Welcome to the Age of Real Personal Computing

How emerging technologies will enable augmented experiences that are new, yet familiar

Computing is about to get real personal. Soon, technology is going to be integrated into every part of our lives, know more about us than our spouse. But what does it all mean?

Technological progress is exponential. But right now, it doesn’t feel like it. To most of us, looking back at the past few years, maybe a decade or two, it may even seem to slow down. There hasn’t been a significant leap like the internet recently.

Most things stayed pretty much the same. Smartphones have continually evolved but not changed significantly in the past 10 years. The internet is still pretty cool. TV still mostly sucks. Same, same. We might not be aware of it, but big changes are upon us.

A set of emerging technologies will impact our lives in ways that seem like science fiction now. Sooner rather than later. They will enable experiences augmenting and enhancing every part of our lives.

With the aptly named 1st ever Augmented Experience Summit right around the corner, time’s right to take a deeper look into what all of this means for us. Humans.

AX Summit is an event all about the impact emerging technologies have on our lives. Now and in the future. Happening at USEEDS and co-hosted by myself.

The term Emerging Technologies is used to describe Augmented and Virtual Reality, Conversational UIs as well as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Talk about a broad field of possibilities. Let’s talk a closer look at each of them, and how they’ll pave the way for an age of real personal computing.

Wait, what’s all this personal computing talk about?

The term Personal Computer was first coined around the 70s and described a concept that seemed strange at the time. It’s the idea that individuals could possess their very own machines, have them at home and use on their own or in the realm of their families.

It was a strange concept because computers used to be huge and crazy expensive. Plus the thought of actually using a computer for personal reasons seemed outlandish to most.

Zoom back to 2018 and all’s different. The term doesn’t have meaning anymore since computers are EVERYWHERE. Desktops, laptops, phones, TVs, speakers, alarm clocks, lamps, fridges, coffee machines —everything’s a computer now.

It’s gotten to the point that the thought of owning just one computational device seems outlandish to most.

Computers don’t feel personal anymore

Back when it was exciting to finally get our very own computer we formed a relationship with the device. It was our only. We were it’s only. We took it everywhere. We took care of it. It had our digital lives on it. If it got lost, all was lost. This was a disaster!

Nowadays we don’t feel the same connection to our devices anymore. We own so many that it just became too much work. And we don’t have to. They don’t inherit that same kind of emotional value anymore.

Today, nothing is stored directly on the device. All of our data is safe and sound up in the cloud. We access our digital lives, continuously and in sync, through all these touchpoints scrambled throughout our house and day. The devices we once loved have become mere shells that deliver a service.

Need a new phone? Throw the old one away. All of your data is there when you turn on the new one. No hard feelings.

The Age of Augmented Experiences

This trend is where the current development of emerging technologies comes into play. They will continue and enhance that path to an extend that’s tough to imagine right now.

And this is a good thing. With the continuous disintegration of the device-owner relationship it becomes less important what device your using, more why you’re using it. The experience is the differentiator.

These technologies are going to be omnipresent. Everywhere we go, in everything we do. So much so that we’re not just using them within our lives anymore, they will become part of our lives. The technology fades into the background. Meaningful exchange on a human level becomes the ultimate paradigm. And with that, it becomes deeply personal.

Let’s take a look at how each of these technologies will become an integral part of our personal space. Physically and mentally.


Augmented Reality

Right now, Augmented Reality is confined to our smartphones and bulky, expensive and functionally limited headsets. It’s just not there yet, but the potential is easy to see. Ambitious companies like Magic Leap have been teasing AR’s potential for years, and are finally promising a step towards the future with their first dev kit, the Magic Leap One Creators Edition.

AR will bring your digital life right into the real world. It will display contextual information to what your doing. It will create virtual workstations, or cinemas, depending on your mood. It will bring games and learning content right to wherever you are, making use of the objects and situational properties of your environment.

Traditionally, screens always acted as a barrier between us and the digital medium. With AR, this safe distance will be shattered and content invades your personal space.


Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality may be the poster child of the AX movement for now. It’s spread far enough to put it within reach and leave you wanting, but not far enough to satisfy the thirst.

As AR’s cousin on the other end of the Mixed Reality spectrum, the core value proposition is obviously related. VR will fully immerse you into a digital world. The ideal is to let loose of all perception of your actual surroundings and serve each and every one of your senses with a simulated input that mimics an alternate reality.

For now, the experience is vastly different from AR. But the degree of personal involvement is comparable. As the borders between you and the digital realm disappear the experiences start to affect you in a way that wasn’t possible before.

When it feel like reality, it becomes reality. Our life as we know it is nothing more than sensory input that’s sent to and processed by our brains. Simulate that well enough and you’re not only recreating an environment, but also the physical and psychological effect it has on it’s inhabitants — ahem, I mean users.


Conversational User Interfaces

Conversational UIs already enjoy fairly wide reach. Widespread adoption got triggered by crucial leaps in technological development along with the integration into smartphones and home speakers. They’re in every pocket, and millions of homes already.

Aside from being it’s very own medium, CUIs have great potential in enriching other screen based or mixed reality applications by a new mode of interaction. And a powerful one. CUIs will have a profound impact on every kind of digital interaction for two simple reasons:

  1. CUIs remove the barriers to entry that traditional UIs pose. Any kind of visual UI, even the simplest of all, requires the user to understand how it works. This, in turn, requires existing mental models of similar UIs, plus a user motivation to understand. That motivation has to be higher than the knowledge deficit about it’s usage. Instead, when considering a good-enough CUI, all a user has to do is say what they want.
  2. Voice and natural language are the most efficient way to issue a request. That’s because that’s exactly how humans work. Every request starts as an intent. This intent is verbalised inside your head, by your thoughts. It’s how we’re wired. It’s impossible to purposefully find an intent without translating it to language first. With traditional UIs, you have to translate your intent into actions that conform with the interface and it’s modalities. With CUIs, you simply speak what’s in your head already.

Conversational UIs will fundamentally change the way we interact with any part of our digital lives. These systems will become omnipresent. They’ll offer information at each and every point in time and place on earth — just ask for it.

Quality of input, output and recognition will increase to a point where talking to a CUI will become indistinguishable from having a phone call. The system responds in a way that’s like talking to a good friend — one that does all the chores for us and is there when we need them.

Remember those nights where you and a friend were just talking all night and it was amazing? Each of us will inevitably feel an emotional connection to our digital assistant —”He understands me, you know?!”


Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning

Though these terms can fundamentally differ in definition, matter of fact is that most companies use them interchangeably. When it comes to state of the art development, they are one and the same right now. I’m going to stay with the term AI for the sake of simplicity. It makes more sense when talking about the potential that arises from intelligent machines making predictions.

Most people may not realise it, but AI is already at use in many of the products we all rely on every day. It’s sorting spam, labelling photos, recommending movies and transcribing dictations now, driving our cars and handling our shopping in just a few years.

AI already is spread far and wide, and will infiltrate every aspect of our lives — earlier than we all realise. It works at it’s best when it’s invisible to the user. With that it may be the perfect example for the new age of personal computing.

We will no longer see the technology that’s behind a service. But we’ll demand that every service knows us and our preferences by heart, without room for hesitation or error.

That’s why AI will infiltrate not only our lives, but every digital service and offering as well. Above all other technologies, AI will be the enabler of our augmented lives. Of a future that knows what we want and does it, before it has to ask.


Build a brighter future

There’s one thing we can say for sure: the new wave of augmented experiences enabled by emerging technologies is going to alter life as we know it forever. This will happen, wether we like it or not.

Not so clear is how this will happen. And that’s where all of us come in to play. All of these technologies are in their infancy right now and offer only a glimpse into their potential. Looking at our wellbeing — mentally and physically — it’s still unclear how all this will shape out.

Now’s the time for all of us to get started working on these technologies. There’s paradigms to explore and establish. There’s ethics and morale to consider and instil. And of course there’s technical possibilities to push forward nonetheless.

Sure, new ponds always seem scary. Humans love the familiar. Where should we start? And will it go well? We don’t know much about these things, how could we not fail?

The truth is we will fail. We will learn. And we’ll do better. As computer scientist and tech pioneer Alan Kay puts it:

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

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