We had incredible technological and societal changes throughout 2015 and 2016. Circular and sharing economies, content and social media, new influencer networks, wearables, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and big data analytics all accelerated. And, up until this point, it's felt like a test run.
In the next three to five years there will be big developments across two key fields: mixed reality, along with artificial intelligence and automation.
With the advancement of these, the world will feel artificial, visually overloaded and uncomfortable. The alt-view of the world will seem like what I am calling the Psychedelic Cultural Reality -- and many will welcome it with open arms.
From Reality to Mixed Reality
This year marks the 10th year anniversary of the iPhone and now we are living in a world with wearables, virtual reality and mixed reality. Philosopher Terence McKenna saw the importance of what this will do with the world: "Most people think it's far out if we get VR up and running. This is more profound than that. This is the real thing. It's a philosophical journey and the vehicles are not simply cultural but biological itself. We're closing distance with the most profound event that a planetary ecology can encounter, which is the freeing of life from the chrysalis of matter."
It's a real game changer both in personal and business applications.
So, will mixed reality free our minds? I personally feel that it's quite likely. We've been advancing VR since the mid-1980s, with pioneers like Jaron Lanier pushing thinking and application of the technology into the current day with headsets like Microsoft Hololens (which coincidentally was developed in secret over the past few years in Victoria, B.C.).
In 2017, we are seeing over 5 million people having bought Samsung GearVR to-date, Snapchat releasing glasses to capture what its users are seeing seamlessly, and Mark Zuckerberg rolling out Facebook's Social VR app.
In this social VR world we will see the use of customizable avatars representing users, blurring the line between the real and virtual worlds while connecting people socially. It's a real game changer both in personal and business applications.
The result? I think that Facebook Social VR will create three times the amount of engagement of its current platforms. A side-effect will be that the avatars will have to be bigger than life to communicate emotions and reactions -- and that behaviour will bleed into real life. Amateur dramatics will be more irritating than people taking selfies.
Beyond VR we have a number of mixed reality (MR) technologies that are about to hit the market -- Magic Leap, Meta, ODG, and Microsoft's Hololens. With them will come a new reality. These companies, big brands and content providers will use this mixed reality to deliver entertainment (and/or distraction), and turn every transparent surface into an information layer.
The game-changer for MR will be to drive down the cost for access to these experiences. It's speculated that point-and-click interfaces will start to disappear given Apple's push for autonomous, visual and voice-driven experiences in the real-world.
The Future of Work with Automation
There isn't a day that goes by where artificial intelligence (AI) and the implications of automating systems and jobs doesn't hit the news.
The world sure is getting stranger and it will be a little uncomfortable for many.
Andrew Ng, the Chief Scientist at the Chinese company Baidu, has boldly stated that "AI is the new electricity," and he's right. Electricity heralded and huge leap forward in the production of new infrastructure and technologies starting in the early-1900s and AI will revolutionize every single part of our lives.
AI with narrow focus on improving processing and decision-making in banking, driving vehicles and undertaking low-skill jobs will pay dividends for businesses, but what about Canadians?
The Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship at Toronto's Ryerson University said in a recent report -- The Talented Mr. Robot: The impact of automation on Canada's workforce -- that automation previously has been restricted to routine, manual tasks.
The report stated that 42 per cent of Canadian jobs at high risk of being affected by automation. The report said the top five occupations, in terms of number of people employed in them, facing a high risk of automation are:
- Retail salesperson.
- Administrative assistant.
- Food counter attendant.
- Transport truck driver.
Not necessarily a bad thing, as Canadians can go on to do more valuable work in the world. This will mean a more serious mindset towards continuing education and self-development and that will rise as these technologies get implemented.
The tipping point will come as AI becomes more powerful in smaller (mobile) devices and ubiquitous across all systems -- from the Internet of Things to Vehicles to the general systems we use at work.
Within the work context, we'll see algorithmic ethics definitions, data sanitization and transformation development become fast-rising disciplines. Also, chief information officers will transform to have ethical responsibilities around how AI learns and is applied to their organizations. We may even see the birth of the chief artificial intelligence officers that works closely with COO and CEOs.
The world sure is getting stranger and it will be a little uncomfortable for many. What is certain is that these developments are ushering a new age, and we will see amazing things happening using these technologies -- and Canadian technology companies are going to greatly benefit from building and implementing them.
Welcome to the future!
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One of the most common complaints from amputee victims is the feeling of phantom pain -- feeling the missing limb but not being able to see or control it. Exactly what causes phantom pain is unknown, but it's likely a result of the brain still recognizing the limb even though it's no longer there. Despite the frequency of this problem, there's no one method of dealing with the pain that works for all amputees. But an experimental study, detailed in the journal Frontiers for Neuroscience, soothed one man's chronic phantom pain after 48 years of suffering by allowing him to not only see a virtual representation of the limb, but also to control it using electrodes attached to the base of the missing limb that measured muscle movement. The patient reported a drastic improvement in his phantom pain. The therapy needs to undergo more tests before it can be more widely used in treatment.
Burn patients, as well, can benefit from the use of virtual reality. Suffering through agonizingly painful treatment and therapy (such as the cringe-inducing "skin stretching" therapy) can be eased through a virtual game called "SnowWorld," first used by Loyola University Hospital in Maywood, Ill. The game puts victims as far from their injuries as mentally possible by letting them shoot snowballs at penguins and snowmen while jamming to Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al" (or whatever else they choose to listen to). The treatment helps distract patients by letting them have a little fun while also visually simulating a more comfortable environment for them. MRI results, as well as patient testimony, show that it's succeeding.
VR has been effective in treating soldiers who have returned from war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan and are suffering from PTSD. In this video, you see how the patient is gradually kept under stress by visiting a virtual representation of a Middle Eastern town. The therapy keeps the patient under reasonable amounts of stress so that he can learn to handle the stress and, hopefully, control it. While many consider this treatment controversial, proponents say it can be effective for some patients when used in conjunction with other forms of treatment. PTSD isn't the only psychological disorder VR can help to treat. The Virtual Reality Medical Center says phobias, anxiety disorders, and panic disorders can all be treated as well.
Virtual Reality has proved effective at treating children with autism. It can help them learn social cues, fine-tune motor skills, or experiment with real-world lessons like waiting until it's safe to cross the street. One reason behind the treatment's efficacy could be that children with autism interact well with technology, specifically virtual reality. Justine Cassell, director of Northwestern University’s Center for Technology and Social Behavior, told NBC News that it's the technology's predictability, controllability and "infinite patience" that makes it such an effective teacher for these children. While these two youngsters are working with an Xbox One Kinect in this photo (also a sort of virtual reality), head-mounted displays are also used in this research.
Medical students don't have very many chances at the "error" part of trial-and-error learning. It's a big jump from operating on a human in theory to making the first cut on the operating table. Virtual reality makes "practice makes perfect" more practical. Recent uses of virtual reality in medicine include
It's not just medicine that's being improved by virtual reality. Some are finding uses for the technology in some surprising industries like the financial industry. An experiment by the Virtual Human Interaction Lab used virtual reality goggles to show 20-somethings what they would look and move like in their 60's in an attempt to get more young people to start saving for retirement early. The experiment worked. According to ABC News, those who wore the goggles put twice as much money into a hypothetical retirement account than those who did not.
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