Book Summary : The Fourth Transformation

The basic premise of this book is that there have been three massive transformations in technology so far. The first was the original computers that were massive and were hard to use, the second was when computers began to be user friendly with using a mouse instead of imputing commands, and the third being the mobile computing revolution that brought computers into something we carry around with us daily. Although this book doesn’t focus on the first three, it is important to know this for context.

The 4th Transformation, the one we are on the eve of currently, is the virtual reality (VR/AR/MR) transformation where we directly interface and interact with our environment. Instead of having the world at our fingertips, with a motion of our fingertips (or even just a movement of the eyes) we can change our world. Scoble and Israel claim that there is nothing that you can do to stop this change from happening, even if there are some serious side effects of the disruption. In the last part of the book the authors have an entire chapter dedicated to “what could go wrong” with the new AR technology blurring the border with reality, but I will cover that later (because it gets a little spooky 1984-esk).

Beginnings of VR

In the first part of the book, Scoble and Israel talk about the last few years as the development of VR has been quietly ramping up in Silicon Valley. In 2016, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook talked about the future and direction of the company, and set VR glasses as one of the goals for the next 10 years. However, VR has in some ways already arrived. This Christmas time, one of the hottest gifts was a VR headset, however they remain bulky and hard to transport. However, one of the comparison’s that the authors made really stuck with me; cellphones used to be the same way. Take the early 2000’s Nokia phone that looks like a brick and still had an antenna. It looks like a dinosaur fossil compared to the latest IPhone! However, Scoble and Israel compare our current top of the line VR tech to the Nokia back then.

How VR will change everything

The second part of the book talks all about the different possible uses and ways the VR tech can and is disrupting our world. I can say that I don’t remember when exactly I started to do more of my computing on my phone vs. a computer, but now there are apps that can do just about anything a computer can and more. Shel and Robert make the claim that VR tech will follow a similar expansion with people using it for 1 or 2 purposes, and then as it improves it will slowly replace the mobile phone. One of the cooler possible uses of VR is in the classroom. When learning about the Roman empire, students could sit in the coliseum or could be there to sign the Declaration of Independence with the founding fathers of our nation. The AI teacher and lessons would be personalized to the individual, so they could speed up or slow down depending on the needs of the student. In med school, surgeons could perform virtual surgery to practice instead of cadavers. Instead of listening to your professor lecture, you could virtually experience an expert as he gives it from across the world. This transformation could completely change the classroom, or maybe even make it obsolete!

Another possible disruption could be to online selling. Imagine going to the mall and it is all the stores you love in one place, with only the clothes and food that you love! You walk past the Whole Foods and pick up some fresh produce for dinner tonight, then you see an awesome pair of joggers in the window of Lulu Lemon, and then are recommended an awesome shirt to go with it. You can try it on to see what it looks like, and even see it in other colors or sizes. Next you are reminded that you need to get a present for your Mom for Mother’s Day, so you go and personalize a bouquet of flowers for her. Now imagine doing all of this without ever leaving your home (CRAZY!!!). I know that online selling has completely shifted the way people shop, but VR tech will change it even further. Currently, online sales let you view the product but VR will allow you to visit and try the clothes on. Sales and recommendations will be given to you based on your preferences and will adapt to serve you better.

“What could go wrong?” : Downsides of VR

The coolest thing this book did, and the one I found the most interesting was the last section, aptly titled “What could go wrong?”. In this section, Scoble and Israel talk about the issues with the advances in technology. It may sound a little far-fetched at times, but the social implications of robot vs. robot wars and brain hacking terrorism as well as the issues the come when the altered world becomes scarcely discernable from reality are all discussed as possible outcomes from VR tech. As discussed before, the AI teachers could be programed to teach one side of an issue and because children would trust them more than humans, could be “brainwashed” to follow an agenda. It sounds a little Orwellian, but I thought it was correct when the authors said there have been downsides to almost all disruptive technologies (Cellphones, TV, Automobiles), but it is futile to fight progress.

Overall, I loved this book and I would give it a solid 8/10. There were parts that were slightly repetitive, but the book reads more like a novel than a non-fiction. The stories were important (and slightly creepy), but I think it’s just as ignorant to ignore VR tech as it is for your parents to shun social media.

3 thoughts on “Book Summary : The Fourth Transformation

  1. As someone who has always been intrigued by VR, I think I would enjoy this book, despite its repetitive nature. This summer, I was exposed to VR for the first time at a conference I attended for my internship. There, I watched a VR video created by a nonprofit organization that profiled an impoverished African village. It was quite realistic and moving and effectively rose awareness for the cause.

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  2. I have not read this one yet, but I have read several others by Scoble/ Israel and enjoyed them thoroughly. I’m glad you liked it, and I am personally just waiting for VR to take off. I think it has so much potential, and I’ve been hearing about it since I was in college. I do have a suspicion that it will be sooner rather than later. If you haven’t read “Ready Player One” (more for my generation than yours), it definitely paints an interesting future for VR.

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  3. The book I read, Machine Platform Crowd, also touched upon the vast transformation our world is undergoing because of technology! Unfortunately, the authors hadn’t mentioned VR, which sounds like it has tremendous potential to disrupt the way we currently do things. I’ve only really experienced VR through the few occasions I’ve tried out Sony Playstation VR, and had never realized how far VR could truly go, not only for gaming, but as well as for education and business!

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