Merging Realities: The Future is Hyper-Personalized

June 22, 2017


Conversations around virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) as emerging technologies have been on the increase for the last 8 years, growing by 50% on average, each year. We see that usually conversation spikes around festivals where technology and innovation are at the core.

The implications for entertainment are clear and well developed, but when it comes to communication, advertising and marketing thoughts immediately drift to immersive campaigns where our siblings in advertising are thinking about how they can tell “immersive brand stories”. This normally results in 360 videos of folks selling solar panels, for no reason but the novelty of the technology. The implications are far wider than novelty, and a lot less silly then a 3-D car zooming around the room… as awesome as that may be.

The present

It’s awe inspiring but impractical. There is a lot talk about where it’s going for medicine, fin-tech, communication and virtually any industry you can think of (excuse the pun), but we need to move beyond the talk to action and I think the HoloLens may be just the thing to inspire that shift from fun to useful.

At this stage – thanks to the Oculus, HTC Vive and our mobile phones – VR and AR are gateway technologies to a mixed reality future. Anyone that’s put an HTC Vive on and swirled colors around in 3-D, or seen the animations jump off a cereal box through their phone would agree that entertainment is covered. But that’s only the beginning.

VR takes you somewhere else but blocks out the real world; escapism and entertainment will remain a focus for a tech that blinds you to everyday life.

There is far greater utility to AR as it adds a layer of digital engagement and augmentation to the physical world, but is restricted to the 2-D plane of a screen, with your mobile device being the facilitator and lens to an enriched world.

Mixed reality is the goal: removing the 2-D augmentation plane of AR, and the real world blindness of VR. MR is the future that Google Glass had envisioned, and that the Microsoft HoloLens is pushing forward with it’s recently released development kit.

But utility and mass adoption is blocked by two elements at this stage.

1.) The bulk of the tech. No one wants to run around with a giant face halo strapped to their head swiping at imaginary objects.

2.) The cost of use. Not just the price point for entry into a MR world but the short battery times and limitations for travel. Again, nobody wants an electrical umbilical cord running out the back of their head as they push a giant generator around to fuel the experience.

The near future

A burdenless engagement through better battery technologies like those emerging out of Asia and faster self-charging times will accelerate MR adoption and development. As will smaller more reality integrated tech. Devices like the Vive, Oculus and HoloLens will appear in informatics the same way old school 90s mobile phones do, comparing their size and appearance to slimmer, sexier tech with everyday wear in mind.

Convergence of technologies like physical web, mixed reality and AI, where each will play a role in the world, creating a connected, intuitive, screen less layer of interactive augmentation (or CISLIA in an acronym I literally just made up to save me rewriting all of that).

In years to come, we will be in a world where the connected everything is our screen. Trackers like the HTC Vive Tracker turn real world objects into virtual objects and allow us to utilize them in a digital space bringing the real world into what until now has been a purely virtual space. Major League Baseball’s Charlie Hill, HTC Vive’s Herve Fontaine and Mark Sherwood from Imagination showcased the Vive tracker at the Cannes festival of creativity with a virtual game of catch this year. But this is only the beginning.

Every plane and surface will be our work space. Want the weather? Ask your eye housed personal assistant to show it to you. Free hands mean greater productivity, but greater isolation. If you think your kid zones out in an iPad stupor, wait till they are immersed in a world layered on top of the physical world.

You’re immersed in a world of hyper personalization; your news, preferences connections and location based services are personalized from historical data and the integrated AI of it all know what to serve you when and how.

What this means for communications
Hyper-personalization will make it harder for message break though and traction to happen organically. The more information we can control the less we will see the things we don’t want to see. As a communicator, how do you adapt to that world, and the changes that are already happening?

Conversations go dark and ephemeral
Communication channels are moving into a place that communication analysts can’t see. We are so reliant on the ever flowing market research that is freely available social data, but what do we do when that public sharing moves to private sharing like it has in some cases – like WhatsApp – or becomes ephemeral, like Instagram stories or Snapchat?

Trapped in your own world
We will build our virtual layers like we build out home screen tiles. Our augmented journey will follow as much of a routine as our physical journey, with AI serving us what we need when we need it. There are some terribly dark implications of being stuck in an echo chamber that promotes confirmation and personalization bias – recent world events are a great proof point to that, but that is for a different blog. How do you get the stories you want to get heard… heard?

Zone out or free up
Will the tech force consumers to zone out of real world interaction, much like the short lived Pokémon Go phenomenon, or will the fact that it’s merely a layer free us up to engage in the real world instead of bury our heads in a screen. I assume the latter but time will tell. Information will always be there – much like it is now – but ever present out the corner of our eye. Every experience will be made richer through a layer of information and smart spatial recognition.

It may sound like sci-fi, and as exciting or scary as the implications are, the future is on our doorstep and soon our kids will ask about how we used to connect if we didn’t use a lens and we will nostalgically speak of a time of screens.