There's probably nothing you can do to impress a time traveler from the year 1950 more than showing him your cell phone. They're so ubiquitous that we take the little technological marvels for granted.
And, we bet if you could travel into the future just five or 10 years, it would be the evolution of the cell phone that would blow your mind the most. Some of the stuff that's in the works right now:
Let's be honest: Despite all the advances in phone technology and the slew of cool applications currently available, we're all still waiting for the day when our Blackberry Storms can play holographic 3D messages for us like R2D2.
"This is Sue from Blockbuster calling to remind you that The Mummy Returns is now 27 days overdue."
Well, cell phone manufactures apparently feel the same way. Already we have phones capable of 3D displays in Japan (to at least give the illusion of a holographic image reaching out from the screen) though so far it's mostly just a gimmick, because there aren't a lot of applications that take advantage of it and it's not practical for anything that involves a lot of text.
Regardless, companies seem to be taking the idea seriously, because prototypes continue to be developed that emphasize the 3D display instead of just using it as a novelty. The real problem is finding an application for it that would make money. Uh, have you considered a little thing called porn? Hello?
So what about our full-on Princess Leia hologram? Well, companies like Samsung and Infosys have already filed patents on the related technology, so they're working on it. India-based Infosys says their device would display the images using "...a projector with a laser source and micro holographic optical elements lenses." Though they also claimed it version would be available by 2010, so they better get busy.
Meanwhile Samsung's patent would work sort of like a tiny version of the rear-projection TV's that were popular before plasma came along. In their words, "...source images emitted by the optical unit are three-dimensionally displayed on a plane spaced from the hologram screen by a predetermined distance."
Hurry up with that shit, Samsung! We have a series of practical jokes we want to play that involve convincing Grandpa his house is haunted by tiny ghosts.
One of the several thousand ways real life isn't as good as video games is the lack of a Heads-Up Display. In games you have a data overlay that shows you a map, your life bar, your money and how much gas is left in your giant arm-mounted drill. Wouldn't it be cool if in your everyday life you had an overlay that, at any moment, told you exactly where you were, how much money you had in your pocket (or bank) and which nearby convenience store had the cheapest gas?
They're working on it. That technology is called augmented reality, and you'll have it on your phone within a few years.
The first steps will be software like Layar, which utilizes the camera that's become pretty much standard in every cell phone and can interface with GPS and Internet connections to tell you where you are and give you information about the locations around you, if for some reason you are completely unaware of either thing.
"WHERE THE HELL AM I, YOU DIGITAL BASTARD?"
It's still pretty basic, but if you point your phone at your surroundings it can bring you little tidbits such as whether that apartment is for rent or if that store is having a sale. Which already is less trouble than asking Guy Fieri which Waffle House will give you the least painful diarrhea.
"The one on 40th and Grand. Tell 'em Guy sent you!"
So what's between us and an application that will let you snap a photo of somebody in a bar, and immediately bring up their Facebook, Twitter and OK Cupid profile? And, possibly more helpful, scanning for them in the Sex Offender registry? Just waiting for somebody to write the software.
"Hey, all these people just Tweeted about some creepy weirdo on an escalator..."
Then you can point toward the shelf at Best Buy and immediately find out if somebody else has that TV for less, and get the customer reviews. Then, at some inevitable point in the future, somebody else will come up with a reliable voice analysis that will work as a real-time lie detector. And society will quickly collapse.
A lot of science fiction movies feature different species from across the galaxy easily overcoming the language barrier (that is, they all speak perfectly understandable English). The shows that bother to plug this plot hole usually credit a universal translator device.
"Just talk into the barrel."
We're guessing approximately every single person reading this has had at least one occasion in their life where they would have killed for such a device. Though it was less likely a sexy alien than an angry Mexican police officer.
Well, already a company from Massachusetts has developed software that will let your phone translate foreign text into audible speech. They have a prototype that can read text from seven different languages and translate it into English, and they estimate a commercial version will be available within two to three years.
From there, speech to speech translation is the next logical step and numerous designs are already in the works. The last real hurdle in the way of them reaching the market is that cell phones just aren't powerful enough to handle them yet.
But they will be, and sooner rather than later. So be prepared to turn your Nokia into your own personal Babel Fish sometime in the near future, opening up a world of travel, multicultural togetherness and annoying tourists at Disneyland harassing you to take their picture because you're no longer be able to pretend you can't understand them.