Robert Scoble – entrepreneur in residence at Upload VR and co-author with Shel Israel of The Fourth Transformation: Augmented Reality & Artificial Intelligence – talks to Disruptive.Asia about the impact of coming mixed reality era
Disruptive.Asia: You’ve co-written a book describing VR/AR as “the Fourth Transformation”. Before we get to that, take us through the first three transformations – what are they?
Robert Scoble: We named our book The Fourth Transformation after the major user interface changes that have appeared in the personal computing industry. The first interface was the command line interface that showed up in early personal computers in the 1970s. The second was graphical user interfaces (GUIs) that appeared with the Macintosh. The third was mobile phones, particularly touch that appeared with the iPhone. The fourth is spatial computing, or as many call it, mixed reality or next-generation augmented reality, like [what] appeared with the Microsoft HoloLens.
What transforms exactly with the Fourth Transformation?
Everything will change about how we compute over the next decade due to augmented reality. Already we are seeing your face will change – an example of that is the Sephora app. The world and your room will change. How you use monitors will change. How you drive eventually will change (and augmented reality will be the user interface to call an Uber or Lyft).
Mixed reality is really a new form of augmented reality. When you wear a Microsoft HoloLens, for instance, you can do things from seeing information on top of pipes in an oil refinery to seeing aliens blast holes in your real walls. As the optics get better, you’ll replace physical screens with glasses since you’ll get as many virtualized screens as you want.
What impact will this have on people’s behavior, relationships, as their perception of reality morphs into mixed reality?
Still unknown, since literally no one today is wearing glasses for long periods of time – the HoloLens is too heavy to wear all day long. But based on some of the early examples, we can surmise that there will be both positive and negative effects. Addiction will be a problem since already people are addicted to Facebook and the small mobile phone screens. I imagine many of us will make or buy virtual costumes for different use cases. In Facebook Messenger, we’re already seeing that as people have meetings, they are using augmented reality on their faces to wear masks of various types.
You mentioned negative effects like addiction, and people will always bring up others like mental health, digital divide, or the ability to adapt to a mixed-reality interface. Are these valid concerns, and if so how can we mitigate the negatives?
Yes. All technologies have both utility and downsides. Cars, for instance, kill 30,000 in the United States every year, yet most of us use a car every day despite the downsides. The same will be true in augmented reality/mixed reality. The utility will be there for most, but some will have eye strain, especially with earlier optics – the industry is working on making the optics much more like the real world, but that’s several years away. Others are working on the other issues. The head of innovation at Pfizer told me the company is doing research on ADHD, Alzheimer’s, depression, pain, autism, and other conditions, and is seeing promising results. She called it a drug. When it comes to messing with your brain, there are good sides and bad sides.
It’s obviously early days for VR/AR – what has to happen to take mixed reality mainstream, and what is a realistic timeline for achieving that?
There are several problems that you see if you spend some time with the Microsoft HoloLens. First, at $3,000, it is way too expensive to go consumer. But even if you have the money, it’s too heavy, the viewing angle is too narrow, and it simply doesn’t do enough in the real world yet to interest most consumers. I expect most of these problems will be fixed over the next five years. Certainly a decade from now I expect glasses to be replacing smart phones for most people in the world. That said, I know of several that are coming out over the next 18 months that will make big strides in fixing these issues. That’s when the fun really will start for this new technology.
Robert Scoble is a keynote speaker at Convergence 005 | SWITCH, which takes place September 18 at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. Disruptive.Asia is an official media partner for Convergence 005. For registration and other details, click right here.