Event Report: C&C User Forum & iEXPO 2017

5th NEC Future Creation Forum
Our Future in an AI world

Immersive computing over the next 20 years

Kevin Kelly

What’s next? Over the next 10 to 20 years, I believe we will enter the third stage of computer history by creating a new primarily electronic platform. Following on from the unconnected computer mainframe of the 1950s-1980s, and today’s connected computer and web, the third stage will feature the immersive computer. We will live in a smart environment, surrounded by computers, computation and AI. Everything in that world will be connected in some indirect way. Our cities, lives and even our cell phones will become part of this distributed cognitive environment. Technically, this is called “Edge computing” and it will feature prominently with work being done on the edges rather than all in one central place. Similar to this, with the Internet of Things, the cloud will contain manufactured things, each with a small piece of cognition which gives the entirety animation, or life. This immersive computing platform will display seven key characteristics: large-scale collaboration, tracking, access, visual, experience, peer-to-peer networking and convergence.

Portrait of Kevin Kelly

Founding Executive Editor of WIRED magazine

Kevin Kelly

1. Large-scale collaboration: The scale of connection, computation and collaboration data of this platform will increase hugely, from petabytes to exabytes, yottabytes and beyond, enabling the devising of new hardware, software and mathematics to deal with the sheer magnitude of bytes. Facebook, one of the largest networks in the world, connects two billion people, who collaborate by sharing photos and gossip, but they could do more. By 2050, we expect to have many megacities operating like huge machines with millions of chips and devices in our pockets, homes and manufacturing facilities. Imagine quadrillion transistors, 55 trillion weblinks, 20 petabytes of storage, 275 exabytes of memory, and 100 billion clicks per day. All that adds up to a very large, super-fast, planetary-scale machine for the future, and the most reliable computing machine yet. With that machine, we can get one million people to work on a project together in real time, something we have never been able to do before. The technology is close, but we still must work out how to track effort, remunerate, seek specific expertise and coordinate one million people. One way to facilitate this scale of collaboration would be to use block chain technology to keep track of people’s distributed contribution, and ensure incorruptible credit for that contribution.

Scene photo from special session

2. Tracking: Already, we are tracked by our friends, companies, our phones. Even virtual reality(VR) is a form of voluntary surveillance, as our behaviour, movements and emotions are captured for projection into the avatar. The mega companies of the future could well be VR companies with bountiful data. Data is the oil, the new wealth, almost as valuable as customers themselves. Compare Ford, which has made 100 million vehicles to date and enjoys a value of approximately $44 billion, with Tesla, which has far fewer cars, but greater value. Why? Ford has very little information about individual drivers and what they do with the cars, while Tesla has compiled a billion miles of data about customers and their car use. Data exhibits a “networking effect,” whereby the value of members and goods increase exponentially as new members join. Recent history shows that combining networks instantly increases value. AI will operate in the same way: The smarter it becomes, the more people will use it, and the more valuable and appealing it becomes.

A shift from ownership to access, commodities to experiences

3. Access: The digital and material worlds behave differently, and ideas flow differently. In the digital world, access is superior to ownership. If I can get instant access to movies and music, I don’t need to own them. If we could get near instant access to material things, with delivery by drone or Uber within 20 or 30 minutes, that would be better than taking on the liabilities of ownership. In future, people will leave the house with nothing in their pockets because they can instantly grab access to a screen on route which recognizes them and becomes temporarily theirs.

4. Visual: We have moved from a book-focused to a screen-focused culture. Already, 75% of web traffic is visual, such as YouTube. Yet, we don’t have visual search. Devising the tools for visual search on this new platform that will allow us to do what Gutenberg did with text will be a huge business opportunity.

5. Experience: Immersive computation is the ultimate way to get inside and interact with a machine. I’ve tried all VR goggles and devices. You really are immersed. Try putting on the goggles and walking out on a plank. It’s almost impossible because, while your mind knows where you are, you feel like you are on the edge and your legs will shake. VR works on a different part of your brain than reading things on a screen, so you don’t remember what you saw but what you experienced. As VR becomes more commonplace, the internet will change from a network of information to a network of experiences. Experiences to share and download. Moving to an experienced-based economy is positive in terms of the value chain, which starts with commodities and then goods, services, and ultimately experiences. Experiences will be the new currency, to be shared, downloaded, traded, and bought. People, not objects will make all the difference to an experience, so VR could become the most social of all social media.

Scene photo from special session

Changing authority and security parameters, diverging aspirations

6. Peer-to-peer networks: The new platform will send information through cell phones not just to a tower and back, but from cell phone to cell phone, device to device, a pair of shoes to a jacket. This distribution into peer type networks poses the challenge of security. How do we distribute security, authority and identity, when there is no central body verifying who you are? It’s difficult but not impossible. Blockchain is trying to distribute trust through bitcoin, so the system itself distributes that trust, rather than having a central trust bank. Developing peer-to-peer systems harbors great opportunity.

7. Convergence: It is becoming increasingly hard to distinguish global cities because our infrastructure, clothing, movies, school subjects and music is converging. Our modern collective, universal desire is to live in a similar air-conditioned, wifi-connected box. As explained by the Maslow hierarchy, we spend much time fulfilling the basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, before moving up the hierarchy to achieve more refined things including self-expression and self-esteem. We are seeing greater global convergence at the basic Maslow level, but a greater divergence at the upper level in terms of aspiring dreams, identity, hopes and forms of expression.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

The biggest point to remember about this new global platform we are creating over the next couple of decades is that we are at the very beginning of the process. While we are starting to develop AI, people 25 years from now in 2052 will look and judge our AI knowledge and virtual to be minimal. They will say that “2017 was a critical year,” because we were equipped with the best tools, larger markets, cheapest money and lower barriers to progress. There are no established experts in AI and VR, so we enjoy plentiful low-hanging fruit, comparatively little competition cheap entry. You are not late. The opportunity is ripe, and the time is right.

Scene photo from special session