The LG Fridge internet fridge.

The LG Fridge internet fridge...from hallucination to the showroom floor. Photo: Peter Morris

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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