August 30, 2014
Gone are the days where we are forced to fit our digital environments. Gone are the days where the human experience accommodates technology. Like it or not, we are entering into a new era of human-technology interaction where human experience is the driver. Where technology practically disappears and weaves itself into the fabric of our everyday lives. Call it what you will – ubiquitous computing, ambient intelligence, Internet of things (IoT), machine to machine (M2M), computing for human experience (CHE) – the fact is, we are no longer looking though a crystal ball at the future of tech, rather, passing street signs on the road to a new age of human-computer interaction – welcome to the Experience Era.
We can already see the swell of an experience-driven wave with increasingly intelligent interfaces like health and fitness trackers, connected cars, connected homes and appliances. This emergence of connected devices has only scratched the surface of its potential. Technology today only touches us sporadically in targeted ways; when we use our DVR or pull out our smartphone. This will change drastically over the next several years as we develop technologies that serve, assist and cooperate with humans to inconspicuously complement and enhance normal activities so effortlessly that people don’t even realize they’re using them.
“Only when there’s a seamless integration of technology with life, when it’s no longer a curiosity but an ordinary and unsurprising way of satisfying our everyday needs and desires — only then will we have seen the beginnings of a true technological revolution.” – From Devices to “Ambient Intelligence”: The Transformation of Consumer Electronics.
Enriching the Human Experience
We are at the precipice of an era where human experience will be enriched in ways we had only dreamed of 10 years ago. A connected world that will provide the data and knowledge to bring together the physical, conceptual and empirical worlds to develop embedded, personalized, adaptive and anticipatory technologies. Technologies that can record and report an event from multiple angles and perspectives accompanied by contextual data to create a ‘situational awareness’ that neither humans nor technology could offer alone. This ambient network will lead to a perceptive intelligence that will adapt to and anticipate our needs and tendencies, bridging the gap between the physical and digital worlds.
Soon, your health band will detect that you are low in iron and will check with your refrigerator and pantry to verify you have eggs and dark leafy greens. If not, your refrigerator will check-in with your eWallet to verify there is room in your grocery budget and if so, place a delivery order for these items. It will put together several iron-rich recipes for you while reporting back to your primary care physician – all without you doing a thing. Sounds far-fetched but is much closer than you think. Interactions are taking place at a new level every day. Samsung, Whirlpool and others already make smart refrigerators. Wearable devices that track vital health information from patient to doctor are increasingly common today. All the pieces are there waiting to be connected and coupled with the ability to anticipate and perceive.
Just like the transition when learning to ride a bike from explicit to implicit instruction, technology is following suite; when you learn to ride a bike you have to explicitly instruct your body to maintain balance, to move your legs a certain way. Over time you no longer need to consciously direct your body in order to ride that bike – you just can. Technology will follow the same pattern. The most important activities will require less and less explicit instruction. Why the most important activities? Because they are generally the most predictable, the most easily anticipated.
Gradually, this ubiquitous technology will branch out to encompass the unanticipated. To be smart enough to predict and to use contextual understanding of its surroundings with what it already knows. It is this level of abductive interpretation that will truly set this era apart.
Imagine the life augmenting implications as technology can instinctively anticipate what the next move will be. Everything you do is interpreted by surrounding sensors to better understand you. It will anticipate what you will like, what you may want at a given moment, where you might be 30 minutes from now and what mood you might be in before you even know it.
It is this ability to anticipate that will drive the human experience that will drive the technology. It is here that technology begins its progression, not descent, into the background of our lives.
The Mobile Bridge
We have seen a tremendous movement from the desktop to the mobile device in recent years. In fact, the smartphone now dominates people’s digital attention. While many have speculated that the connected world and wearables will be the death of the smartphone, it will only increase in importance. That trusty pocket-computer we can’t seem to live without will increasingly serve as our own personal gateway to the connected world. The smartphone is built to connect, upload and download data where most sensors are not. Everything a gateway needs to be in the connected world the smartphone already is.
While the smartphone’s importance to the connected world is vast, the Experience Era will offer personalization and convenience that transcends it. This new era will change what it means to be mobile. Today the smartphone is a virtual Swiss army knife of features. In the new era the smartphone will be fragmented into a multitude of devices. Devices we wear, devices we connect to, devices embedded into everyday items. Our access to the connected world will no longer be limited to the smartphone, as “mobile” will merge into the world around us. Not lessening the significance of the smartphone, but altering its usage. A usage shift that will occur as the burden of the human experience is partitioned throughout the connected world.
Opportunities in Data
What we have considered to be ‘big data’ up to this point will be dwarfed in the coming years. The amount of data the connected revolution will bring with it will be a data-tsunami, collecting data from nearly every area of life in real time. This will create immense opportunities in business and society.
In business, this will affect companies large and small, in every sector. It will level the playing field, giving small companies the insight and scalability that has previously only been available to large enterprises. And to large companies it will increase their agility and responsiveness that has traditionally been characteristic of smaller entities.
For society, it will offer new insights to address sustainability concerns, use of resources, energy efficiency, carbon emissions, traffic management and much more.
With more data, however, come more challenges. The challenges with big data that we experience today will only grow larger. It’s one thing to aggregate data from thousands of sources but how that data is culled, analyzed, recognized for patterns and exported is where the challenges begin. Having mass amounts of data doesn’t create value. The ability to create a perceptive and anticipatory intelligence from that data is where true value lies.
Big data has always meant big challenges and big opportunities. But in this data downpour lies the path to a better human experience. The Experience Era will force the advancement of data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) to extract optimal value from this data to continue to improve and understand the human experience.
A New Understanding
As we move into the Experience Era it’s important that we understand first that this paradigm shift is real and it is here. A change that can only succeed if the human experience is put first. No longer are we designing technology for early adopters and tech enthusiasts. The Experience Era is about the integration of technology into our daily lives to complement and enhance our lives in a way that we forget it’s there at all.
“It is invisible, everywhere computing that does not live on a personal device of any sort, but is in the woodwork everywhere.” – Mark Weiser in 1988 at the Computer Science Lab at Xerox PARC
It’s a new world that will afford us great advancements in not only technology, but in our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Providing insights never before realized. Technology is an incredible tool that affords us great power. It’s time for technology to embrace our humanity.
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