BUDGET MATTERS EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES
Wearable Tech to Transform World, Military
Robert Scoble and Shel Israel call themselves “near futurists.”
In the not so distant future they see a new age of information where today’s iPhones and Androids are rendered obsolete.
While others in their field make projections decades out, the pair takes a deep dive into what startups and technology industry giants are doing now in order to predict trends five to 10 years out.
Their research is telling them that strides in artificial intelligence and augmented — or mixed reality — are going to create what they call the “fourth transformation.”
The first transformation occurred in the 1970s when the ability to type text to communicate directly with computers led to MS-DOS operating systems.
The second transformation came when Macintoshes and Microsoft-enabled desktops helped connect the world to the internet. The third transformation allowed users to carry their touch-screen smartphones in their pockets.
Their book, The Fourth Transformation: How Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence Change Everything predicts that the next big upheaval will come in the 2020s.
“It will move technology from what we carry to what we wear,” they explained at a talk at the GEOINT Symposium.
Advances in augmented reality and artificial intelligence will reach a point where smartphones are replaced by smartglasses. The lenses will mix the real world with images of objects that are not actually in the field of view, they said in their talk.
The technology basically blanks out a swath of what is actually seen through the lenses, or screen, and replaces it with computer-generated images. The effect may be so realistic that the eye and brain stop distinguishing reality from what is computer-generated, they said.
It doesn’t take the mind of a science fiction writer to make these predictions.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg in April declared that he saw the same future, and predicted the coming of augmented reality glasses within a decade. The company already paid $2.3 billion for Oculus VR, the virtual reality goggle developer.
That is “virtual reality,” where those looking through the headset see a created world. Augmented reality is a mix of the created and the real. A person would look foolish walking down the street with such a headset, the authors said, but it is a step toward this vision of the future.
As was the Pokemon Go game that came and went seemingly overnight in 2016. Game players saw computer-generated characters and prizes placed in the real world, but seen through their smartphones. It was a fad, but one that introduced millions to the augmented reality concept. Google Glass in 2013 was another step in that direction, they said.
Scoble and Israel’s research into the current state of the technology found heavy hitters investing billions into wearable technology. Two highly secretive companies, the well-known Apple and the not so well-known Magic Leap, are the two big players, although it’s hard to know where they are in developing the technology, they said.
Also intriguing is Eyefluence, which holds some 30 patents on eye-tracking technology. Israel got to try out Eyefluence technology shortly before Google snapped up the company for an undisclosed amount of cash and stocks last October.
“Typing, clicking and touching” is going to be replaced by “tapping, winking, blinking, tracking, talking and gestures,” the authors contended.
The book examines the technological hurdles that must be overcome before the fourth transformation takes place. They are considerable, but not insurmountable, they said.
Like all good “futurist” books, it looks at some of the possible negative impacts. For example, the artificial intelligence needed to power these glasses will soon know the users better than they know themselves, they said.
“To tell you the truth, some of the dark-side possibilities of artificial intelligence and mixed reality scare the crap out of us,” they wrote.
Malls may disappear as shoppers can view all the products they need in their homes in 3D, with all the product information displayed, and paired with a same-day delivery system.
The book does not go into how the military could benefit from the next transformation. So one can play at being a futurist and speculate on how the armed forces could take advantage of augmented reality and wearable devices.
Could it spell the end of radio handsets? A hands-free information environment for dismounted troops would be a tactical advantage for ground forces.
And the prediction about shopping could be extended to military logisticians.
One can see the military training-and-simulation field quickly jumping aboard the fourth transformation.
Imagine an exercise at Fort Bliss, Texas, where the battlefield is populated with enemy forces seen through a soldier’s lens. They square off with realistic-looking Russian troops, dressed in up-to-date uniforms, and accompanied by a host of T-14 Armata battle tanks. But none of it is actually there.
Why bother building mock villages or city blocks for training? The National Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency could populate the database with a block-by-block simulated Baghdad, down to the shopkeepers and street signs.
The words “early adopter” and “U.S. military” are not spoken in the same sentence lately, but the Pentagon could be there from the start of the next transformation. As NGA Director Robert Cardillo pointed out earlier in the conference, the military is sitting on a valuable treasure trove of data that technology developers could find useful in a public-private partnership.
The U.S. military has a choice. It could be at the forefront of the fourth transformation, or do what it has been doing recently, which is lagging years behind the consumer market.