Working for a leader in the adoption of Unified Communications (UC) technology, I often find myself on the bleeding edge as a UC user. Recently, I noticed my London-based boss and fellow blogger Shaun Ledgerwood started showing his UC presence as "Available" 24 hours a day. Normally, this level of presence would only be reported by someone actively working on their laptop. I knew Shaun worked too many hours already (with staff in almost every time zone in the world), but I had a hard time believing he had found a way to eliminate the human need for sleep.
There had to be a more rational explanation, like a bug in the mobile UC client he recently installed on his BlackBerry. But then I read No Jitter publisher Fred Knight’s commentary on how UC Needs Interoperability and a response to that by Don Van Doren further commenting on how far presence still needs to come—since today it is not much more than AOL’s buddy list from circa 1993.
For UC to be interoperable, the concept of presence indeed must expand to include things well beyond today's states of "Available," "In a meeting," "On the phone," "Away from desk," or "Offline." Thinking of this in terms of Shaun's "omni-presence," I could not resist coming up with more, fictional, futuristic explanations for how Shaun might have achieved such a state of UC interconnectedness.
For context, keep in mind that the essence of a mobile device is its radios. It has at least one high-power radio for communicating to and from a mobile carrier's cell tower, but many devices increasingly have a number of low-power radios for technologies like WiFi and Bluetooth. Today, those low-power radios are used primarily for connecting to cellphone accessories like headsets or to other nearby cell phones to share contact data. The long-term vision is that these low-power radios will enable Personal Area Networks (PANs) among all the electronic devices within a five- to 25-foot radius. Eventually, myriad new applications will leverage these PANs to help people maintain their health, manage their money, or keep in touch with friends.
For example, medical device manufacturers have already started including radios in devices like cardiac pacemakers. Thus a post-operative patient can hold a fob up to their chest at home each day to manually collect diagnostic data. Once the fob is placed back into its docking station at the patient's home the data is transmitted to a monitoring center. In the future, that same pacemaker could use a PAN to automatically transmit data at pre-determined times from the pacemaker to the patient's cell phone, which would then send the data to the monitoring center.
The potential of other applications to interface high-power wireless WANs with low-power wireless PANs is limited only by one's imagination. The vision of the WiMax forum, led by companies like Intel, Clearwire, and Sprint, is that the lower cost of 4G chipsets will allow wireless WAN radios to be put into more and more non-phone devices, using low-cost telemetry data plans from the carriers. 4G radios could be put directly into cameras, gaming consoles, vending machines, refrigerators, home security systems, and automobiles. With standalone high-power radios, data can be sent from these devices to a presence server to monitor their status (inventory level in a vending machine, security in one’s home or office, the location of a car being driven by one's 16-year old, etc.)
Since lower-power radios such as Bluetooth will also become less expensive, these same devices (plus many more that can't support a wireless WAN's higher power needs) will likely have PAN radios as well. This allows a consumer to use the cellphone as the hub of their very own constantly-changing, on-the-go PAN. To the extent allowed by whatever security paradigm those other devices have, an individual's cellphone could collect information from a number of devices within their PAN’s radius and transmit some kind of information to a presence server. When all this raw data is combined, algorithms we haven't even come close to articulating will make sense of it all for individual users and those who interact with those individuals.
Why would all this raw data help determine a person's "presence" 100 years from now? Because in the future a person's presence will not be a single variable representing availability, but an infinite array of variables – one’s location, where they are going, what they are doing now, what they plan to be doing, or how much more time is required to complete their current activity or how much additional work is in their queue of tasks or activities. It could also show how productive they have been and are likely to be, their heart rate, blood pressure, stress levels, who they are with, and the state of all other people and devices within the PAN radius.
Is this realistic? Would people allow so much information to be transmitted to a presence server? I am not arguing that any given example above will be part of "presence" in the future, but rather that the concept of presence in the future will be significantly broader than today. It will take into account much more information because the rate of information creation in our society is increasing far faster than any human being can fathom. Only by allowing technology to do the heavy lifting of determining what information people need to be aware of, given the context of their presence, will people avoid information overload. Presence will be the “spam filter” of tomorrow; after the death of email that I have predicted in earlier blog entries.
This will require a different standard for privacy, but Web 2.0 platforms will understand users social network and will know who should have access to what information. Your biometric information may be available only to your doctor and your location information to your best friends and immediate family. You will determine who has the access, but you will not have to manage this on a person-by-person basis. You will use classes, categories, and other affiliations, both organic and inorganic, to establish the privacy rules to share your presence with others.
So back to Shaun Ledgerwood and his "omni-presence." My working theory is that he had a Bluetooth implant in his cerebral cortex so he could maintain his “Available” presence even while he is sleeping. Man, that is dedication!