What if we don't need a smartphone as much as we think? That's a question I've been asking a lot over the past few months. In my office, I use Amazon Alexa to order products by voice, to control the heat and lights, and to ask about weather forecasts. I used to always pick up my phone or use a computer for these tasks. While we might not totally leave the phones behind in 2018, there's a good chance we'll use them less and less.

At home, I use the  Google Home speaker, doing roughly the same thing to make voice commands and avoid picking up a phone or a tablet.

I'm already seeing this as a trend, and it matches up nicely with how A.I. (artificial intelligence) is starting to improve in radical ways.

Imagine how a bot like Amazon Alexa or the Google Assistant can learn about your life. In 2018, I'm expecting these bots to get much smarter--knowing that I'm planning a business trip on account of my email or flight itinerary, and chiming in proactively about unusual weather conditions in the next week. If I keep buying ink cartridges for an office printer, the bot would notice and offer to track prices for me. Just about everything you're using a smartphone to do today will be possible with bots in the future--maybe not in 2018, but we're in for a wild ride and some important changes as the months go by.

One of the major changes I'm expecting is that our digital lives will become much more streamlined. My car will communicate more with my email and scheduling apps; my social media accounts will be more integrated such that a bot will now "read" what I post and even offer to write and schedule similar posts (especially if it knows I'm driving).

Let's say you use an app today to find dates. It's annoying, right? The app requires a lot of attention. You're constantly swiping and chatting. A bot can actually do this better than any human, once it learns your preferences. That act of swiping is highly repetitive. A bot can learn quickly about you and your preferences, and chat with people on your behalf. Bots will act more like a personal assistant than they do right now, helping us find information and presenting solutions based on research and analysis. A bot will do the hard work for you; you can keep the phone in your pocket. Eventually, you'll just go on the date and trust that the A.I. at least works better than all of that constant and mindless swiping.

Don't believe me? One of the reasons A.I. has so much potential is that it can work much harder at analyzing data than a human. Bots don't get tired and cranky. In my blind date example, a bot can verify information, compare it with other databases of dating information, and ask questions we forget to ask. We like to be spontaneous; a bot doesn't even know what that is. More and more, my smartphone stays safely tucked into a laptop bag or in my pocket. When I drive, it stays in a cradle. I talk to bots about driving directions, to play music, and to give me traffic reports. I'm surprised when people don't do this as often and keep pressing buttons on a phone all day. Swipe, click, repeat.

You want to write notes about a meeting? Dictate them instead. You're processing some analytics for social media in an app? It will soon be easier to ask a bot to do that and just give you the most important findings. (Granted, that kind of A.I. might take more than a year to develop.) Almost every app you use today can be handed off to a bot like Alexa, the Google Assistant, or Microsoft Cortana. Honestly, that is the master plan. There are obviously questions to ask about what happens when the bots fail, and I'm a proponent of making sure we know exactly what these bots can and cannot do.

Yet the future is phoneless.

It will be voice enabled.

Are you on board? Do you still use a phone as much as ever? I'd say my phone and tablet time dropped in half in 2017. What will it be like by 2019?

Published on: Dec 20, 2017