Singularity and the art of mobile evolution

November 11, 2009 · 3 comments

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UK based designer Kyle Bean’s Russian Babushka doll style design of the evolution of the mobile phone is not only original, it’s also very telling. He beautifully objectified a piece of recent technological history. His ‘Mobile Evolution’ could be an illustration straight out of futurist Ray Kurzweil’s 2005 bestseller, “The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology”.

Biology merged with machine

Biology merged with machine

In the book Kurzweil examines the next step in the evolutionary process, the singularity, a moment in the future when humans and machines merge and become one. Kurzweil believes this will happen rather sooner then later because exponential growth in scientific and technological developments drives us toward the singularity at an almost unimaginable high pace.

The future ain’t what it used to be

If you look at the rate at which science developed in the first years of the 20th century compared to the first decade of the 21st century it was so much slower. According to Kurzweil, the hundred years worth of scientific and technological developments of the last century now takes place in 20 to 25 years and in the years to follow the rate of progression will accelerate at an exponential pace. A quote by Yogi Berra in the beginning of the book sums it up beautifully: “The future ain’t what it used to be”.

dynatec180x180

Motorola's 1983 DynaTAC

Kurzweil observed and mapped technological history to illustrate his vision with numerous examples. Kyle Bean’s ‘Mobile Evolution’ could be just one of those. Starting from the earliest Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, world’s first commercial handheld cellular phone that hit the market in 1983, to the current Apple iPhone, ‘Mobile Evolution’ is a visual historical lesson as to how rapidly technology is really advancing.

Just think of it. Motorola’s 1983 DynaTAC had a talktime of 30 minutes, eight hours of standby time, took 10 hours to recharge, featured an LED display and memory to store 30 “dialing locations”. The DynaTAC was huge and with a price tag of $3995, it cost a fortune. Twenty-six years later we carry a tiny computer in our pocket in the form of a smart phone. It calls; it plays music; takes pictures; records and plays videos; finds your way and remembers your entire digital life for a fraction of the cost and size of the 1983 DynaTAC.

Who could’ve realistically dreamed of such a single, versatile device twenty-six years ago? Very few, because when most of us imagine the future world we don’t take in consideration the exponential rate at which science and technology are progressing.

Why? Because the future is now

Interestingly, if you look at the last ten years of Kyle Bean’s ‘Mobile Evolution’ timeline art you can actually see for yourself how factual Kurzweil’s observations and vision just may be. Recently I spoke to a small audience of engineers in training to become future managers of a large, Dutch construction company. My lecture titled ‘Why? Because the future is now’ gave them some insight in what the technological world of tomorrow may look like. Somewhere in the lecture I illustrated this exponential progression phenomena. I zapped back to 1999 showing a slide of a cabinet full of CDs, a 35mm film camera and a city map.

1999

A library of CDs

A library of CDs

Like many, back in 1999 I played music on the go on a CD-walkman and carried my ‘library’ of CDs around in my daypack. Sure there were a few mp3 players available but they weren’t much until the first iPod hit the market in late 2001.

In 1999 I also took photographs with a Nikon 35mm F3 camera. Though the first consumer digital camera, the Casio QV-10, had been introduced in 1995 and 1999 saw the introduction of the Nikon D1, a 2.74 megapixel pro camera at a cost of just under $6000, the quality and resolution of the digital cameras weren’t up to par with the regular cameras of the day.

Nikon F3

Nikon F3

In 1999, whenever on holiday, I navigated around unfamiliar territory with a Garmin GPS12.  The year before Garmin introduced the NavTalk, the first mapping-enabled mobile phone, weighing in at a hefty 13,3 ounces (375 grams). By then Garmin had sold millions of their handheld GPS devices. I was one of those millions of early adaptors marveling at this handheld GPS technology but for the majority of people the good old paper map was still the way to go.

Citymap

Citymap

Back to the future

During the lecture I then zapped back to 2009 showing a slide of the latest iPhone on the screen. The iPhone has all three previous examples of late nineties technology built into one single device, a remarkable feat. It took less than ten years for phones to become incredibly smart. If you look at  the first 20 years or so of Kyle Bean’s ‘Mobile Evolution’ timeline mobile phone technology progressed at a steady pace; year after year they became smaller and cheaper. Memory expanded allowing the storage of more and more phone numbers and gradually extra features such as text messaging, clocks, calendars, simple games, WAP and email capabilities etc. were introduced. But it wasn’t until around 2002 or so when advances in mobile technology really exploded into mainstream devices at an exponential rate.

2009

Within just a few years the phone was no longer just a phone with added capabilities. The current generations of smart phones are an astonishing feat of engineering. The phone has become our connection to our digital lives wherever, whenever. It connects us to our social network of friends, family and co-workers in a variety of ways. We depend on it and most people would not leave home without it. Your phone is also a still camera and a camcorder in one and at the same time your on-the-go entertainment system; it holds your entire music library and more. Your smart phone is your cinema away from home and your mobile game console. And now it’s also your GPS way-finder and more. Not only can you get directions, geotag your photos etc. but combine GPS enabled phones with the recent introduction of the digital compass and we suddenly have a totally new way of looking at the real world around us.

Layered realities

Layered realities

Augmented Reality allows us to point the the phone’s built-in video camera at our direct surroundings and get almost any type of digitally stored information transparently layered on top of the real worldview. Point and you know if that house is for sale and how much it cost. Just aim it at that white jet trail high above in the blue sky and it will show you a picture of the plane and tell you what flight it is, where it goes and when it will arrive.

A lesson in history

Imagine telling your friends that vision of the future back in 1999. They’d probably laugh. Yet in a ultra-short timeframe of less then 10 years all this technology has reached the pockets of millions and millions of people around the world. All, because science and technology are exponentially progressing year after year. Kyle Bean’s beautifully objectified history of the evolution of the mobile phone is just one more, tiny bit of evidence that the Singularity is near.

What a brilliant mind Kurzweil has and what an eyeopener Kyle Bean’s art has been. I finally get it. Not because I’m anywhere near smart or have any unique perspective of my own. On the contrary, I’m just a plain ol’ guy but I finally understand one thing clearly. Look at the past, the present and perhaps you find some answers about the future.

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1 Kchase February 23, 2010 at 18:33

Ok, you got me, your blog is really well done. great post. I have long wished to have a title of “Renowned Futurist” as Ray Kurzweil does. if you haven’t checked out Kevin Kelly on the next 5000 days of the web on TED i think you will really enjoy it.

2 k bear March 3, 2010 at 23:30

This might be a small point, but conceptually speaking, perhaps the art piece would make more sense- in spite of physical size of the actual subjects of the models-if they actually stacked in reverse order, with the I-phone being on the outside. I say this only because each level of technology transcends, yet includes, the prior.

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