Looking forward from 2016: Five emerging technology concepts to watch…

Latina woman wearing virtual reality glasses and looking at a virtual screen

As I read through the “best of 2016” lists and predictions of what’s to come in 2017, I’d like to take the opportunity to reflect on how emerging technology has been developing, based on my own experiences and observations, while daring to speculate on what trends may be important to keep in mind as we progress with the evolution of and with technology, or The Convergence. Some of these concepts will gain more traction in the coming year than others, but all are vital for human/technological progression and enable greater potential for enhanced learning experiences.

1. Centaur Mentality

World famous chess player playing against the Deep Blue computerThe common thread between these five concepts is the blending of the virtual with the physical, the digital with the material, the simulated with the real, the abstract with the tangible. We uses many phrases to describe this duality, as if they are in contrast, but the way we use these phrases assumes a false dichotomy. We are moving towards a reality where man and machine work best together.

This first concept comes from the world of Advanced Chess. The term “centaur” is used to describe a human working with the assistance of machines. It was coined by world champion Garry Kasparov after IBM’s Deep Blue defeated him in 1997. Understanding that AI itself was a human creation, he helped create a new form of chess in which people can confer with gaming machines. The competition allows for teams to use human creativity and empathy as well as machine calculations. In matches that centaurs against machine-only competitors, centaurs consistently win.

Artificial intelligence enables us to process more information faster than our brains can. Robotics enables us to move heavier and/or more fragile objects than our bodies can. We will come to recognize our strongest human traits as well as some of our own shortcomings and leverage the capabilities of our inventions where appropriate.

2. Biosyncing

Human body diagramRather than seeing our creations as Frankenstein’s monsters and wasting our efforts in futile attempts at competing directly with them, we will work with them. In order to do this, we need to embrace technologies that enable better communication between ourselves and our machine counterparts. The purpose of communication is to create a connection or a link. Biosyncing is that link.

Biosyncing refers to biomechanical symbiosis; when a human and a machine are in a reactive, performance-augmenting loop. It describes behavioral changes on the part of humans, based on mechanical feedback, and machines learning from human responses, making alterations automatically.

The technologies included in this trend include many that are often referred to in suites of technologies such as “wearables” or the “Internet of things.” Haptic feedback, heart rate monitoring, location-aware suggestions, and facial recognition are examples of technological capabilities that have become ubiquitous in everyday products. Biosyncing will facilitate the connection required to fully immerse ourselves in convergent experiences.

3. Social Immersive Experiences

Father using HoloLens goggles and looking at his daughterFor the most part, augmented reality and virtual reality have thus far been developed as standalone technologies, separate and different from one another. Similarly, the experiences created for these technologies have been individual, designed to be experienced by one person at a time. Augmented reality and virtual reality are now coming together and so are the possibilities of greater social interaction. With the ability to trick our brains into believing simulated experiences are “real” comes the ability to create human connections through shared simulated experiences.

At another time in recent history, many thought virtual reality would go mainstream, but they mistook a fad for a trend. What was missing was the ability to have a shared human experience. Looking back a little further in human history, we created the ability to simulate two dimensional animation from photographic images. Some, like Thomas Edison, believed that people would watch these productions by themselves, such as through Edison’s Kinetoscope. They were mistaken, and people flocked to movie houses to see public projections, laughing or crying with the crowds. As soon as access to the Internet became available to the public, we used it as a social tool through message boards, email, and by sharing our creations with a wider audience online. Every immersive experience, in virtual reality or augmented reality, can now be linked to and from others via the Internet. This is invaluable for the use of virtual reality for education, as learning is a naturally social act.

Social immersive experiences are necessary for more widespread adoption of convergent technologies. As we come to appreciate the opportunities these experiences allow, we will develop features to satisfy our basic human need for interpersonal connections. All of the tools to create these collaborative experiences are now at our disposal.

4. Situated Media

Handing holding a cell phone and taking a picture of the Hudson BridgeHanding holding a cell phone and taking a picture of the Hudson BridgeWith our increased awareness of living simultaneously in the physical and virtual worlds, we will seek out and contribute virtual media that relates to our surroundings. Triggers for additional information will increasingly remain affixed to physical objects and locations. Think of this as a virtual layer on top of everything we can already perceive with our five senses. The amount of information that we can gather through this layer is theoretically infinite, and it can contain static or editable media.

Millions of people interact with one layer of situated media daily as they play Pokémon Go. Their phones act as a sort of portal, using screen-based augmented reality to enable them to view the virtual creatures that exist at the same latitude and longitude coordinates for every player in the world. Similarly, we have much more data about “real” objects and locations, but it is currently disconnected from those objects and locations and can only be accessed through a traditional Internet search. We now have the means to connect its virtual information with the matching physical counterparts.

At all times, we are immersed in a world full of information that, to date, has largely been invisible to us. It is as if we are swimming in it like fish unaware of water. We will become more aware of the potential benefits of accessing and updating additional information embedded in every place and thing that surrounds us.

5. Digital Inclusion as a Human Right

United Nations gathering with many representativesAccording to the United Nations, “Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.”

On June 27th of this year, the UN passed a non-binding resolution declaring Internet access a basic human right: “Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development.” (Emphasis added) Mark Zuckerberg, Bill & Melinda Gates, Richard Branson, and many others have pledged their support for the Global Goals, calling for Internet access for all by 2020.

The Convergence brings the Internet to us and us to the Internet. The understanding that access to opportunities that enable participation in the convergence of virtual and physical worlds is a basic human right will become mainstream; governments, companies, and individuals will increasingly support initiatives that improve access to the latest technologies for all of humanity.

Summary

  1. We will come to recognize our strongest human traits as well as some of our own shortcomings and leverage the capabilities of our inventions where appropriate.
  2. Biosyncing will facilitate the connection required to fully immerse ourselves in convergent experiences.
  3. As we come to appreciate the opportunities these experiences allow, we will develop features to satisfy our basic human need for interpersonal connections.
  4. We will become more aware of the potential benefits of accessing and updating additional information embedded in every place and thing that surrounds us.
  5. The understanding that access to opportunities that enable participation in the convergence of virtual and physical worlds is a basic human right will become mainstream; governments, companies, and individuals will increasingly support initiatives that improve access to the latest technologies for all of humanity.

 

About the Author
Denis Hurley

Denis Hurley

Denis Hurley is the director of Future Technologies at Pearson and a Futurist at heart. He has worked on dozens of projects exploring emerging technologies, including augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, brain-computer interfaces, facial recognition, and more.