By Steve Outing
Gray Scott is on the younger side of the futurists spectrum; most people who carve out careers as futurists tend to be older and grayer. Scott, who calls himself a “futurist and neuro-technology philosopher,” also describes himself as one of the “most controversial futurists of our time.” He’s a speaker, artist, writer, and editorial director of his SeriousWonder.com (a “progressive futurist technology and consciousness website” and blog).
|This is the first of a series of Media Disruptus interviews with prominent futurists, in which they are asked to focus on how media — both in content consumption and creation — might be experienced in the future.|
In a recent video interview, Scott suggests that soon we will have the technology to record and then interpret dreams, which will be a real game-changer for humanity; he cites research from Japan where a breakthrough already has been reached. As for “controversial,” perhaps that would describe his comments in the same video about the coming of “sexbots,” or robots that not only will look just like human beings but operate on advanced artificial-intelligence algorithms that will make them suitable partners — including for sex — to humans who may prefer that to relationships with flesh-and-bones individuals. (Shades of Battlestar Galactica, but with friendlier and more docile “cyborgs.”)
With that kind of creative, forward-looking mind, I thought that Scott would be a fascinating person to interview — focused on his vision of the future of media — for Media Disruptus. (Watch for more futurist interviews here; and sign up for e-mail alerts in the left column.)
No more lost phones?
This is not exactly controversial, at least among futurists, but you might be surprised to hear that smartphones will be passé a decade from now. Scott expects that the concept of holding a computing device in your hands to use it will be replaced by “wearable technology,” a technological genre that is just now starting to ramp up to wide consumer use; Google Glass is a clear indicator of what’s to come. (Sci-fi has long predicted wireless “magic” portable handheld devices — e.g., Star Trek’s tricorders — but now that we have them in the form of our smartphones, a better mobile paradigm comes along!)
So with phones someday to be “gone” (other than for late adopters), watch in the years ahead as early adopters begin to use wearable technology to do more of the things that a smartphone does today — and, of course, wearables will have many more new capabilities that we cannot yet dream of. Scott, reading the trends and watching what’s coming out of corporate, government, and educational labs, thinks that a shirt, body suit, jacket, or other piece of clothing could become your principal mobile computing device — replacing today’s smartphone. [continues below audio clip…]
But let’s back up just a bit. A recent trend that many people may not yet have recognized is that the smartphone we carry around is our main mobile computing device and connection to the Internet. Increasingly, many of us are adding wearable devices that connect (usually via Bluetooth) to the smartphone in your pocket, and in fact are reliant on it. For example, early “smart watches” like the Pebble can perform their tricks — show you Facebook updates, tweets, and incoming important e-mails, and alert you to who is calling your phone without you having to pull it out of your pocket or purse — only when wirelessly tethered to your phone. It also can turn up the volume on your music played from your phone, or skip a song. Otherwise, it’s just a dumb watch.
Fitness trackers like those by Fitbit, Jawbone, Nike, et al connect to your phone; some devices transmit exercise data to a smartphone, and an app matches GPS data from the phone with the tracker or sensor’s fitness data. That could evolve to something like an exercise shirt that tracks your fitness data and sends it to your home computer, or more likely to your account on a cloud service.
But beyond single-purpose digital clothing, what’s likely ahead, says Scott, is that a digital body suit or shirt (or ???) has the computing power of your smartphone, and it serves as wearable accessories’ connection to the digital grid. Want to get the latest news? You might voice what you want (“Summarize the top political stories from the Washington Post in the last 12 hours”) and hear audio news read to you in your tiny wireless earbuds. Perhaps you’ll reach into a pocket and pull out a clear, thin piece of plastic that serves as a visual handheld display, but it’s connected to the world of news via your digital clothing. (After all, minuscule wearable devices like earbuds or even a contact-lens display won’t have the power to connect to distant towers by themselves; but they will be able to communicate with your on-body primary wearable “computer,” which handles your connection to the digital grid.)
Scott even envisions flexible digital screens in clothing. Say, digital pants allow you to watch a video, play a game, or do a video phone call by looking at your pants legs. (I’m dubious that this will catch on; sounds a bit to geeky to become fashionable.)
YOU are the advertising space
More intriguing yet is the notion of digital clothing also serving as advertising space, “rented” by advertisers and the clothing wearer compensated. Gray points out that the current use of ad-blockers on web browsers used by many people presents a problem for advertisers already, and blockers’ use could grow. But if you’re at a party of friends, or walking in a shopping mall, the people who are displaying temporary advertisements on their digital shirts can’t be blocked. In the case of a small party of friends, if a guest is wearing a digital ad for a boutique beer, because the person is part of that social group, he or she could be a strong influence for the brand. The future advertising model, Gray suggests, will be more social.
And, of course, advertisers will have to get used to the idea of paying consumers to advertise on their behalf. (It could be cash, or it could be in the form of points earned for free product or discounts in exchange for wearing an ad.) Targeting will be important, but it’s not difficult to imagine, say, a beer company targeting willing digital-shirt advertisers who are at a music concert being invited to allow the ad to be shown during the hours around and during the concert, in return for some form of compensation.
Another exciting vision that wearable technology portends is the seamless movement of your media content from device to device, Gray says. For instance, you might be shopping while listening to a podcast of NPR’s All Things Considered on your wireless earbuds. You get into your car and with a hand gesture to the vehicle’s entertainment system, ATC slides over to to the car’s speakers and off from your earbuds. Arrive home and with another arm gesture, you’re listening on your home audio system.
And then: Driverless cars. Scott says that tomorrow’s miracle cars will provide integration with your wearable technology, and they will free up lots of time for consuming media by the “people formerly known as drivers.”
Smartphones have been great. They still are, and still will be for years to come. But don’t get too attached, say futurists like Gray Scott. Something even better is in the labs and slowly making its way to the marketplace. Media enterprises of all sorts should be thinking ahead to how they will fit into this future.