Monday, August 22, 2011

The Virtual Landscape of the Future

Technology expands exponentially.  Innovations seem to explode onto the scene overnight, and in seemingly no time at all, what was once the realm of science fiction is reality.  In fact, we're already living in a world that rivals the speculative worlds of great science fiction writers of the past, and there is no end in sight to the advances we'll see in nuclear studies, medicine, physics, space exploration, and other areas of scientific study.

Radio-frequency Identification (RFID) implants have been around since 1998.  We've seen them used commonly in pets.  They have even been implanted with success in humans.  In fact, they've been in the news recently in Mexico, where kidnappings are on the rise.  People are turning to them to aid in recovery efforts should they become a statistic in a crime that has jumped over 300% in the last five years.

While some of the claims made by companies selling these chips may or may not be valid, this does raise several interesting points of discussion.  Much has already been debated about the ethics of this type of technology.  There's the Big Brother aspect, and the potential for malicious theft of information, but there is also ability to more quickly and effectively save human lives, save money and time, and make aspects of our lives much easier and more convenient.  The technology is neutral, neither good nor bad.  And it is here to stay.

Now, scientists have further used the medical world to advance computer technology by creating intelligence chips based on the human brain.  This is important because it's a radical departure from the traditional von Neumann architecture we've used to create computing machines in the past.  This structure exponentially increases computing power, while keeping power dependency and size to a fraction of what is now necessary.

Quick Response (QR) Codes, first seen in 1994, have seen a recent explosion in their use and popularity.  More and more we are seeing them pop up, used in everything from extra content to advertising.  They've been called the future of marketing.  They're the natural evolutionary step of the barcode, but with a 7,000 digit capacity in two directions, instead of 20 digits in a single direction.

This technology, coupled with advances in wireless technology, and the need for smaller, faster, more easily accessible information has led me to the next jump in logic in my own speculative world.  In the future, we will be connected via ourselves to the virtual world.  That's right.  Devices will become a thing of the past.  No longer will we have a phone or computer connecting us to each other in the virtual world.  We'll do it through our own bodies.

All that's missing is the invention of an interface between the brain and this technology.  A neural connector chip, implanted by nanobot technology, would be able to form a connection between the brain and wireless transmission architecture to the outside world, thus linking our brains directly with the virtual world.  Once this is possible, how soon would we be able to implement a QR code-like interface where our very eyes would be the conduit sending information to this connector, which would then translate the code into usable format inside the brain.  We could simply look at the code to watch the content, free from any handheld scanning or computation device.

Couple this further with other sources of input, such as sonar technology, or other such conduits to new perceptual realities, and our virtual world would become so much a part of reality, in time it would become virtually impossible to live without.

Better yet, imagine this, but through your own eyes, and populated with whatever content you wanted it to show:

It would be like augmented reality eyewear, but without the eyewear.  Imagine the overlays from movies like the Terminator, or the technology of any number of recent science fiction movies, except for use in everyday situations.

Need to keep tabs on your kids in a crowded mall?  Turn on their identification feed to track them.

Need to find a place you've never been to?  Now you'll see it without seeing that little sign hidden in the corner of the window.

Looking for coffee?  Turn on the virtual connection to that type of service via the augmented reality stream.

Already most of the civilized world is connected via at least one form of social media, and many of us keep up with several.  Raise your hand if you've seen someone type that no one will hear from them for a while, as they are going on vacation, or will be away from the internet for a while.  How about someone mysteriously vanishing for a few days only to resurface later with a story of how their internet crashed and it took forever to get back online.  Yea, I thought so.  This sort of thing would allow us to more easily manage that sort of thing, and would allow us to interact without the need to sit down at the computer and type something out, or not being able to tweet something because we left our phone at home.

It's coming, folks.  In a world that revolves around portability, ease of use, and size, it's only a matter of time before innovation makes devices of any sort obsolete.  It sounds like a scary thought, but then, the technology of today would look quite scary to anyone even as recent as the 1960's.  Fifty years from now, the technology that surrounds us today will look to us then like the 1960's do to us today.  And with the exponential rate of advance, it may be a fraction of that time before it happens.  Personally, I can hardly wait.

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