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Our Smartphones, Ourselves

Coming generations of smartphones will act as surrogate guardians and friends

2 min read
Boy holding a smartphone.
Photo: Dan Saelinger; Stylist: Maria-Stefania Vavylopoulou

When my family goes on a long drive, we take our US $79 Garmin GPS locator along to help us out. It talks to us in what sounds like a female British voice, and so we talk to her, and about her, along the way. Allison (as we call her) usually seems to want to take the scenic route. She wants to turn around. She says to take exit 44, not 42. She recalculates. We also carry a map to validate her directions. Happily enough, she never complains about our second-guessing. Having turned “it” into “she,” we feel a little guilty when we ignore her advice. We also tell her when we’re stopping for gas and even thank her for a job well done.

So just imagine what will happen when smartphones get really smart—like the devices described in Dan Siewiorek’s “Generation Smartphone.” Siewiorek tells the story of Tom, a man from the future, who is accompanied throughout his life’s journey by a series of “SmartPhone 2x.0s.” Each acts as a surrogate guardian, personal assistant, teacher, life coach, and companion, presumably vigilant and loyal to the very end—or at least until it’s replaced by the next version.

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Deep Learning Could Bring the Concert Experience Home

The century-old quest for truly realistic sound production is finally paying off

12 min read
Image containing multiple aspects such as instruments and left and right open hands.
Stuart Bradford

Now that recorded sound has become ubiquitous, we hardly think about it. From our smartphones, smart speakers, TVs, radios, disc players, and car sound systems, it’s an enduring and enjoyable presence in our lives. In 2017, a survey by the polling firm Nielsen suggested that some 90 percent of the U.S. population listens to music regularly and that, on average, they do so 32 hours per week.

Behind this free-flowing pleasure are enormous industries applying technology to the long-standing goal of reproducing sound with the greatest possible realism. From Edison’s phonograph and the horn speakers of the 1880s, successive generations of engineers in pursuit of this ideal invented and exploited countless technologies: triode vacuum tubes, dynamic loudspeakers, magnetic phonograph cartridges, solid-state amplifier circuits in scores of different topologies, electrostatic speakers, optical discs, stereo, and surround sound. And over the past five decades, digital technologies, like audio compression and streaming, have transformed the music industry.

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