Opinion

Where Is Tech Taking Us? A Complete Merger of Our Digital, Physical Worlds

It’s challenging to track the breathless pace and breadth of all the emerging technology making it increasingly easy and exciting to collect and share information and images about ourselves, each other and the world we experience. But if you are taking note of the rapid growth, you might well wonder: Where are we heading? How will life change?

In a new report called When Everything is Media, the Institute for the Future forecasts new heights in programmable and shareable technology over the next decade that will combine artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and advances in network speed that will embed digital communications in our lives as much as personal communications. On voice command, we will be able to affect change in places far from where we are physically located, or customize our daily choices by linking anticipatory software with devices we use most frequently.

The coming generation of innovation will redefine physical and virtual connectivity in ways that allow us to more effectively communicate our intentions, automatically collect and utilize data, better understand the human condition and open new ways to simply having fun. We are on the precipice of a new world of “ambient communications” that will eliminate geographic divides and physical limitations by establishing an information-rich environment extending beyond smartphones and computers to include other objects, our bodies and other living things.

How we interpret and react to this expanded level of connectivity also will change as each new innovation adds layers of meaning and responsiveness to our increasingly boundary-free world. Through nine possible applications of current and future interactive technology identified in the report, our society stands to be completely wrapped in digital interactions that gather, process and display data that can be fed back to us in a continual loop. In short, we are on an inexorable path toward redefining the human experience.

Even the well-worn cliché “the sky’s the limit” hints at the existence of some ceiling for whatever we are trying to achieve. As we contemplate the everyday applications of technological advancementshowever, such ceilings become harder and harder to imagine in terms of where we can go and what we can experience.

Expanded sensorium carries the potential to transport us anywhere by wirelessly connecting one or more sensory organs to telepresence robots that could send us soaring into the air, diving beneath the ocean’s surface, or tasting cuisine served a continent away. Digital speciation will breathe life into other inanimate objects, such as our kitchens or cars, by programming them to serve us through interactive artificial intelligence now widely available in mobile devices. We are closing in on an AI-first world in which our devices anticipate what we want or need before we do.

Animation and reanimation will bring bots, human holograms and other lifelike media forms of real or fictional people into our lives to advertise products, market brands and influence our interactions within consumer settings. And machine-orchestrated entertainment will employ increasingly accurate algorithms to predict what kind of music, movies and games we prefer and why. Eventually, algorithms will be key collaborators in content creation for providers who are longing to know — and replicate — what aspects of a song, story or performance will appeal to the broadest audience or niche markets.

Machine-curated memories will store our experiences through wearable cameras and other devices that go beyond simply capturing moments of our lives to include our emotional responses to those memories. However, this will create new questions about how we collect, author, curate and share our memories. Shareable matter will enable computers to utilize innovations in vision and machine learning to automatically recognize the people, places and objects connected to our lives. Storing and analyzing photos, videos and audio data will allow computers to identify, search and categorize real-world phenomena.

Similarly, shareable presence technology will defy the limits of time and space as haptics, augmented reality and processing capabilities digitally provide physical overlays to the flatness of virtual planes. These breakthroughs will open up new avenues for deepening our social interaction and connection as we share holographic renderings of ourselves in different places.

Biomedia will transform how we understand our physical imprint and structure, and how we can use that information to construct the future. Fitness trackers are already helping us chart and analyze our physical wellness. But body temperature, perspiration and eye movements also represent potential data points that can be shared with marketers, urban planners and others to explain patterns of human activity and provide feedback that might change our experience.

All of these advancements will require us to keep track of the accessibility and utility of the enormous amount of personal data being captured about and communicated directly to our bodies. Permission to access private details of our physical presence will need to be carefully controlled through body rights management as embedding and sharing of data becomes a standard and automated practice.

We will still be humans, after all, and therefore demand at least a few gigabits of privacy.

 

Bradley Kreit is a research director with Institute for the Future, where he leads complex research projects that explore the intersections between technical feasibility and human need.

Morning Consult welcomes op-ed submissions on policy, politics and business strategy in our coverage areas. Updated submission guidelines can be found here.