age-of-context

Age of Context is a new book by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel that is a must-read for anyone who is interested in the future of technology, social media, digital and business. The book details how companies are using the convergence of five key forces (mobile, social media, data, sensors and location) to create a new wave of smarter products and services.

The book is literally fascinating and should get you excited about how technology is going to change our lives in the near future. Here are a few key trends that we can look forward to once we enter the Age of Context:

The Rise of Wearable Devices

Wearable devices such as Google Glass and the Nike Fuelband are one of the biggest trends within the tech industry at the moment. Scoble was one of the first people to receive a pair of Google Glass outside of Google and is incredibly bullish about the future of these types of devices.

While it is still early days for wearables, Scoble and Israel argue that these devices will only get smaller, cheaper and more powerful over time. In fact, the wearable market is expected to grow to an estimated $50 billion in the next 3-5 years.

While smartphones are currently our primary mobile device, it will soon be normal to carry around multiple mobile devices with numerous smart sensors. While we may scoff at the current iteration of a device like Google Glass, younger generations will embrace them and may not be able to live without them as contextual technology creeps into more areas of our daily lives.

Pin Point Marketing 

The problem with marketing and advertising today is that is creates more noise than signal. In the near future, companies will be able to use contextual technology to create right-time experiences based on a consumer’s needs, what they are doing and what they are going to do next. Companies are already experimenting with contextual marketing through a combination of online monitoring, social CRM and geo-fencing.

Business will become “Uber-ised”. Products and services will come to you when you need them. When you don’t, they will disappear as your context changes.

Another interesting company worth mentioning is Shopperception. The company creates 3D sensors for shopping aisles that measure what consumers look at, what they touch and what they place in their trolleys.  These sensors will give merchants unprecedented data and real-time analytics of what happens at the ‘point of touch’ in stores.

Shopperception: tracking real world conversions like web analytics from Shopperception onVimeo.

Contextual Cars

According to Scoble and Israel, the cars will be as much of a contextual device as a smartphone, only a lot bigger.  The entire auto industry is focused on using sensors to improve safety and security of drivers.

Google, Tesla and Audi are just a few of the companies that are working on self-driving cars that help people save time and money, as well as dramatically reduce the number of accidents on roads. As Marc Andreessen says: “People are so bad at driving cars that computers don’t need to be that good to be much better.”

But there are a number of other interesting ideas in this field. Tesla has developed an alarm system that only unlocks the vehicle for recognised drivers. OnStar is a vehicle tracking company that disables the gas pedal of a vehicle once it has been reported stolen. GM is investigating a sensor that can detect if drivers are falling asleep at the wheel  Another company is developing wristbands to monitor a driver’s alcohol levels in order to prevent them from driving drunk.

Health in the Age of Context

Health care is another industry that is set to be transformed by contextual technology. Health care encompasses two elements: prevention and treatment, and there are a number of examples of how technology is being used to treat and prevent illness.

Researchers are already testing pills containing smart sensors. Once consumed, a patient’s condition can be tracked and monitored. If a patient’s condition changes, both the patient and the doctor can be instantly notified. This might sound like science fiction, but these pills could come to market as early as 2015 or 2016.

There are a number of examples of how data, sensors and location are currently being used in medicine. One study crowd sourced the location of asthma attacks to identify asthma hotspots. Smart masks have been created help create heat maps that measure air quality. A bra has been created that is able to detect the early stages of breast cancer.

Scoble and Israel predict that, unlike in science fiction, humans won’t become part of computers but computers will become part of humans. The two authors have also met with company’s developing the next generation of smart prosthetics as well as bionic suits designed to help paraplegics to walk.

The Connected Human:

The pair also write about Personal Contextual Assistants (PCA’s) like Siri and Google Now. Scoble and Israel believe that these PCA’s will evolve into anticipatory systems for every aspect of our lives thanks to the Internet of Things. According to the authors, there will be 3.5 billion networked products by 2015.

The home will be just one of the spaces that will be transformed by contextual devices. Houses will soon be fitted with smart windows that can change properties based on weather conditions – thereby eliminating the need for blinds and saving energy costs by up to 25℅. Smart glass and smart mirrors will soon come with facial recognition so you’ll be able to check the weather and read your messages while you brush your teeth.

The Cost of Context

The Age of Context promises to improve our lives in a number of ways, but these benefits will come at the cost of personal privacy. The extent we allow contextual technology into our lives will depend on our own comfort levels. Trust will become an increasingly important factor in the relationship between companies and consumers as we tackle issues relating to who owns our data, who can access our data and how our data can be used.

But once we find that balance, there is no doubt that the Age of Context will be an exciting time.

Leave a Reply