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The Fourth Transformation Paperback – December 7, 2016
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If that’s what you imagine, prepare for a revelation. Scoble and Israel’s new book, “The Fourth Transformation: How Augmented Reality & Artificial Intelligence Will Change Everything.” It will jangle your brain. It will whet your appetite for a feast of invention. And, in the process, it may also very well alarm you. If you are inclined to build, create, or invest in new kinds of experiences, it will open a whole universe of possibilities for you. If you are willing and able to work in that universe, you may even find yourself following Alan Kay’s quip about the best way to predict the future: you may find yourself inventing it.
This is their third book together and by far their best. Broadest in scope, deepest in specific research, and farthest seeing.
The future that Scoble and Israel are predicting (or, more properly, reporting) represents the most radical advance of digital technology since the development of the computer. It’s a future, they argue, that will transform not just our devices, but us and our world. Their sub-title promises it will change everything. Everything. I don’t think that’s hyperbole. The stories they tell are both breathtaking and mind-blowing. Scoble and Israel give us an insider’s glimpse into us what’s cooking in labs at startups (some them very well-funded and close to shipping), universities, and the top tier of established global corporations—in technology and entertainment. It’s an exhaustive, expansive survey, told with breathless enthusiasm (and ample warnings), covering a range of advances that are slated to arrive over the next decade. The core is a cluster of technologies already coming to market in their early primitive and/or over-priced versions: VR, AR, and MR. (respectively, Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality). If you’re not yet fluent in the terminology, The Fourth Transformation includes an extensive and helpful glossary.
Scoble and Israel take a high-level view. Their book focuses not so much on technical details, as on the likely positive (and some worrying negative) impacts these new technologies will have on our lives. Such diverse fields as health, retail, transportation, manufacturing, education, gaming, and entertainment will explode into new possibilities. The authors acknowledge that the infrastructure behind these technologies will create the means for tracking of our movements, interests, and activities. That will surely tempt surveillance by governments, law enforcement, and corporate marketers.
Some of the possibilities described in this book strike me as downright obnoxious. If pop-up ads and auto-play videos annoy you when browsing the Web, imagine a world where pop-up holograms and auto-play sales pitches greet you in every store, restaurant, and hotel. If I happen to stare too long at a box on the supermarket shelf or a jacket on a department store mannikin, I’m not sure I’m ready to have it launch into a “buy me” pitch. The promise is that the data in my digital dossier will combine with advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence to filter out everything except the pitches and messages I will be glad to get, I’m dubious. I’m not convinced the world needs more advertising.
Despite their unabashed enthusiasm for the new technology, Scoble and Israel’s longest chapter is entitled, “What Could Possibly Go Wrong.” Ironically, it happens to be Chapter 11.
The notes are thorough and extensive and all of them link to source materials on the Web.
The point is, this duo makes a convincing case that we are on the verge of a new media, a new capacity for story-telling, which as a nation and a world we have just learned once again is perhaps the most primal and powerful mover of human actions ever. Greater than facts, or evidence-based science, though in the discussion of health, teaching and augmented capacities, this transformation can well deeply augment and improve our abilities to factor detailed knowledge and information for better results. Or not. As with past collaborations, digital pioneer and gadfly Scoble, and his literate scribe Mr. Israel, delve into the potential abuses of these technologies and the media they enable, as well as the upside.
Disclosure #2, is I’m an admitted gadget guy. The world of Virtual Reality - products you will easily see promoted elsewhere - is not cheap. To explore, one must at least access a salon or demonstration facility. To own any of the devices will set you back several times more than the cost of that wall-size LCD TV you may have been coveting. Unlike the three earlier transformations to which the book refers - mainframes, text-based operating systems and then graphical interfaces on computers and smartphones - this next medium is immersive and may soon be ubiquitous. While VR currently requires a masking headset to interface with the world, the promise of Augmented Reality (AR) is adding images and information to in line of sight during our everyday lives. Israel and Scoble even seek to coin a new phrase to describe the ultimate outcome - Mixed Reality when we can experience a blend of digital and physical reality in daily life.
Disclosure #3 - I am a big fan of Scoble and Israel, and I fully appreciate their brisk and informed, contemporaneous journey through the state of play at the moment - in a year when Pokeman lept back into our lives via Pokeman Go in a small number of days, demonstrating how even a simple geo-located game can garner near instant fascination around the globe. As such, they are describing the advent of this nascent industry today. So I do caution not to expect this to be a definitive “history” of AR and VR, as one least impressed reviewer appears to have wanted. Instead it is a lively romp through the very early days that can be a portal for those wanting to understand where this new transformation may lead. (And Disclosure #4, yes I did receive an advance digital copy, but as usual With this two-some I wanted a hard copy so I bought it, here, of course!) It is a new beginning, and, as the authors quote Arthur C. Clarke in the frontispiece, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Enjoy the book. Yet beware of your budget if you, like me, get hooked. Remember, I warned you here first.