This summer I chose to read the book The Fourth Transformation by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. In this book, the authors dive deep into the nearly limitless possibilities of wearable technology and how it will impact our lives in the future, both near and distant. For context, Scoble and Israel assert that there have been three main transformations in technology at the time of publication (2016) that have reshaped the way we interact with technology and those around us. The first came with the onset of large mainframe computers. These systems were difficult to use and inaccessible to many. The second transformation came with the development and widespread distribution of desktop and personal computers. These systems were much more user friendly, accessible to most members of society, and could perform a much wider range of functions in comparison to the generation that preceded it due to the development of a mouse, along with countless other innovations. The third transformation came with the switch to mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets as our primary interaction with technology. Each of these transformations happened, not like the flick of a switch, but as a gradual change from one primary platform to another. The fourth transformation, claim Scoble and Israel, will be the increasingly widespread development and use of Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR) as they are incorporated into wearable technology devices that will undoubtedly become an integral part of our everyday lives in the not so distant future. This fourth transformation is, unsurprisingly, the primary focus of the book.
The book begins by exploring the roots of this transformation that are already brewing within many silicon valley tech giants. Apple, Google, and Facebook are already invested heavily in this market, as they too see the potential for a technological revolution on the horizon. Mark Zuckerberg, for example, talked about Facebook’s investment in virtual reality through Oculus in his 2016 F8 conference, which turned the tide for VR for many from a possibility to an inevitability. The book also focuses on the new generation, after Millennials, referred to as “Minecrafters.” This is a generation that has grown up with technology permeating their entire lives, causing the use of technology and writing of code to be as integral as a second language to many. As this generation ages, the innovation process will only get quicker.
The book goes on to discuss each of the three types of technology used in this transformation. Virtual reality shows an incredible amount of potential for immersive storytelling capabilities, such as movies where you are the story and your actions impact the plot. Augmented reality, overlaying information or images onto the physical world has shown amazing possibility for widespread adoption. Scoble and Israel point out current products that are changing the way we look at augmented reality systems, such as Snapchat’s Spectacles or Pokemon Go. These products, they insist, are merely in the infancy stages of what is to come. Mixed Reality has the largest array of possibilities for the future. This type of device watches you, learns from you, and lets you interact with the environment around you in ways that previously would not have been possible. Imagine an empty office, with people sitting in chairs wearing glasses that project virtual screens and keyboards all across the environment to be used at will. The Microsoft Hololens is the first device in development that offers this type of technology, and is again in it’s very beginning stages. The Fourth Transformation also focuses on the ways that the aforementioned technologies will impact certain industries such as the healthcare or education industry. The final section of the book discusses “what could go wrong?” and delves deep into the moral and technological challenges this transformation faces. Things like government use and regulation, hacking, privacy concerns, and reservations about the use of artificial intelligence all act merely as things that will be considered and hopefully resolved, but are unlikely to slow the inevitable roll of this transformation.
The part that I found to be most interesting had to do with a Google owned company called Eyefluence. Eyefluence may have solved what I consider to be the most difficult technological challenge facing this change – how the user will control the device. Touch sensors, remotes, and voice commands can only go so far in giving users freedom to fully interact with wearable technology, and Eyefluence has developed a technology that allows the user to merely look at what they want to interact with, and the device will do the rest. This technology uses sensors and lasers to precisely track your eyes, and is combined with machine learning and intelligent agents designed to learn about your behavior and do what you want it to do. This will allow users to type a claimed 40% faster, merely by looking at the keys. Personally, I love the eye tracking and sensing component of this company, but the artificial “intelligent agents” freak me out. A device with this software would come to know my habits, wants, and needs better than I would as it tracks my every eye movement and decision. I definitely see the massive productivity benefits, but it may require a little more information that I’m willing to give up at the present moment – but who knows how I’ll feel in 10 years when these things become commonplace.
I really enjoyed reading this book. I learned much about the fast growing industry of wearable technology and A/V/MR systems that I had never thought of before. This book has me excited for the future and all that is to come with these new technologies. Companies that fail to keep with the trend and adopt these technologies will crumble, while those that take full advantage of the new resources offered to them will rise to the top. I found myself skeptical at times to whether or not many of these dramatic changes to the way that we interact with technology were as inevitable as Scoble and Israel claim they are, as many of these changes seem to be things straight out of a science fiction movie, but I’d be more than happy to be proven wrong. Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to my Tech Trek peers, or anyone that wants a more in depth knowledge on a rapidly growing industry that’s bound to impact us all. 7.5/10