Book Report – The Fourth Transformation by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel

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

8 thoughts on “Book Report – The Fourth Transformation by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel

  1. I read an older book on a similar topic from the same team of authors, so hearing their revised predictions is interesting! Their outlook for the future sound the same but Eyefluence is noticeably closer to the eye tracking technology and wearable contact lens devices they predicted would emerge in “The Age of Context” in 2014. It’s also interesting to me that they explored Snapchat Spectacles in “The Fourth Transformation” (which ended up being a flop) after they discussed Google Glass in “The Age of Context,” another wearable eyeglass device with similar functions, which also never caught on.

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  2. I’m really starting to discover how AR/MR/VR are the next big revolution that tech companies seem to be racing each other to perfect and grow. Just this past week, I read how Facebook is looking to open a new major campus solely for its VR company, Oculus, slightly north of the Menlo Park campus. Clearly, all the tech giants see this as an important strategic focus, and I’m interested to see how this plays out. I’m sure we will see some major breakthroughs in the next few years, and I look forward to seeing how this will be implemented into our daily lives.

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  3. Future-focused books are crucial in the technology realm and this one sounds fascinating. Over the past few years, A/M/VR are becoming much more apparent in our lives and I think it’s awesome that you chose to delve deeper into the topic. Reading about Eyefluence reminded me of the EagleEye and CameraMouse technology that BC professor James Gips and other faculty/ friends developed. The fact that technology can use merely eye movement and behavior patterns to help communicate people’s thoughts is amazing, albeit a bit creepy, as you said. It’s going to be interesting to see just how much further people are able to interweave this technology into our lives.

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  4. I found it really interesting that the authors referred to the generation after millennials as “Minecrafters” who are strongly adept at coding and technology. I also am super excited to see where VR/AR/MR will go these next few years. I feel like it has been talked about for a while now, but soon will blow up and be implemented everywhere. I agree that it seems sort of science-fictiony, but I would hope that it can be implemented into our lives as seamlessly as possible without any sort of privacy invasions.

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  5. It is really interesting your mention of EyeFluence and the focus on controlling the device. That seems to be a very important issue because it has such a key feature in the future of the device. Along with the other services, this one using lasers and sensors to track the eyes seems very impressive.

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  6. Technology has certainly become a native language to many millennials, and your book summary captures that well. A/V/MR developments have the potential to revolutionize existing industries, from furniture to video games. Companies like Facebook and Google are pioneering this trend, and hopefully you can share more expertise if/when we see some of this tech live in NYC!

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  7. I definitely want to learn more about augmented, virtual, mixed reality and more of the developments in this field, so this was an insightful post to read. I think a lot of companies are trying to implement this innovation, like Rohan said, there are companies like Lowe’s or Walmart that are using VR for people to decorate their house/dorm rooms. Eyefluence sounds like a very interesting product and I wonder sometimes if technology gets so advanced that it can just “tell” exactly what we want, predict our habits, will we start losing the edge of our communicative or articulatory senses?

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  8. Interesting contrasting this review with those from the Age of Context, which are only two years apart. I’ll be interested to see how this book holds up in another two years.

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