Improved Realities Part 3: How Do We Embrace The Convergence?

The Convergence refers to utilizing three suites of technologies — mixed reality, artificial intelligence, and biosyncing — to create hybrid realities in which virtual and physical components interact seamlessly. Through this series, I aim to explain this trend in greater detail as well as what it means for education, specifically. In my first post, I covered an overview of what The Convergence consists of and how the these elements may be used once combined. In my last post, I explained why we should embrace the individual elements that compose The Convergence. The next question is “How?”

As with all new technologies and concepts, we encounter challenges and opportunities when it comes time to adopt them. In some instances, of course, the opportunities present themselves in how we overcome the challenges. As I see it, the two biggest obstacles to widespread acceptance of The Convergence are:

  • Human’s natural tendency to resist change
  • The timeliness of technological limitations

Mindful Skepticism

Humans fear what they don’t understand. We are descendants, mostly, of the people who decided not to stray from the cave for fear of the unknown. (Exploring, especially in early human civilization, was often deadly.) Our fear of technology seems especially acute — even Socrates warned that the written word would bring about the end of civilization. In modern times, Steven Hawking and Elon Musk have warned about the dangers of artificial intelligence. As Eric Schmidt pointed out: though they are both brilliant men, they are not computer scientists.

Technological progress is inevitable, and the best way to manage it is to understand it. Musk, for his part, has embraced OpenAI to research and share the technology. Advocates for the use of emerging technologies for societal good must remember that humans don’t scale as quickly as machines. However, humans are an adaptive species. We adjust our cultural practices when necessary in order to adjust to new environments and to take advantage of resources as they become available to us. As a result, we don’t merely survive, we thrive.

On an individual and professional level, the potential benefits of risk outweigh that of caution. Failures are usually forgiven, while successes are remembered and rewarded. Not all uses of these technologies are useful or beneficial, but we should be just as wary of our natural inclination for fear. By remaining informed and aware of both technology and our biological response, we can be mindfully skeptical — questioning, embracing, or rejecting when appropriate.

3D Heart Syndrome

Companies that work with groundbreaking new technologies often struggle to find the most valuable uses for them. This is understandable: the foundations are still being laid, and we’re still in the process of understanding what can be built on top of them. We tend to replicate uses for older technologies until we learn enough to break out of that mindset. For example, whenever we have had a new medium gain popularity, we have staged productions that leveraged the strengths of preexisting ones. Early cinema was little more than filmed theater, but that was only after we moved beyond the novelty of the technology itself.

Fred Ott’s Sneeze (William K.L. Dickson, 1894)

A “moving picture” was enough to keep audiences entertained for a little while — the movement alone astounded them. The modern iteration of this technological fascination is the 3 dimensional heart. Nearly every company that produces augmented reality content showcases a 3D heart, seemingly to the amazement of those to whom the heart is demoed. While the exercise of creating a 3D heart may be a fantastic learning tool for the designers or developers themselves, we have reached peak heart for users of AR.

In being mindfully skeptical, we know that technology for technology’s sake does not add value, but the potential uses for these features may have significant long term value. These new features will be crucial to new, larger creations once we understand what these larger creations could be. Returning to cinema: a still shot of a man sneezing (or a train pulling into a station, to use the famous example by the Lumière Brothers) added no value to a filmed theatrical performance. In our age of mixed reality, we have had our inventors. Our Edisons and Lumières. We haven’t yet had creators who define a new form, as D.W. Griffith did, or artists of that form who unlock even more potential, like Welles or Renoir. In cinema, that took decades, but in the age of exponential technology, thankfully, we will not have to wait so long for advancements in this new medium.

The future of mixed reality is bright; it will help us create in ways we have not yet even considered. This is not to say that mixed reality does not yet have any useful applications — it has many already. There is, however, a risk when companies over-promise on what is feasible today. Some companies with a vested interest tend to set unrealistic expectations, especially when capitalizing on related newsworthy success. (See Pokemon Go.) However, technologies inevitably go through the hype cycle, and the higher the peak of inflated expectations, the deeper the trough of disillusionment. As a mindful skeptic, managing this is relatively simple:

  • Maintain realistic expectations
  • Ensure products add value and are not “technology as showcase”
  • Understand current limitations as well as long-term potential
  • Leverage existing capabilities
  • As always, learn from failure