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Towards a consensual hallucination

The LG Fridge internet fridge.

The LG Fridge internet fridge.

Technology moves quickly. Research has its own lifecycle and pace which is often incompatible with the timeframes and expectations of a business product lifecycle. This difference in tempo means that it is easy to take your eyes off the work being done in research centers as more immediate concerns take over.

During the week I spoke at an innovation event that we put on for our ad buying customers to try to give them a taste of some of the areas which I am keeping my eyes on and some of the behaviours that I expect to see more of.

The title "Towards a consensual hallucination" is a reference to Burning Chrome by William Gibson in which he refers to cyberspace as a "mass consensual hallucination". In 1982, as the networking technology and protocols firmed, and the cost of hardware made it readily available both in businesses and homes, Gibson surmised that our imaginations would fill in the gaps and create layers of experiences on top of what is ultimately non-existent space. Cyberspace is our way of understanding and giving shape to what is actually some very dry and tedious technology.

Hallucination is defined as an experience involving the perception of something not really present.

The internet has become the consensual hallucination. We have created structures to replicate physical reality in digital environments - websites are designed to recreate retail, leisure, education and social activities. It is very human to project our expectations of what things should be based upon how it has always been.

So 30 years on from Gibson’s mass hallucination, the internet is a daily staple. What are the next 30 years going to bring? I believe that we have reached a tipping point where we have begun to expect our real life to be shaped by cyberspace. In other words, internet-born cultural constructs will bleed through and influence our behavioural norms. 

We have been layering reality over the internet, now material science is enabling the internet to be layered over reality.

Over the next 18 months I see product development being influenced heavily by some (or all) of the following technologies and principles. 

1. Form factors will matter less. Smartphones, tablets, TV as capable computers... software systems will deal with the differences in presentation. Display size and device fragmentation will become a solved problem thanks to improved HTML5-based techniques and better access to device hardware from the browser.

2. Mobility will be assumed, the user experience battle will be over context. "Mobile first" philosophies will dominate product and services design, with the additional uses of sensors (geo location, voice, gesture capture, etc) becoming standard parts of the experience.

3. Ubiquitous, high-speed broadband and adoption of the new internet protocol known as IPv6 will bring about the "internet of things". Wi-fi and cellular modems will be cheap enough and small enough to be built into most consumer products. We might start to see some more serious attempts at wearable computing.

4. Coloured e-ink, flexible LED displays and electronic fabrics will be produced at commercial levels enabling digital experiences to begin occurring in everyday items. Magazines and product packaging content will be driven digitally.

5. Pico projectors and motion capture will become common in smartphones and tablets meaning that virtual interfaces can be created on any surface. Surface computing will take on new meanings.

6. Smart glasses will be the new smartphone. 

7. Object printers, on demand printing and micro fabrication services will spring up dramatically reducing the costs and time it takes to deliver goods. Ordering a customised/personalised part will be "printed" at your local post office or hardware store. Cottage businesses will be able to compete with international manufacturers.

Advances in material science will be critical to helping online experiences become offline, in creating better hallucinations.

Materials that can present the virtual world in our real world will enable future generations to expect deep integration between their physical goods and online services. In the near future, incoming calls could be taken answered on your fridge and then move around the house with you. Stocks could be traded on your bathroom mirror while you brush your teeth and kitchen appliances can be managed from your desk at work. This kind of mash-up between real objects and virtual information streams and remote control is fascinating in that we will be limited only by our imagination.

As smart materials with internet connectivity become more available, society will adapt and accept these new forms of interactions as a new form of mass consensual hallucination. Where our imaginations were used to make cyberspace inhabitable by humans, this same spirit will influence our expectations of the goods and services that will join our worlds.

William Gibson has also said "the future is here just not evenly distributed". Innovation is not some spontaneous event where products come into existence fully formed. The signs of future products are in the research communities and start-ups right now. The challenge for business is to identify the gaps between where the market is now and where it might be if the research is commercialised. 

What do you think will be a key game changer in the next 18 months? Are you seeing any of these trends influencing your products and services right now?

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9 comments so far

  • All great stuff, but more importantly who is working on hoverboards?

    Date and time
    May 25, 2012, 11:47AM
    • All this is in preparation for future human existence in bio-domes. Once we have ransacked the planet of resources, dismantled its biological systems and destroyed other forms of life, there will be no more outside. But never mind. even if such natural wonders as the great Barrier reef have been destroyed, we can still watch a 3D movie of it on our iPad10 or better still, don our headset, and do some virtual snorkeling.
      For the sake of our species and planet, we don't need more hallucinations. We need fewer. We need to see reality, and the reality is that materialistic consumerism is destroying us and every individual should take active steps to resist it. Use your phone and Internet less, switch off the ads on TV, Get off Facebook, read books, get outside, reduce, recycle and reuse!

      Date and time
      May 25, 2012, 12:04PM
      • Nice trolling there Jackxxx. I can see it now: You, sitting in your comfy chair, tappy-tap-tapping away at your keyboard, with a smug grin on your face and a glimmer in your eye, preaching the wrongs of consumerism while you stare at your 24" iMac screen, barely able to move from all the coffee and doughnuts you've devoured before midday.

        That guy
        the internet
        Date and time
        May 25, 2012, 1:30PM
      • @Jackxxx This is a tech blog. None of your hippie crap here please.

        Date and time
        May 25, 2012, 2:26PM
      • The more we can use technology to replace our communication/travel requirements, the less we need to fly around in jets. Visiting reefs and so forth.
        Read books? Nup. Downloading a book alleviates destroying forests, using fossil fuels for inks and transporting the finished product by truck and ship half way around the world to conveniently located book shops to purchase.
        Oh and tonnes of books don't have to be recycled/shredded if they aren't sold.
        Compared to the sixties, we do reduce, recycle and reuse. Technology and its application in real life has enabled us to do just that.
        I suggest you stop interfering with people's lives. I don't facebook but others are free to. Stop riding your bike. No? Don't like me telling you what to do?

        We get outside if we want. Alot do. I see them on running tracks, in parks and all across the city I live in. Its hard to find places without people any more. If so many aren't getting outside, how come the time it takes me to drive in to work has doubled in the last 5 years?
        "materialistic consumerism is destroying us and every individual should take active steps to resist it"
        Really? where is the proof to this assertion? And your take on its solution?
        Could the destruction not be caused by an exponential rise in population coupled with the fact they are all getting out, reading books and travelling to the great barrier reef, amongst other activities?

        Col. E. Slaw (Ret.)
        The Cybanetz
        Date and time
        May 25, 2012, 3:05PM
    • yes, everything would be smart - smart watch, smart car, smart home and smart glasses.

      Date and time
      May 25, 2012, 2:53PM
      • Even smart arses!

        Col. E. Slaw (Ret.)
        Back Bar | Schooning
        Date and time
        May 25, 2012, 7:24PM
    • Consensual hallucinations among human beings are nothing new. I can name quite a few off the top of my head, things which do not exist in the objective universe and only have reality because we choose to believe in them:

      * The value of money, gold, diamonds, etc
      * The economy
      * Morality
      * Religion
      * Societal structure

      Consensual hallucinations are fundamental to human civilisation, cyberspace is just another to add to the list.

      Date and time
      May 25, 2012, 2:59PM
      • You tell em Jack. Stop wasting life and get in your car and drive to the barrier reef.
        If anything this article made referance to 3d printers etc that will help the planet. Stop hugging the planet so provactively. You'll give it crabs.
        p.s use your internet less. You could have bought the paper the smorning while you walked to work

        gas guzzle
        Date and time
        May 25, 2012, 3:45PM

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