perry Hackett and Josh Dorward.”

For incoming calls, I’ll tell Waldo, “Take a message if anyone calls. Also, save the message as text as well as voice.”

Or I might say, “Waldo, tell everyone to leave a message except Lyla Stainier and Mary Salmons. Ring the phone if Lyla or Mary calls.”

Later, I can say, “Waldo, show my messages on the Readers” or “Waldo, scroll the messages on the [3 inch X 1.5 inch] display” or “Waldo, read me the messages.”

You see, I’m not against using technology. I’ve written tens of thousands of lines of code, designed and built electronic devices from scratch, re-configured my own computer systems, etc., but, if I’m going to invest all the time and money to move to a completely new way of doing things I want that new platform to be beyond easy. I want it to be effortless.

And smart phones are neither easy nor effortless. Far from it.

Fat fingers on tiny targets. Screens that turn themselves off after seven or eight seconds. Batteries that go dead every single day, sometime in less than a day, unless recharged. Dozens of tiny, unreadable icons for dozens of programs that each operate differently. Device operating defaults that are as convoluted to find and set as most of the parameters in Windows. Constant interruptions from calls.

The list of smart-phone drawbacks goes on and on.

If I’m going to move away from what I have now that I’ve totally mastered to a new paradigm, I don’t want to make a quantum leap to something that (1) does stuff I can mostly do on my old platform and (2) is still a pain-in-the-ass.

No, if I’m going to make that quantum leap I want to leap to something that is as far ahead of a nice, big, easy-to-read desktop screen as Windows 7 was ahead of MS-DOS.

Smart phones aren’t there yet, at least for me, but from what I can see of the technology, everything I’ve talked about in this column, with the possible exception of the “Readers,” could be done today.

It wouldn’t be easy and it wouldn’t be cheap, but I think it’s all doable. As for the Readers, I don’t know. You tell me.

Here’s a paragraph from the 1989 novel, Cluster Command by David Drake and W.C. Dietz.

“Like all officers, Merikur carried an Artificial Intelligence Device (AID) in his belt pouch. Besides the standard programming provided them at ‘birth,’ AIDs could learn from experience, and sometimes developed rudimentary personalities. Merikur’s was almost fifteen standard years old and a bit irreverent. . . . Hearing itself mentioned, Merikur’s AID buzzed his auditory implant and said, ‘Orders received, your generalship.’”

Now, that’s what I’m talking about.

– David Grace (www.DavidGraceAuthor.com)

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David Grace

David Grace

Graduate of Stanford University & U.C. Berkeley Law School. Author of 16 novels and over 400 Medium columns on Economics, Politics, Law, Humor & Satire.