British Telecom has no great record of predicting what the big future applications of technology will be, says applications head Graham Cosier.
Cosier was visiting New Zealand as part of a technology showcase accompanying the stop-off of the BT Challenge yachts in Wellington. BT is involved in the event as sponsor and provider of telecommunications equipment for the yachts, which are sailing around the world against prevailing winds and tides.
"We once tried to start up a BT Games club, thinking this would be a big hit with young people [on internet-connected PCs]." The club was to charge each player for taking part, but neglected to charge for spectators.
"We found two people were quite happy battling it out on their own, while everyone else just sat round and watched." Needless to say, this gave the club, and its masters BT, no income.
Cosier makes this admission as a preface to what cynics would see as even wilder imaginative leaps regarding the use of internet protocol-based communication through so-called 3G wireless channels and other digital innovations. Not only might our whiteware televisions and stereos call up repair stations and download new software, the human body may one day do the same, Cosier says. Online physiological monitoring via implants would report the condition of the user's body so he or she could take corrective action, or report to a doctor.
Laboratory experiments have succeeded in implanting small amounts of gold into biological molecules, where they might act as "contacts" for electrical signals that could signal an imbalance and stimulate a response to generate more of a particular protein or other substance to restore equilibrium.
Cosier showed video footage of a man with a particular variant of Parkinson's disease losing his tremor and being able to walk and finely control his fingers when two "transponders" implanted in his body were remotely activated to steady his movements.
He showed a pair of spectacles that would project an image of a computer screen so it appeared in front of the wearer at normal distance and apparent size. Cosier suggests that by projecting different virtual screens depending on the way the person is facing, the computer user could finally be freed from the overlapping-window syndrome, simply having to swivel on a chair to see and work with one window or another in splendid isolation.
He paints a picture of someone on a bush walk picking up a leaf and having a miniature digital camera on their person scan it and identify the species from a remote database. In a more serious context a person in a meeting could call before one eye a record of all emails exchanged with fellow meeting participants - possible giving a large advantage in negotiations.
He says BT is working with MIT on a "penny PC", a cheap processor that could be inserted into food packaging so the consumer could access a record of all the treatments the food and its ingredients have had.