A cellphone in every pocket

Very soon, half the humans on the planet will own a mobile phone. What comes next?

Published February 8, 2008 11:10AM (EST)

Daniel Drezner passes on the news, as reported by the Associated Press, that any day now, the number of mobile phone users in the world will exceed the number of people who don't use mobile phones.

In 2000, only 12 percent of the global population had a mobile phone.

"At current growth rates, global mobile penetration is expected to reach 50 percent by early 2008," according to [the International Telecommunication Union's] January newsletter.

No one really knows what this explosion of connectivity entails for how humanity will go about its business. Will the efficiency gains that result from better coordination be offset by an explosion of mindless chatter? Will the one-laptop-per-child campaign be made pointless and irrelevant by a tidal wave of cheap iPhone clones? Will a new sub-species emerge: homo thumbilimus?

I don't pretend to know the answers to these questions. All I can say is that as a kid watching the original Star Trek, I thought Kirk's communicator was the coolest thing imaginable, but I never dreamed I'd have one to call my own. So even at this late date it seems remarkable that possession of such a gadget has practically become an inalienable right.

And I want to know: What's next?

How about giant solar power systems in outer space!?

From Pink Tentacle:

JAXA, [the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency] which plans to have a Space Solar Power System (SSPS) up and running by 2030, envisions a system consisting of giant solar collectors in geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers above the Earth's surface. The satellites convert sunlight into powerful microwave (or laser) beams that are aimed at receiving stations on Earth, where they are converted into electricity.

On February 20, JAXA will take a step closer to the goal when they begin testing a microwave power transmission system designed to beam the power from the satellites to Earth. In a series of experiments to be conducted at the Taiki Multi-Purpose Aerospace Park in Hokkaido, the researchers will use a 2.4-meter-diameter transmission antenna to send a microwave beam over 50 meters to a rectenna (rectifying antenna) that converts the microwave energy into electricity and powers a household heater. The researchers expect these initial tests to provide valuable engineering data that will pave the way for JAXA to build larger, more powerful systems.

Beam it down, Scotty!

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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