Reality is up for grabs. Emerging technologies are transforming everything that constitutes our notion of “reality”—our ability to sense our surroundings, our capacity to reason, our perception of the world. Twenty years after William Gibson coined the term cyberspace as a metaphor for a place we “visit” to interact with information, the term is not only played out but on the verge of irrelevance. The wireless Web, virtual worlds, augmented realities overlaid on top of physical ones, advanced simulations, and networked knowledge promise to transform our everyday experiences into a symbiotic blend of analog and digital experiences of human, and machine. Digital information won’t feel like it exists in an alternate place that we go to but rather as a layer atop everyday life. “The Network” will finally become intertwined with the fabric of our lives. Even our minds will be augmented with the wisdom of the global brain.
In 2008, the Technology Horizons Program will examine this future of blended realities and blended lives. Our key research questions will be:
- What does it feel like to live in a blended reality?
- How do people integrate or navigate multiple realities?
- What new skills may be acquired?
- What are the challenges, pains, needs, and fears?
- What new desires are emerging?
Our research will be broken down into the hotspots and deliverables below. We’ll also conduct a separate research project on the future of manufacturing.
2008 RESEARCH TOPICS
1. Realities Are What You Make Of Them
Our personalities are becoming multiple and portable. We’ll soon be able to carry our avatars from one context to another, from conventional games to user-created worlds like Second Life and even into reality-based environments like Google Earth. We’ll be able to create imaginative 3D environments and overlay them on the real world, creating a new kind of blended reality. What will the user experience be like? How will this future of blended realities affect our psychology and sense of self?
2. The Future of "Serious" Play
The next generation of digital games wants to do more than just entertain—they are designed to investigate real-world issues, to solve real-life problems, and to inform long-term planning. Serious games over the next decade will take many forms, from personal life-management games to massively multiplayer global development games; from virtual worlds developed as collaborative scientific research platforms to immersive corporate learning environments that cultivate innovation through play. What new opportunities and dilemmas emerge as we cross the old divides between serious work and play, between reality and virtuality, and between tools for work and tools for play? We’ll examine the viability of virtual economies; the unique persuasive power of games; the challenges of representing the complexities of reality in serious game design; and the implications and stakes of new mobile and augmented reality platforms for play.
3. Emerging Markets: Stories of Lead Mobile Users
Over the next ten years, the proliferation of mobile phones in developing regions will reveal innovative usage practices that will shape future mobile experiences and industries in the rest of the world. In contexts where resources and infrastructure are limited, new kinds of lead users are the drivers of innovation. They are often rich but poorly educated farmers or impoverished migrant workers whose only connection to various resources, from family to jobs, is the mobile phone. Based on firsthand ethnographic work in India, China, Russia, and Latin America, this research endeavor will examine key drivers shaping innovation in mobile space in these regions, and forecast what innovations might diffuse globally and why.
4. Mapping Knowledge in a Networked World
Computing pioneer Douglas Engelbart forecasted in 1962 that “network augmented intelligence” will emerge at the intersection of the mind and the machine—the individual, the group, and the Web. What matters is what technology and people do together; how we use new information technologies to interact with the world’s wisdom; how faster computers allow us to identify valuable patterns in raw data; and how knowledge about our brain can enable us to better organize our thoughts and communicate ideas. In today’s augmented world, the Dewey Decimal System is making way for folksonomies and the wisdom of crowds is often more trusted than the opinion of credentialed experts. The Semantic Web, recommendation engines, the scanning of entire libraries, and natural language processing may lead to a redefinition of knowledge, a democratization of wisdom, and a reevaluation of what it means to be an expert. The Future of Knowledge Map will present a roadmap for the evolution of individual-collective-machine intelligence.
5. Manufacturing: From Massive to Lightweight
Globally, manufacturing is the engine driving an historic expansion of economic growth and innovation. But nostalgic visions of the industrial factory humming along, producing widgets describe only a tiny portion of the reality of manufacturing around the world today. On the one hand, in advanced economies, manufacturing is becoming more lightweight, more automated, more decentralized, more mobile, and more efficient. Yet in places like China and India, the world’s workshops, manufacturing is dirtier and more dangerous than ever, taking an enormous toll on human and environmental resources. We’ll take stock in these contrasting trends and develop plausible visions of how manufacturing may be remade over the next decade.