In the Japanese TV series Dennō Coil, people wear Internet-connected augmented reality glasses and interact with a world that is now split between the real and the virtual. Citizens and netizens become one. The story is set in 2026, some eleven years after the introduction of this technology.
Considering that this series was first conceived of in 1997, the dates are remarkable accurate. Recently it was revealed that Google is working on a “Project Glass” that will become available to consumers for a cool $1,500 from late 2013 or early 2014.
Needless to say the usual cynics and technophobes have been making fun of the idea, going on about the ethical problems of facial recognition, announcing they will boycott the technology (yeah right), etc. I am unconcerned with all this. As with other mega-trends like global demography or climate change, contrary opinions are like a flimsy shack against an advancing tide, in other words, irrelevant. Fortunately, for the most part, technological revolutions increase wellbeing and are useful anyway.
In my opinion, the decisive technological development of the 2000’s was the mass proliferation of cell phones. In the late 1990’s, only a small percentage of people in developed countries had access to them, as well as a handful of businesspeople and high officials in the developing world. Today they are ubiquitous with global penetration at over 70%. Apart from making people much more connected – I can barely remember the days when one actually had to make strict appointments in advance – the sector also powered a mini-economic boom for both designers (Nokia, Samsung, etc), their manufacturing contractors in China, and the ecosystem of app developers they spawned in places like the Silicon Valley.
The augmented reality eyeglass revolution will be of similar or even greater scope. What is now almost unheard of outside the techosphere will begin to break out into the public consciousness by the mid-2010’s; substantial numbers of the global middle class will start wearing them by the late 2010’s; and by the mid-2020’s, this will be a thriving global industry with tons of spinoffs and applications. So much so that a proper name will surely have to be found for these glasses. Intelligent glasses? AReyes? Thinking goggles? Denno glasses? I like the sound of the last one so I’ll be using it until the term catches on or another replaces it.
The historical penetration of cell phones. I suspect denno glasses will follow the same trajectory, plus two decades.
Anyway why exactly do I think they will be so revolutionary? Simply because of the absolutely seamless and compact way they will integrate with and augment everyday life and the other aspects of Internet features (Google Search, Wikipedia, social networks, etc) that already enrich it. Here is a list of how different activities will change:
(1) Facial recognition. Have you ever had this awkward situation where you meet some person (or worse romantic prospect) whose name you can’t quite recall? No more problems as long as they are plugged into Facebook, Google+, etc. Facebook already has fairly good face recognition technologies as per when you tag photos so integrating this with denno glasses will be a breeze.
(2) Social networking. Which leads us to the next big revolution – meeting someone, and having a list of relevant information appear beside his or her name. This will be highly useful as it will enable one to better optimize their social interaction. Privacy concerns are irrelevant; the technology doesn’t cardinally change anything in this regard, it only makes the process of recognition and information gathering far quicker and more efficient.
(3) Geolocation. So you find yourself hanging out by yourself? The world is a small place. Quite possibly some of your friends or acquaintances may be nearby; you will know if they choose to switch their locations on. This possibility already exists on smart phones but you actually have to bring up the program which is a spot of bother and the main reason I rarely use the feature. But if this feature is literally staring in your face all day…
(4) Translation. Text is a breeze: Just look at something, and Google Translate will give you the general gist of it. Same goes for Chinese Hanzi for which as I mentioned there already exists instant translation software on the iPhone. Speech recognition will create more trouble, as machines will first have to transcribe it into indigenous language text before spitting out the appropriate translation. This will require half a decade to a decade of tweaking to perfect. Nonetheless, denno glasses may well be the greatest technological aid to learning foreign languages since the invention of alphabets.
(5) Livestream your life. Not the kind of thing I would do, at least unless I’m doing something very cool like shredding snow on a double diamond or picking up an HB10, but if it floats your boat why not?
(6) Cloud memory. Have a great view that you want to take a picture of? Get an original thought that you will soon forget if you don’t jot it down in your Moleskin? Denno glasses can record both.
(7) Events. Concerts, wine tastings, friends’ birthdays… all in very close proximity.
(8) Real time performance monitoring. Get an instant heads-up display of heart rate, distance covered, calories burned, etc, etc, with just a couple of sensors attached to your body. Needless to say, this will also allow perfect performance tracking. This is extremely important because monitoring yourself improving is very inspirational when losing weight, getting big, etc.
(9) Learning. With the advent of Internet technology, cognitive patterns are changing. Older people have wonderful memories; younger people are much better at recalling how to access a piece of information, as opposed to actually committing it to memory. Neither method is superior to the other – they are products of different technological environments. Denno glasses will put the final nail in the coffin of the old, memory-intensive way of thought. But they will also be of great practical help. Learning to drive a car? Fly a helicopter? Denno glasses can actively give you hints and solutions just as happens in the tutorial modes of video games.
(10) Knowledge. If Wikipedia is a single voice command away…
(11) Gaming. This is going to be huge. Imagine what you could do if you could populate the real world with virtual objects that can be perceived with denno glasses. Create a real life Stalker simulation in the shadows of Chernobyl. Organize Western-style shootouts in the dozens of abandoned dustbowl towns of inner California. Instigate a zombie outbreak in New York or Los Angeles. (That might not be such a good idea actually what with the potential for car accidents…). This is coming soon:
So what should gamers expect from the final Oculus RIFT product? “Imagine an HMD with a massive field of view and more pixels than 1080p per eye, wireless PC link, built in absolute head and hand/weapon/wand positioning, and native integration with some (if not all) of the major game engines, all for less than $1,000 USD. That can happen in 2013!”
Still, I see the emergence of numerous “game arenas”, in the style of paintball areas: Just bring your denno glasses, pay for day access and (electronic) gun rent, and off you go! Once people (virtually) die, the HUD can start representing them as translucent “ghosts” to avoid confusion. Similar games already exist for smartphones like Zombie, Run! but with denno glasses the feeling will be much more… visceral.
(12) New ways of seeing the world. See the city in wireframe X-ray vision – much more efficient way of navigating it than using maps. Look up at the sky and see the names of all the stars and constellations just as you can with the Google Sky Map. Look at famous landmarks or natural wonders and get instant information about their history, dimensions, how many of your friends visited them, etc.
(13) And even more new ways of seeing the world. See virtual re-enactments of historical scenes. See ads while passing by corporate areas (ugh). This will take time to develop but by 2030 I suspect a lot of the visions of augmented reality in Minority Report will have been realized.
(14) Semantic Webs. In tandem with this revolution, we also have the emergence of the “semantic web.” Cell phones are a huge phenomenon. Denno glasses are more integrated with people; more integrated with the Web; and the Web itself is steadily becoming far more useful and intelligent.
(15) Economic opportunities. For most rich country citizens (those not in the 1%) the 2010’s and 2020’s will be grim because limited global resources and competition from China will mean that their share of the global economic pie will shrink not only in relative but absolute terms. Nonetheless, some niches – especially the hi-tech and dematerialized – will continue seeing very impressive growth and possibilities for vast new fortunes.
The App Revolution meant that anybody with even fairly basic programming skills could begin making apps for the Droid or iPhone. Everything from wake up alarms to Hanzi flashcards to Angry Birds to Zombie, Run!. The mass penetration of denno glasses will recreate the same conditions and if anything on a much larger scale because they are likely to become even more central to human life than cell phones are today. I foresee a lot of millionaires and probably a few billionaires arising from this industry in the next two decades. I can think of few things more prospective today for the high-IQ and logically-minded than mastering computer programming and becoming deeply involved with the emerging world of Dennō Coil.
None of this is science fiction – indeed, I have avoided the more sci-fi like development scenarios, which are unlikely to be realized before 2030. The prototypes for denno glasses already exist, and they go into mass production very soon. The first versions will no doubt be buggy and slow, unable to process data quickly, however with time – with the further development of ubiquitous ultra-fast broadband wireless Internet, cloud computing, etc. – these issues will be ironed out and denno glasses will become an integral element of life in the early 21st century.
PS. This article was translated into Russian at Inosmi.