The smartphone is a relic — a thing of the past — it just doesn’t know it yet.  A number of very large and wealthy companies are betting millions (if not billions) of dollars that the smartphone’s days are numbered in the Western world.   (India and China are a different story).   In short, get ready to move on to the post-smartphone world.

For example,  Facebook is putting much of its significant eggs into “Augmented Reality”, which is a fancy name for what a lot of people call “virtual reality”.   Google and Apple have been slowly developing enhanced glasses that will deliver the augmented and virtual reality to next-gen wireless connectivity to brain-control user interfaces that are already up and running in laboratories throughout the world.

At its F8 conference held in April 2017, Facebook went so far to state that the company already has 60 engineers working on the systems, including what it calls “a brain mouse”.  Such a product could allow the deaf and blind to communicate more easily — or allow everyone else “to type five times faster than you can on a smartphone.”  Facebook isn’t alone.  Microsoft has been working on this functionality for years – Microsoft and Intel are also partnering on “Project Evo,” an initiative to bring together their many PC offerings to deliver systems that will support things like 4K gaming, far-field microphones, smooth mixed-reality experiences and security features like Windows Hello. And just last month, Elon Musk (of Tesla and Solar City fame) announced the creation of Neuralink, a company dedicated to developing “neural lace” technology that would allow people to communicate directly with machines without going through a physical interface.  And researchers at universities like the University of California and Duke have announced their work on brain-computer interface technologies that would allow people with paraplegia to walk again.

Just in case you think that Neuralink is but a billionaire’s pipe dream, think again.  Tim Urban’s examination of brain-mouse technology is thorough and uncompromising.   This is going to happen folks and, when it does, people will be jumping head-first into these too-cool, sci-fi bio-devices.   As Urban notes: “The budding industry of brain-machine interfaces is the seed of a revolution that will change just about everything.”  The interface bandwidths made possible by brain interfaces allows incoming images to be HD, incoming sound to be hi-fi, and motor movement commands to be tightly controlled.  It’s your senses on steroids.

You don’t have to take our word (or the various billionaires’ words) for it.  The post-smartphone world has already begun. Consider the advent of the home assistant device in 2016.   Devices like the Amazon Echo, Google Home, the Sony PlayStation VR, and the Apple Watch have created new computing interfaces that operate solely upon the verbal command;  the ubiquitous smartphone screen is nowhere to be seen.   Moreover,  Google’s new Pixel phones are integrated with its Home device, and the new  Galaxy S8 includes Bixby, a new virtual assistant that Samsung promises will give you access to all apps and functionalities  with just your voice. It will also ship with a new version of the Gear VR virtual reality headset, developed in conjunction with Facebook’s Oculus. The next iPhone, too, is said to be shipping with upgrades to the Siri assistant, along with features aimed at bringing augmented reality into the mainstream.

Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and the Google-backed Magic Leap are all working to build standalone augmented-reality headsets, which project detailed 3D images straight into your eyes. Even Apple is rumored to be working on this.   All of these companies have fully invested in the future of artificial intelligence (AI) and are not pulling back.

Insiders fully expect that augmented reality will replace the smartphone, the TV, and anything else with a screen. There’s no need for smartphones or an entertainment center if all your calls, chats, movies, and games are beamed into your eyes and overlaid on an opaque surface. As artificial-intelligence systems like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Home Assistant, Samsung’s Bixby, and Microsoft’s Cortana get smarter, there will be a rise not just in talking to computers but in having them talk back.  And that’s happening now — the future is here already.

In the future, it gets even more mind-blowing…..figuratively and literally.  Once AI is combined with neural brain control interfaces,  humans will have to augment themselves just to keep up with the machines. If you’re really curious about this idea, futurist Ray Kurzweil lays it all out for you.   It’s very exciting stuff except for one significant thing:  the smartest man on this planet and perhaps the universe is very nervous about these developments.   In 2014, physicist Stephen Hawking warned that that the development of full artificial intelligence, could spell the end of the human race.  (he actually said that).   At a subsequent speech,  Professor Hawking went further:

“I believe there is no deep difference between what can be achieved by a biological brain and what can be achieved by a computer. It therefore follows that computers can, in theory, emulate human intelligence — and exceed it.”

Hawking acknowledged that AI would assist in the eradication of disease and poverty and perhaps even help with climate change. But it could also bring us all sorts of things we didn’t like – autonomous weapons, economic disruption and machines that developed a will of their own, in conflict with humanity. “In short, the rise of powerful AI will be either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity. We do not yet know which.”