Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Puck is not going towards a Technology

Vidit Bhargava
There's a popular Wayne Gretzky quote : “A Great Hockey Player plays where the puck is going to be”. In recent times, we've heard the quote being referred to predict the future of consumer electronics. You'd often hear people say, “What's next after the GUI? Where is the puck going to be?”

And if you've followed technology news for the last couple of months, you've probably heard people say, “AI is the future.” ; “The next big thing is Virtual Reality” or more recently “Augmented Reality has finally made it to the masses.” All of them stating that the metaphorical puck is going towards AI, AR or VR.

Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are all extremely interesting fields of technological research. In fact, Artificial Intelligence has for long captured the imagination of people. There have been books, movies and TV Shows about what happens when a Machine or a Robot or an AI Powered cyborg takes over the city, In fact, Elon Musk clearly feels that we're living in a simulation! So, it must be where the puck is going, right?

But here's the catch. The puck doesn't go towards a technology. It doesn't even go towards a particular design paradigm. The puck goes towards a Human Problem. Technology is just a means of finding a solution to that problem. The solution may include the use of sophisticated AI but it's equally likely that the in final product that the user uses, AI is just a footnote.

The same can be said for Augmented or Virtual Reality, it's evident that they'll exist in some form in the future (To Be Honest, They've always existed in some or the other state), but there's a strong likelihood that they won't drive the products they're a part Of. Take the example of Pokemon Go. What makes that game so successful? Is it the AR Mode? No! It's the idea, that you can be a real Poke Master, that you too can move around the city and collect Pokemon like Ash Ketchum did, that makes it so exciting to a group of people. AR Mode? It's just an icing on the cake (it's not the cake).

The tiny keyboards and displays of the early mobile phones, were extremely limiting to what one could do with them. Modern day Touch Screen technology helped solve the problem, it provided a bigger canvas for mobile phones to do anything they liked. The keyboard wasn't limiting anymore. It could pop up whenever you wanted it to, stay down when you didn't. But it wasn't the touch screen technology alone that enabled smartphones to be the computers of the post PC era. It was the mixture of, a carefully crafted operating system which was meant to be used by your fingers instead of some kind of a navigational tool; the extremely complex hardware that made it possible for a powerful computer to fit into a hand-held device, the materials that gave it a light weight casing, making the experience of holding it in your hands for a long duration more comfortable. All of these technologies came together to form the basis of a modern day smartphone, There was a lot that the computers of the time couldn't do, or were less efficient in doing because of their size and lack of portability. There were a lot of things that a smartphone was capable of but couldn't because of it's limitations, the puck was definitely going towards more portable computers that enabled people to do their work more efficiently. Problems and challenges unlocked diverse possibilities in ways that helped people, all the cool technology involved, was just a tool used to achieve that. Had the puck been going towards touch screen technology, we'd still be using Palm Pilots or even Newton Message Pads.

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