Our Immersive Future

I have long believed that the way we interact as humans is on an accelerating journey towards massive change. Whether the next interaction frontier involves the brain or a broad Metaverse vision, it is almost certain that how we interact will change. There have been several waves of change to our interaction paradigm through at least three stages of transformation. However, the next transformation will alter many long-standing beliefs, and as we explore possibilities, emerging scenarios can be very illuminating.

There are many sources that allow us to explore these scenarios. For the purposes of this discussion, one such source is the Future Today Institute (FTI) Tech Trends Report. The 2022 Tech and Science Trends Report is now available. The report covers a wide spectrum of topics spanning over 650 pages. The section on Metaverse, augmented reality, virtual reality, and synthetic media is particularly relevant to the future of human interaction. I encourage you to download the report and explore the signals tracked by Amy Webb and her team. Example signals from the report include:

As our online actions and behaviors transition from apps and websites to more immersive XR experiences in the metaverse, avatars will come to serve as our virtual emissaries for everything from shopping, to socializing, to working. Avatars will increasingly be used to not only represent a user in a virtual platform but as the main medium for how users interact and communicate. Avatar portability will allow users to move among various digital realms in the metaverse while maintaining a relatively
consistent aesthetic and functionality in their avatar.

Future Today Institute’s 2022 Tech Trends Report

Our digital twins likely play a much bigger role in our future interactions. At a broad level, how we interact with the world around us will bring visions of science fiction movies. This emerging world expands the interaction paradigm to include human-to-machine and machine-to human interaction. Our smartphone provides an early view into this expanding dynamic, changing human interaction considerably – and it happened quickly when compared to innovations of the past. Now, we are likely entering the post-smartphone era.

With sales of smartphones plateauing, and upgrades to their functionality arguably growing less substantive with each new iteration (How many cameras does a phone actually need? Is a folding screen really that useful?), the era of handheld device domination seems to be coming to a close. It might be hard to believe at the present moment, but a suite of devices is already in development that is strategically positioned to unseat the mighty smartphone as the primary personal device. Central among them is smart glasses, the long-awaited wearable that gives the average user access to on-demand data overlays and a rich array of augmented and virtual realities, without ever having to lift a finger.

Future Today Institute’s 2022 Tech Trends Report

This shift ushers in an era where we are no longer staring at smartphone screens. Our hands have been integral to the current era of interaction, but as I described in my post on transforming interaction paradigms, the mixed reality era involves conversational, gesturing, and eye interaction. People will interact by tapping, winking, blinking, talking, and gesturing their way through interactions. An evolution towards eye-based interaction seems inevitable, as technology ultimately understands intent, and our eyes drive action without gesture or voice cues.

The FTI report takes it a step further by describing how we will free our hands for other tasks as we take in text, audio, video, and virtually rendered content without ever having to lose sight of the world around us. They state that by layering digital elements into our field of vision, these devices will enable a revolutionary and liberating transition from hands-on to heads-up computing. Holograms represent another area where considerable progress is expected. In early 2020, I explored a scenario where we could reunite with a lost loved one. In that scenario, virtual reality was used to connect a mother with her deceased child. On February 6, 2020, a Korean TV show called Meeting You, which focuses on lost family, reunited a mother with her deceased child in the virtual world. The mom was strapped in a VR headset and brought into a massive green room. She was provided touch-sensitive gloves. This allowed her to move around and even interact with her daughter. Similar stories about chatbots reconnecting individuals with the deceased exist as well. Holograms are soon to follow.

Holograms have been used to produce concert tours featuring bygone stars in virtual form, and may soon allow production companies to draw popular synthetic media characters, celebrity stand-ins, brand spokespeople, historical figures, and lost loved ones out of our screens and into our spatial environment.

Future Today Institute’s 2022 Tech Trends Report

This underscores the likely significant change to our current mental models. Every scenario brings with it a question: what do these changes collectively do to our world view? I have conducted multiple polls to explore these questions. In the context of this discussion on human interaction, what do you think? I have gained a lot of insight regarding the way society thinks about these topics via these polls. Please take a minute to provide your thoughts. I am resharing the video of the South Korean mother below.

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