Japanese electronics giant Sony has invested heavily in a new revolutionary navigation startup, signaling that the days of maps may soon be gone entirely. Maps, after all, are a purely analog way to describe locations in the physical world. Now that we’ve moved beyond analog technology, why are we forcing our computers to have to view the world as we view it? That’s where What3words comes in.


What3words wants to revolutionize transportation far more than GPS and navigation apps ever did. The London-based company has created a radical new way to make it easier for anyone to find any specific place on Earth – even if that place doesn’t technically have an actual physical address. Anything from a specific picnic table at a park or the best bike rack in the city can be given a unique identifier consisting of three different words.

 

“What3words have solved the considerable problem of entering a precise location into a machine by voice,” Toshimoto Mitomo, a Sony senior vice president, said in a statement. “The dramatic rise in voice-activated systems calls for a simple voice geocoder that works across all digital platforms and channels, can be written down and spoken easily.”

 

What3words breaks the world down into a grid of three meter by three meter squares, giving each and every one a unique three-word identifier. Totonno’s Pizzeria in Brooklyn, for example, can be found at ///cats.lots.dame, while the White House is located at ///kicks.mirror.tops. The creators of What3words were inspired by their travels to out-of-the-way or off-the-path places that navigation apps just couldn’t find using GPS coordinates.

 

The system is designed to be more friendly to both human languages and the natural language processing algorithms found in voice-activated technologies such as in-car navigation systems. What3words isn’t designed exclusively for cars, but “automobility is a key focus for What3words,” the company told CNET. Sony is currently investing heavily in voice-controlled technologies, particularly in the automotive sector.

 

As we move further into the post-paper digital paradigm, it’s inevitable that old vestiges of the analog world like maps would soon go the way of the typewriter or ink well. Will all addresses in the future be unique three-word identifiers?