One of the great things about immersive technology is that it brings things together.
Augmented Really brings anything to you. Virtual Reality brings you anywhere. And V.R. blends them both.
Visualising imaginary places and objects is fine — But what about people? How can immersive technology help bring people together, and improve our social lives? To answer this question lets look at how modern social apps began grew out of the humblest beginnings of the internet.
A Brief History of Communication Technology
The roots of modern information technology systems such as apps, social networks, the internet and even computers themselves can be traced back though the radio wave broadcasts of Marconi and even earlier to the phonograph recordings of Thomas Edison then back further into the invention of writing itself. Deep into the Cuniform markings of the ancient Sumerians.
The common idea that brings all these bright inventors together is bold and provoking — What if people could express their thoughts in a clear and detailed way even when separated by time and space? The early Sumerians solved this issue by hacking notches into stone tablets. Edison did it by etching the vibrations of speech onto tin foil disks. Marconi solved it by using electromagnetic waves to transmit sound across space. And in more recent times, Sir Tim Berners Lee wanted a way to share his thoughts across computer systems, so he created the World Wide Web. Throughout this thread we can see that although the complexity of the technology has increased, the basic idea is still the same.
People love to broadcast their thoughts across time and distance to either a private or massive audiences.
How Digital Technology Changed Text
Along with the internet being able to transmit text, it could also send images. This changed the nature of communication, as up to that point, only words (written or spoken) were being used so far. The broadcast of images, let alone video, before the modern internet was was unachievable by the average person.
The internet changed all this and bought with it a flood of new communication paradigms. Along with the freedom of text came animated images (think cat.gif). It also bought a set of tools for re-mixing what other people had already said. This sharing, remixing and interacting of communal ideas bought us the modern Meme culture and micro communicative acts of Twitter, Vibe and Instagram. These modern forms of communication cannot be underestimated and are not going to go away. We will see these kinds of distractions inside the worlds of immersive technology, but we can expect much bigger things too!
Whilst words and images are fine for some level of transmission, human communication relies heavily on non-verbal communication. Even with the saying that “an image is worth a thousand words” there is still something missing from a conversation than just using text and images.
Then Came Along Video Conferencing
The next step taken by the relentless march of technology was towards broadcasting digital voice with video calling. This helped bring some of the essential human non-verbal cues into the mass broadcast capabilities of I.T. devices. But it also removed one of digital technology’s key capabilities — the ability to interact and be creative. Being able to change, edit, compose and interact with digital information is one of the most interesting features of digital gadgets and the internet as a whole. And, let’s be honest, some of the subtleties of human emotion and intent are lost on the flat video screens of Skype.
Enter Immersive Technologies
And this is where immersive technologies are going to take over. The ability to combine natural human communication, by transmitting voice, video and natural body movement cues, together with a digital toolset that allows for creation of Memes on the fly will provide an amazing technology platform for the future of human ( and non-human — think A.I.) communication.
Being able to augment the main transmitter of a person’s intent — the human face — with live filters is hilarious, and a great example of how computer generated imagery can be used with zero friction to the user.
Where Snapchat Filters adds digital artifacts to around the user, Memojis go a step futher and replace the user’s face with a 3D model and then maps the user’s muscle movements to an animation controller for a 3D face. Apple has this baked into their latest iPhones:
Realtime Face Mapping
Whereas the Memoji approach looks fun, it obviously looks like a cartoon. More realistic ways of remixing communication are available — where a kind of A.I. system is manipulating video in realtime with a 3D generated mouth:
The next stage of manipulating reality for the user is to move into the completely digital world of VR. Virtual Reality Chat gives the user the ability to look, and in some cases sound, like whoever they want to be:
The exiting future of this technology will bring together new ways of combining all the above ideas into a seamless platform. Mixed Reality will allow users to feel present with other users — who are separated by time and space — for the first time. Microsoft is already leading the development here with something they call Holoportation:
And Leap Motion have some great concepts for how the future of communication will blur between the real and the virtual.
As can be seen from the examples above — immersive technologies are bringing some exciting new paradigms to the field of human communication. At NinjAR we’re really excited by the possibilities of XR and are creating a network of designers, developers and content creators who will help explore these ideas to change the word into a more virtual one.