Archive for the 'Virtual Space' Category

Revision: Cell Phones in 2025

I was thinking about my post where I predicted how cell phones would evolve to by 2030. While some of it may seem out there, other parts are pretty much already here. Voice command is becoming very common, as are touch screens. They’re even developing flexible electronics and computer screens.

So really, I think my prediction was a bit too conservative. Here’s what I think now. If you’ll notice, I’m also moving the timeline up a few years just because I think it can likely happen by then.

My prediction is this: new cell phones will, by and large, disappear by 2025. Yes, I think that a technology like Google’s Project Glass will completely supplant cell phones. There will probably still be cell phones around, of course, but they’ll be older models, maybe also cheap pre-paid ones. But the new, high-end cell phones won’t actually be hand-held devices like today (and they very likely won’t be called “cell phones”). The common status symbol of the past 25 years or so will be relegated to history.

Here’s how they’ll work. You’ll have your headset, or whatever it’ll be called, and you’ll be able to interact with it via voice command. But there’s another way in which you’ll also control it: by pressing buttons projected onto a surface. How? Well, take a look at this video:

The technology already exists. In fact, you probably won’t even have to actually project it, enabling everyone around you to see it. The projection itself will probably be completely within the headset and only you will be able to see it. The headset will be able to see what you’re pressing and where and will be able to match it to the appropriate virtual control. To the bystander, it’ll seem as if you’re pressing a blank wall. Right now this is technology that, while possible, really doesn’t have a practical application. Headsets give it an application. No other control system (keyboards, touchscreens, mice, etc) will be as useful as this for headsets. And really, it’s not very different from using a touchscreen, so I think adoption won’t be much of a problem.

Another interesting improvement will be the elimination of “talking-to-yourself-syndrome”. We’ve all seen people on Bluetooth who are using their phone. It’s jarring but we’ve sort of gotten used to it. The advantage of being on you head, though, is that you can run a ine down the neck and detect movement. Thus, simply mouthing words (with your mouth closed, too, so others can’t even tell you’re talking), the headset will be able to understand you. Seem strange? Well, again, it’s already existing technology:

It’s a bit limited now, but given a decade of R&D and about 1000-fold increase in processing power between now and then, it will likely be as reliable as talking to someone in real-time. And again, while this may be a somewhat pointless and obtrusive technology now (“you mean I’ve got to put that collar on to use it?”) if you’ve already got something on your head it’s not as big of a step (and it will almost certainly be a lot smaller, less obtrusive, and more discreet).

The cell phones of 2025 will not be anything like the cell phones of today. They will be light-weight, unobtrusive headsets that will be able to do all the things cell phones do today: make calls, send texts (dictated), surf the internet, download new apps, etc. And it will bring us one step closer to fully immersive virtual reality. Personal headsets can be the enabling technology where true, interactive, public virtual reality will begin, once they’re adopted.

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Project Glass

Last July, I described how we could go from today’s technology to fully-immersive virtual reality in only two steps. Well, it now seems that step two is well on the way, having apparently skipped over step one.

Google has announced that they are working on, essentially, augmented reality glasses. Of course, technology like this has been worked on for decades with little to show for it. But this seems, possibly, different. This this time, it is a large high-tech company with a track record of producing practical and highly profitable technological innovations. If anyone has a shot to making these glasses widely available it’s them.

Second, take a look at this video:

Absolutely everything that is shown is what smart phones do today: listening to music, taking pictures, making phone/video calls, getting weather, looking up info online,  texting…it’s like wearing an iPhone on your head.

Furthermore, and something I stressed in my former post, it is very lightweight, and not cumbersome at all to use, like a real pair of glasses. This is essential. If it was a giant bulky headset, no one would want to buy it, no matter what it did. Plus, when not using it, you can still see where you’re going. You don’t even have to take it off.

Now, what needs to happen is for someone to make a virtual reality app. Something like Second Life that you can stream through the glasses. True it won’t be fully immersive, and you might need to have some sort of controller hooked into the glasses (note to Google: be sure to include USB or microSD slots), but it is a first step. From there you can build onto it to eventually create fully immersive virtual reality.

Anyway, based on all this, I predict two possible outcomes: 1) Google will introduce these within a few years (2014-15 frame) and make billions, or 2) This will flop by Apple will come out with their own version a little later (2014-17 frame)  and make billions (maybe they can call it the iEye ;)) Either way, the next wave of personal technology is rapidly approaching.

Two Technological Steps Away from Virtual Space

In thinking about how we might get from today’s technology to the technology I’ve envisioned in the future, it’s often useful to work backwards; envisioning how to step back from high technology to lower technology.

For virtual space, it seems that we might accomplish the transition from today with only two “stepping stone” technologies. So, what exactly is virtual space? Simply a fully immersive, artificially created simulation of the world. You can interact with it just as you do the real world. You can see, hear, smell, feel, taste, etc, everything in the simulation just like you would in real life and, above all, have abilities that are impossible in the real world (flight, teleportation, instant creation of anything, etc.) So what would one step back from that be? Maybe a less-immersive type of virtual space.

Like say, portable, light-weight virtual reality glasses. These glasses simply give visual and auditory feedback, like playing a video game, but operated completely through audio and tactile command (with something like a virtual keyboard, which the glasses create, much like what can be done today). These glasses will be used to surf the internet, play games, make video and audio phone call, perhaps even be used to travel though a primitive version of virtual space. They could also be used as a real-world HUD (Heads-Up Display), which can overlay important information about real-world things, appearing on the things themselves (for example, lets say you’re at a restaurant and you don’t know what to get. You might use the glasses to go online, look for reviews of specific dishes, which the glasses will then point out by apparently projecting some sort of highlighting feature on the physical menu in front of you. I say “apparently” because the “projection” is entirely contained between the glasses and your eyes meaning only you can see it).

So how might we get to this technology? Well, I can see it growing directly out of cell phones. Basically, imagine something like this, but as an add-on to cell phones, like Bluetooth. Instead of looking at your screen, the information is relayed by Bluetooth, or similar technology, to these glasses that you are wearing. But you still have the phone and everything on you.

So that would be only two steps: electronic glasses connected to cell phones, electronic glasses without cell phones. The final transition comes at the end. It’s likely that real virtual space won’t come about until people start uploading. The demand just won’t be high enough to encourage a large percent of the population to undergo major surgery just to have the latest high-tech gadget (also, what do you do when the next model comes out a year later? Go through surgery again?). But if you’re uploaded, the transition from one set of virtual space hardware to the next becomes much simpler. Being uploaded means that your mind and your brain will already be easily accessible in the future.

So, what do we need to start on this path? Well the electronic glasses would be a considerable piece of technology in their own right. In order for there to be wide demand of these, they would have to be very similar to existing glasses of today. They would need to be just as light-weight and allow just as much visibility out of them, and be just as easy to take on and take off. They would also have to be very cheap, possibly no more that $100-$200 in today’s money. That might take some time, but we do have a few decades for this to be developed. Maybe in fifteen to twenty years, we’ll all have glasses like these.

Immortality in 20 Years

Or so. I was watching a program on the Science Channel recently called “Future Superhuman” and there was a doctor on there researching what is essentially a de-aging drug. In mice, it causes old mice literally become young again, and they said it caused similar reactions to every animal they’ve tested it on.

This is an extreme breakthrough. I may not have much interest in the “G” in GNR technologies (since “N” is going to help “R” is eventually replace “G”), but until we do upload and can live indefinitely as computer hardware instead of biological hardware, this is a significant step to be able live that long, particularly among older persons.

Also on the show was a researcher developing the basis of virtual space (i.e. directly stimulating the brain to create artificial perceptions), but we all already know the benefits of that.

Virtual Space: Personal Benefit

I written much about virtual space on The Other Blog, but it occurs to me that I haven’t actually written much about the benefits of it here. Not only do I predict that virtual space will come into being as I describe, but I also fiercely advocate its development. Virtual space is potentially the greatest human invention that will ever happen. Greater even than fire. It is the technology that will liberate us from physical, biological drudgery, and transform us into nearly god-like beings.

But why is this so? What is it about virtual space that is so completely revolutionary? It is because of what virtual space fundamentally is. It’s a computer-simulated environment where the laws of physics become merely the laws of what is logically possible. In virtual space, the concept of scarcity (which is the basis of economics) vanishes. Every single virtual inhabitant can have anything they ever wanted, and the only cost is the electricity and computing power needed to simulate it (the current cost of which is dwindling rapidly). A big house, a fancy car, rich food, a partner or two (or ten)…and anything else you might possibly want are available instantly.

Virtual space also allows you to do things that are simply impossible in the real world. For example, travel is instantaneous to any other virtual place. In virtual space you can fly like Superman, or eat at much as you want without getting fat. You don’t age, you don’t get sick. Your virtual avatar can have any appearance you want it to have and you can change it anytime on a whim. Today, modifying your appearance usually means plastic surgery, but in virtual space doing it is (1) free, (2) painless, (3) always works the way you want it to and (4) instant. And of course, (5) always reversible. Oh and (6) you have a much wider selections of options in virtual space like changing your height which is exceptionally difficult to do physically.

Compared to virtual space, physical reality just plain sucks. We’re stuck with what we’ve got. If you were born with genes to be four-foot-ten and hideous well…too bad for you. You only get one life and some people have to go through it looking like an ogre. Others get to be supermodels and it’s completely random and unfair. Given the choice, I think nearly everyone would choose to live in virtual space. And that option should be available to everyone in the future.

Personally, what I’d like to do in virtual space–besides the obvious (ahem)–is to play in a jazz band. I used to play in school but have since dropped it focus on other things (like waxing poetic about virtual space). In the real world, getting a group of musicians together is difficult. There’s schedules to coordinate, you have to find a place to practice, and you have to lug all your instruments and equipment around. In virtual space, I am the only human musician. Everyone else in the band would be computer-controlled. It would basically be my own personal group at my beck and call, which only plays the songs I want to play. And the musicians would all play like professionals. As a musician (like any artist) you need to be around people better than you to get better yourself. Virtual space would provide that.