I usually keep WiFi off on my phone, because I feel like it extends the time I can squeeze out of my battery. The power drained by the WiFi circuits may be insignificant compared to that of stuff like push notifications, but every little bit helps. That, and the only place I ever use WiFi is my home. My workplace does not use it, because it is considered a huge security issue, (Yes, there is encryption but you have to keep in mind that having your confidential data floating in the air always creates some risk. For all you know, there might be some dude sitting in his car a mile away from your router, pointing a directional antenna at your window and running attacks against your encryption. It is much less risky to confine your data to cables where they can’t be easily picked up by some dude with a laptop and a cantenna made out of a Pringle’s box.) and I don’t like to connect to random hotspots.
No, seriously – if I find an open Wifi network (especially in a heavily populated area), I immediately assume it is probably a malicious honeypot. Most people don’t think about this too much, but then again most people don’t know how easy it is to eavesdrop on the wireless traffic that goes through your router. To me stealing WiFi is dangerous. A lot of web services still don’t use SSL (thankfully Facebook and Twitter now support it, but last time I checked SSL was off by default) which means you are essentially handing over all your non-encrypted passwords to whomever owns the hotspot. But alas, no one ever listens.
The other day, I forgot to switch it off. I was in the car with my cousin trying to type up a text message. As she drove around neighborhood, the WiFi detection dialog kept popping up, interrupting be every minute or so. There were lots of wireless networks there, some had interesting names, and some were open. This would be lot’s of fun if I was actually war driving, and not trying to do something else. Of course Apple no longer allows Wifi stumbler apps in the App Store which means I would have to jailbreak to actually be able to log this data, and/or get directional information. I’m actually kinda annoyed that I am no longer able to download an app like WiFiFoFum. I really like this phone, but some of Apple’s policies regarding what they do and do not allow in their store, honestly baffle me.
Still, this made me think. We might be one of the last generations that will still be using chunky handheld devices (no matter how cool looking they might be). I’m hoping that soon enough we will have functional wetware that will allow us to connect computing devices directly to our brain. Granted, this is still in the realm of Science Fiction right now, but I’m positive that eventually it will happen. If you think about it, a personal HUD manipulated by thought is the ultimate UI – it’s the end state of human, machine interaction technology. We probably won’t be able to get anything better than that without seriously altering how our minds work, or how our machines process information.
We live in an increasingly interconnected world, so being able to detect WiFi, or generally any wireless data-bearing networks (3G, 4G, EDGE, you name it) is valuable to us. If you have a computer in your head, being connected becomes more important than ever. And while it is nice to think that by then we will have some globe spanning, ubiquitous wireless net, I’m not holding my breath. Yes, I think we will get neural wetware long before we get free nation-wide wireless broadband coverage in this country. So we will be dealing with unreliable networks, dead zones, speed issues and jumping from network to network for quite a while. We will need a way to detect these networks as we move around. And there must be a better way to do this than popping up an annoying notification message dialog. We use these things right now because our interaction with technology is limited by on-screen interfaces. But when we start carrying our computers in our heads, we could easily do better than that.
I haven’t really seen this idea explored much in SF stories, but I think that transhumans of the future will probably want to have a built-in wifi sense. Instead of using popups, or visual HUD cues, we could easily wire them up so that they could “feel” the networks around them. They would be able to detect the relative direction of the signal, it’s strength and shape. Actually, some of this information could be superimposed on the hood – perhaps at first we will be able to use visual filters to show us clouds of wifi in our field of vision. Could you imagine walking through the city, watching/feeling the data floating by? It would be like looking at a completely different landscape.
People are already developing ways to hard wire new senses into our bodies – like that lady who jammed neodymium magnets into her fingertips allowing her to feel electro-magnetic fields. Some of these methods are really low-fi, and surprisingly enough they work. Think about what we could do with high-tech neural interfaces. I think that a sense allowing you to detect wifi and cellular network coverage will be a must-have transhuman trait at some point in the future.
What other senses could we wire ourselves for? What new sense would benefit a modern, civilized transhuman? Let me know in the comments!