More Technology Coolness from Japan

I have blogged more than once about how we are very very slow in adopting new technologies. Again, something Mike and I saw in 2003 at the Digital Society Conference in Geneva Switzerland is being “discovered” by the U.S. media (3.5 years later!) Specifically, there is a story in today’s New York Times about the use of cell phones to read bar codes and the movement to a paperless society in Japan. You can fly on All Nippon Airways without a paper ticket, buy things with your cellphone (using a chip with “cash” on it), and get information from bar codes.

As the Times reports (and was explained similarly by Asian technology executives to us 3 years ago)

It sounds like something straight out of a futuristic film: House hunters, driving past a for-sale sign, stop and point their cellphone at the sign. With a click, their cellphone screen displays the asking price, the number of bedrooms and baths and lots of other details about the house….

In their new incarnation, cellphones become a sort of digital remote control, as one CBS executive put it. With a wave, the phone can read encoded information on everyday objects and translate that into videos, pictures or text files on its screen. “The cellphone is the natural tool to combine the physical world with the digital world,” that executive, Cyriac Roeding, the head of mobile-phone applications for CBS, said the other day.

In Japan, McDonalds customers can already point their cellphones at the wrapping on their hamburgers and get nutrition information on their screens. Users there can also point their phones at magazine ads to receive insurance quotes, and board airplanes using their phones rather than paper tickets. And film promoters can send their movie trailers from billboards.

It will be interesting to see how such technologies change elections. There are obvious applications for this technology for voting and for campaigning. Imagine, for instance, that you could scan a bar code on a ballot or voter information poster and get information about a candidate on your cell phone. These advances could obviously also be used in various voting applications, for example, to authenticate people for voter registration (your voter ID would be in your phone and you would enter a “PIN” to complete the authorization).

However, I have no doubt that the Estonians or Dutch, Swiss, French, British, or Japanese will do it first!