Cellular Phone Robot And iPhone - Joymaker Wannabes

In his excellent 1965 novel The Age of the Pussyfoot, Frederik Pohl writes about our world several centuries in the future, seen through the eyes of a modern day man brought back to life.

Every person in this future world has a joymaker, an amazing handheld device that mediated all social interactions:

The principle of it was clear enough. It was a remote input-output station for a shared-time computer program, with certain attachments that functioned as pocket flask, first-aid kit, cosmetics bag, and so on. It looked something like a mace or a jester's scepter.

The remote-access computer transponder called the "joymaker" is your most valuable single possession in your new life. If you can imagine a combination of telephone, credit card, alarm clock, pocket bar, reference library, and full-time secretary, you will have sketched some of the functions provided by your joymaker. (Read more about Frederik Pohl's joymaker)

Today, we would call it a cross between a cellphone, a PDA and a web browser. (It also has some additional features I'll get into below.) I'd hate to call science fiction writers prophetic (okay, I do it all the time), but I think Pohl called this one pretty darn close.

(Apple iPhone)

Consider the iPhone, Apple's working prototype "cellphone." If you've seen Steve Job's masterful presentation of the device, it is also as good a web browser as you can fit in your hand. It functions as a stylish cell phone, letting you screen your calls and obtain a random access listing of your phone messages (Apple calls it "Visual Voice Mail").

It also functions as a personal digital assistant, keeping your contact lists and other information. Finally, it is an entertainment device, playing music and even small-screen movies. In the video, we are told that the Cingular network is an essential part of providing the iPhone's functions. (That's why you won't see it offered on other networks anytime soon, marketing agreements aside.)

In the same way, the joymaker was completely dependent upon the functionality of the network that supported it. The joymaker also performed as an educational and entertainment device; special joymakers were available for children (I wonder whether Apple really thinks that I'll buy a $500 device for my kids...).

The iPhone is also the first cellphone or mobile device to offer rich HTML email; this allows the sender to include a lush photo or two with an email message. This is very cool, but it pales next to the tactile net virtual kiss voice mail available on a joymaker.

Another (lesser-known) candidate for joymaker is the Cellular Phone Robot (CPR) designed by engineers from the Soochunhyang University in Korea. The ultimate vision for this phone is that of "ubiquitous companion robot." For this iteration of the device, they have focused on giving the CPR "emotions" expressed in tactile, olfactory and visual behaviors.

(Cellular Phone Robot)

That's right, olfactory. The Cellular Phone Robot has 12 micro-nozzles to emit odors that are intended to identify the caller, along with different vibration patterns as well as music. All smell combos are determined in the strictest engineering way - biometrics.

You've never seen a cellphone like this one. It actually has little wheels on it; it can find its way to a recharger (on a table top) and can find the owner of the phone to take a call. (Check out the video shown below; oddly, the presentation starts about thirty seconds in, so just skip.)

I know what you're thinking. The real world always goes beyond the wildest dreams of even the most prescient science fiction writers. I mean, a phone that sprays stuff to identify callers; who could have imagined that?

Frederik Pohl, that's who. The joymaker had a nozzle that could spray the user in a variety of contexts. The most important use was to calm the user down; if the joymaker detected that the user was getting too excited or frustrated, it could spray a mild sedative.

It also went beyond the crude scents offered by the CPR to identify a caller. The joymaker could even give you a virtual kiss from a caller:

What he got was indeed a kiss. It was disconcerting. No kissing lips were visible. There was a hint of perfumed breath, then a pressure on the lips - warm and soft, moist and sweet... (Read more about the joymaker virtual kiss)

Compare this feature list for the joymaker with what the iPhone and the Cellular Phone Robot have to offer:

Call List - very early use

Cellphone Credit Card - mobile phone wallet

Cellphone Tranquilizing Spray

Interests Profile - an intelligent agent

Online Employability Profile Testing - get the right job first

Online Job Search - via cellphone

Virtual Kiss (Tactile Net) - affection by wire

We're getting closer, Mr. Pohl.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 1/17/2007)

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