4 Tech Forces that will Soon Change Your World
In Age of Context, Robert Scoble and I identified five converging tech forces: Mobile/Wearables, Social Media, Data, the Internet of Things [sensors] and location technologies. We said that these five forces were converging and it would be the foundation of an entirely new era changing much about work and life over the coming five years. We were right about the forces, but wrong about the timeline. It is only two years later and these forces have dramatically changed life and work. Aspects of the coming era that we called freaky are now just parts of everyday life–for better or worse.
Here it is, just a couple of years later and there are already four new forces. They appear to me to be fundamental and world changing to the point where they will change our relationships with technology and will change just about every aspect of lives for people in the modern world. As I learned with Age of Context, these changes are coming faster than most people realize.
Here are the forces:
- Altered Realities. These are actually technologies that are related to each other as digital first cousins: Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality [AR/VR]. While Augmented is usually mentioned first, Virtual is the one coming just a bit faster to the marketplace via Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear and many new hardware systems, supported already by more than a thousand software programs. When you put on a VR headset, you immerse yourself into an entirely new world. It surrounds you on all sides, above you and beneath you. The first wave of it is already making the difference in games, entertainment and training, but it will soon be a factor in education, finding what you want in a superstore or a database, in marketing and advertising: in all sorts of places and ways. Augmented reality, will be coming soon, in the form of Microsoft Hololens and the extremely promising Magic Leap. In both cases, users put on headsets and can still see what’s around them as it really is, but there is an extra layer available through small screens that are on their way to become tiny or even invisible. These screen will show users additional valuable information, so when you are looking at a product on a shelf, you can see reviews or just star ratings. While in early phases AR will be for fun, the business, industrial, medical and military applications are coming down the track at great speed. AR and VR are closely related, but as time goes on I think they will follow different paths. The applications for AR seem to me to be far greater than VR, but VR alone looks huge. Market researchers says that VR alone looks like it will grow from near zero to a $70 billion market four years from now.
- Autonomous Cars. In 2013, Scoble and I talked with experts and automakers who predicted self-driving cars would be allowed on the highways in 20 years. Yet in 2016, Robert drove from San Francisco to Las Vegas in a Mercedes that had autonomous capabilities. Today, a few days later, Elan Musk was explaining to the BBC about a new feature called Tesla Summons, that allowed someone in LA to push a button and tell his car to open the garage door in New York City, close the door behind it and then drive 3,500 mile cross country stopping at the appropriate recharging stations and pick him up. This is two years later, not 20, but it appears the technology will be ready for everyday people sooner, rather than later. It may take a decade before authorities and manufacturers and insurers work out regulatory and legal issues, but like the chaos guy said in Jurassic Park about life, technology has a way of getting out. I see commercial and logistic applications for driverless cars starting in the next two-to-three years and becoming common highway phenomena within the next five.
- Robots. I had begun to discount robots as being part of everyday life because they have seemingly been slow to develop. Their physical motion and speech was clumsy. They literally could not see what we see and they were unable to develop the empathy that our pet goldfish demonstrates when we feed them. All that has changed and changed rapidly. They can now walk with stability; new ‘eyes’ are in the late stages of development that allow them to come very close to seeing what we see. Artificial intelligence and natural language have made conversations more engaging with these machines that are doing all sorts of things ranging from food handling, to surgery, to restoring underwater health at the Great Barrier Reef. The time of the Robot is coming fast, and how that shapes who people are, how we live and even if we work will be an issue, I believe within the next decade and perhaps much sooner.
- Digital Genies. Like autonomous cars, digital genies are a category that overlaps with robots, but they will fill a different space in your life and mine and they have already started to in the form of Siri and Google Now. Both are mobile software platforms that people talk to and in return get simple information back such as weather and stock reports. In mid-2015, Amazon introduced Echo, a $179 home electronics device that took voice interactive Genie technology a great leap forward. For example, Amazon Echo is a $180 device that sits in a convenient spot in the home. Alexa, a Siri-like voice interacts with family members and guests. She has a better sense of humor than Siri, but more important, she understands better, remembers more and can perform many more tasks than making calls and reporting weather and news. Echo will manage any device that plugs into a wall, allow centralized control of lights, video, sound and temperature. She also orders household goods when supplies run low and, more recently, she can start up cars, while their drivers sip coffee–if they have a Sync equipped Ford. I played with Alexa at Scoble’s house on Christmas day and it was a jaw dropper for me, but, as Robert so often does, he pointed to even better stuff coming to the market in just a short while.He pointed me to Viv.ai. Started by two partners from the original Siri team that will eclipse just about everything that Siri can do. For openers, Viv is flexible and learns exponentially in a way that Siri can’t. More important than that is at inception it can understand complex queries such as finding a flight to Sydney that has an available aisle seat in the exit row, or finding a pizza place within 10 minutes of my current location with the best ratings and customer reviews. Even more significant still is that Viv is an open system, so third-party developers can add to it by writing their own program in 1/20 of a second. So, next time someone wants to know about pizza parlors in your area or flights to Sydney, Viv already knows the answer and will remember. Personal Genies can also replace humans in call centers and can be programmed to demonstrate more empathy than some of the people I’ve encountered when I needed help fast.
Where is this all going? What does it mean to your work and life and to the future of the world our children will inherit? I’m not quite certain just yet. But what I am certain about is that these four forces are going to change a great deal in our work and in our lives.