How smart do you want your smart phone to actually be? Do you want it to read your mind, even a little bit?
Intel Corp.'s research chief, Justin Rattner, says that technology has advanced to the point that "context-aware computing," an idea that's been around for two decades, is becoming more of a reality with the rise of mobile devices.
That could lead to phones that act as psychics in your pocket. Rather than simply amass secrets about you, the devices could be doing things with that information, such as predicting what you might do next and offering suggestions.
Rattner showed a few examples during his keynote speech Wednesday at Intel's annual developer conference in San Francisco.
Among them: a prototype application Intel worked on with Fodor's Travel. It learns what types of foods you like to eat and what types of attractions you like to visit, based on searches you type into the phone or locations identified using GPS. The software makes similar recommendations when you visit a new city.
Tech companies are already working to predict what people want, but only in pieces.
Search engine Google Inc., movie-rental service Netflix Inc. and online radio service Pandora try to anticipate what people want even before they know they want it.
Stringing those types of functions together with the wealth of other information that phones collect about people could pave the way for even more helpful electronics, Rattner said.
A challenge is training computers to analyze data from "hard sensors" (which measure location, motion, voice patterns, temperature and the like) and combining those findings with data from "soft sensors" (such as calendar appointments and Web browsing history).
For example, your phone could detect that you've just left work and seem to be on your way home — a location it might know from your address book. It could then automatically recommend the best route around traffic.
"Things don't get really interesting until you fuse that hard sensor data with soft sensor data," Rattner said. "It gives devices almost this sixth sense of anticipating what a user will need in the future, whether that's the next few moments or at dinner later in the day."
Rattner added that researchers are even making steps toward the "ultimate form of sensing" — a computer understanding a human's thoughts.
He acknowledged the need for stronger privacy controls as the phones have better ability to think for themselves.