What to expect in cloud-based communications in 2020

Storing all your personal data in the cloud could get a little 'creepy,' says AT&T's CTO

BARCELONA -- John Donovan, AT&T's chief technology officer, is making what he calls "creepy" and "spooky" -- but ultimately useful -- predictions for wireless computing and communications in the cloud in 2020.

In one broad scenario, Donovan said wireless users could store all kinds of data about their lives in the cloud and authorize various algorithms and computing systems to analyze it for later use to communicate and, for example, remind them of names, addresses, arcane facts and other important and not-so-important tidbits.

And if the cloud is capable of that, it's possible that we don't need the personalized mobile phones and tablets that we use today, he said in an interview at Mobile World Congress.

In his outlook, someone could drive to dinner at a friend's house and use a wireless device, perhaps over a TV, to make a call or send a message by entering a password or fingerprint scan. The device would then find all of the caller's personal information in the cloud, including the phone number or e-mail address of whomever was being called. Even the names of the user's children would be accessible, for example.

"Answers to everything will be at our fingertips, and [the information will be] more mobile and more ubiquitous," Donovan said.

As a result of having such a rich repository of information in the cloud, people will become independent of devices like smartphones and tablets, Donovan said. "Software will converge, and devices will disintegrate, and we'll have fewer devices that belong to us anymore," he said. "I don't see the need to carry mobile devices to visit you at your house; I'll borrow one you have and authenticate myself on it."

AT&T is already experimenting with the cloud concept in its labs, he said. One study uses information about calling and data usage patterns that carriers have known for years. One well-known pattern is that a preponderance of people call home on Sunday nights.

That kind of pattern analysis will ultimately make communication and access to information more convenient, Donovan said. "If today I always answer calls from home at my work, then the phone will continue to ring there, but if I never answer your calls or e-mails, then I should never hear [or see] them," he said. "Time of day, day of week, location, business versus personal ... these things are not terribly complex [to analyze]."

Donovan said that AT&T researchers have even used him as a guinea pig. For example, engineers in recent weeks took all of his communications, including calls and e-mails, and uploaded logs from them in order to find patterns, not to study the messages word for word. The lab analysis spit out a list of Donovan's top 30 best friends and ranked from 1 to 30. To his relief, "my wife was at the top," he said.

"They told me, 'Here's who we think your best friends are,'" by analyzing who got the longest calls, the most e-mails, the most texts, and even who got the longest texts from him, among other patterns.

The value of that kind of list is that it would help an automated system populate favorites, much the same way that Netflix suggests movies someone will like, Donovan said. In one example, Donovan said a TV today will turn on to the last channel watched, but it could be set up with a profile for every member of a family to turn on to the most-watched channel for each person.

"This is the difference between discovery and search, and [then] find," he said.

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