Today, we speak of two worlds: Digital versus Real. This distinction will disintegrate and these worlds will merge. The expansion of augmented reality, virtual reality and digital identities will give rise to a synthetic reality. Like synthetic fibers or synthetic limbs, our synthetic reality will combine the natural and the man-made to enhance form and function.
A person’s ultimate goal is “to become everything that one is capable of becoming,” wrote Abraham Maslow. Self-actualization shines atop his famous hierarchy of needs. We often view technology as at odds with our fundamental humanity. But technology widens what we’re capable of becoming. Our reality is enhanced by digital overlays, our world expanded by digital access, our identity broadened by digital connections.
Where is the world headed?
We’ll live in immersive environments that drive collaboration, connection and empathy.
In 10 years, VR is on track to outpace the TV market in annual revenue, generating $110 billion to TV’s $99 billion. It will be easy and common to virtually live in someone else’s shoes. VR, the “ultimate empathy machine,” will allow us to feel the pain of a food bank or the distress of a refugee camp. We will turn that empathy inward, as well. Experiments show that seeing a 65-year-old avatar of yourself prompts you to save more for retirement. On the lighter side: Entertainment will be more fun, games will be more active, shopping more informed and navigating nearly foolproof. Map overlays will guide our hikes, perhaps encouraging us to explore more of our world. Digital avatars may join our calls, perhaps deepening our long-distance connections. With the expansion of augmented reality, we will no longer speak of digital versus real worlds — we will actively overlay the two on behalf of gamification, beautification, information and communication.
Our identity will grant us access to new possibilities.
In the realm of identity, we will have asset classes we haven’t even defined yet as we increasingly realize the value of our attention, personal data and broader digital footprints. As any teenager with a Snapchat Story already knows, we’ll carefully craft personal brands as one of our few remaining owned assets.
Identity management will become much more critical.
It will be essential as we increasingly use our tracked identity to gain access and information. We’ll disperse our identity across digital services and devices, creating new threats from constant connection. As we race to the top of Maslow’s pyramid (self-actualization), we can’t neglect the base (safety). Biometrics will play a bigger role, further uniting our physical being and our digital identity on behalf of information security. Smart identity management will be an essential skill and the table stakes of trust in the future.
The compound annual growth rate of the global augmented reality market between 2016 and 2022.
The number of global downloads of Pokémon Go in less than a month.
The cost in 2016 to get a McDonald’s Happy Meal in Sweden with a working virtual reality headset inside is $4.10.
How will Dawn respond?
She’ll gain self-actualization:
digital and human in harmony
Dawn doesn’t speak of her digital identity or her real identity, she just speaks of herself. She doesn’t draw strict delineations between her “real” and “virtual” worlds — the overlap is so extensive the difference is indistinguishable.
She loves that she’s able to travel (she can test out a vacation spot in VR) and trial (she virtually simulates six months of a new career to see if it would be the right fit) — all in one afternoon.
She has many new ways to make money. She is rewarded for watching ads, seeing movies, rating doctors, picking up trash, and all sorts of little activities people used to do for free.
Her digital avatar is way more than just a game — it’s a way to get stuff done, authenticating her across all sorts of different sites and experiences.
Dawn’s digital self is simply — her self.
What percent of 18- to 34-year-old U.S. survey respondents would rather undertake an unpleasant activity, such as spending a night in jail or getting a root canal, instead of giving up their social media profiles?
She rarely gets lonely because, every night, she watches TV next to her sister — who lives halfway across the country. She never gets lost because she always has her AR map overlay. It actually makes her a lot more adventurous. What’s the worst that could happen?
She lives in a synthetic reality, digital and human in harmony.
Dawn grew up playing with AR and VR.
There were 23 million AR and VR devices in use in 2016. How many (in millions) are expected to be in use globally by 2020?
… but she’ll also gain fear:
a lot of new threats
The stakes for security are high, and Dawn worries about hacks. A lot of her friends have been hacked. It’s almost like getting sick — you know it will happen sometime, you just have to be able to get better quickly.
More than security, though, she’s worried about whether she’s making the most of all the resources available to her. At any moment, she could be virtually visiting a meditation center in Bali, taking her avatar to visit her mom in Virginia, or earning money for her attention. Potential can be exhausting.
Dawn going on a VR trip is as easy as us going to the movies.
IMAX opened the first virtual reality arcade in Los Angeles. How much are tickets for a 15-minute experience?
It’s already happening
(a future-oriented scenario built exclusively from companies operating today)
After a hard afternoon at work, Dawn wants to explore the beach. She puts on her Magic Leap contact lenses, which give her navigation support (directions to the least crowded area), real-time decision support (which sunblock to buy) and enhanced visuals (she overlays a virtual Loch Ness monster on the waves, just for fun). She comes home in the evening and settles down to watch the news through her VR platform. She breaks down in tears as she experiences the latest terrorist attack in Germany. She recovers after a few minutes and sees the news of a recent data hack. Anxiously, she does a quick check on LastPass and confirms that her identity is secure. She notices that Kred has increased the value of her data, thanks to her new batch of Instagram followers. She picks another channel with a flick of her eyes and earns a few Perk Points by checking in with Viggle (which she’ll redeem for an Amazon gift card in a few weeks). Noticing the time, her VR automatically switches to sleep mode so Dawn can get a full eight hours. The sound of faraway waves crashing lulls her to sleep.