Monday, November 29, 2021

How Firmly Is Digital Technology Cementing Itself in Our Lives?

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We live in tech-first world. That’s nothing new, it’s been the case for more than two decades. The seeds were sown in 1981 when IBM released its first home computer. Since then, technology has developed at a rapid rate to the point where 66% of Americans now check their smartphones up to 160 times per day. 

A physical symbiosis between humans and machines hasn’t happened yet. It may do in the future thanks to innovations such as Neuralink. However, at this stage, there’s still a biological divide between us. Or is there? With the majority of people seeing smartphones as an indispensable extension of their arms, it seems the divide has already been crossed. The only thing left to do now is fuse the bodies with the machines. When that happens, what Ray Kurzweil calls the singularity, will be complete.

To this end, it’s little wonder that technology has become more lifelike. Today, there’s software so realistic it could be real. Naturally, there are steps leading up to this. We didn’t go from seeing computers as devices to input and store data to things that mirror the real world overnight. If we look around us, we can see how digital technology has replaced the physical. Take, for example, virtual offices. You can do almost any job from home now. In fact, when you acquire a virtual office address, there’s almost nothing a person with a laptop can’t do that a team of people in an office can. In line with this move towards home working and digital offices, meetings have also gone virtual. Platforms such as EverWebinar, WebinarJam, and Zoom make it easy for people to connect and interact in a digital setting as if they were face-to-face.  Software integration with video conferences is a great advancement of technology. Like you can even get subtitles of your video call during a remote interview by Zoom with the help of a zoom teleprompter app.

Turning Physical Objects Digital 

From turning the home into an office, we can cross over to virtual and augmented reality. Although virtual reality (VR) is still considered something of a novelty, the technology is evolving fast. Indeed, once it gets to the point where we no longer need to wear cumbersome headsets, it could plunge us into virtual worlds we never want to leave. Anyone that’s a sci-fi fan will remember the Red Dwarf episode called Better than Life (see video above). The characters played a game where their every wish came true. Such was the technology that they could barely distinguish between the virtual world and reality. We might not have gotten to this sci-fi utopia just yet, but it’s no longer beyond the realms of possibility. Augmented reality (AR) is already conditioning us to merge the real and the digital. Even if you don’t know the main differences between an iPhone and an Android, you know how to point a camera at something. 

If you can do that, you can project virtual overlays onto physical objects. The US army now uses Tactical Augmented Reality to help soldiers locate targets using virtual overlays. At the other end of the spectrum, an AR promo from Pepsi Max pranked London travelers by making it look as though aliens were landing (see video above). Along similar lines to AR blurring the lines between the real and the digital, there’s streaming technology. Platforms such as Twitch now attract millions of users each day. Casinos like Betway have begun using live technology to converge in-person experiences with digital ones even more. Users can play more than 50 “live dealer” games from their computer or smartphone. Through a combination of HD webcams, RFID chips, and virtual overlays, players get an authentic experience in a digital setting. 

Robots Will Make the Singularity More Desirable 

Of course, what all these innovations appear to be striving for is the convergence of humans and machines. The lines between physical and digital are slowly becoming one. For some, that’s a scary prospect. For others, it’s an opportunity to push the boundaries of human capabilities and intelligence. It’s also a chance to bring what could be described as another race into the mix. Artificial intelligence (AI) is still in a fledgling state but, already, human-like robots are starting to emerge. Hong Kong-based company Hanson Robotics has developed an advanced robot known as Sophia. Although it still requires a large amount of input to function, Sophia can replicate human behavior (see video below).

Once AI improves, Sophia will be able to function autonomously and work alongside humans. That’s, perhaps, when we reach the singularity. When robots are indistinguishable from humans, the only choice is to join them by augmenting our bodies with digital technology. Yes, it all seems very sci-fi. However, the seeds have already been sown. In fact, they’ve not just been sown, they’re currently growing at a rapid rate. From virtual offices to live online games and virtual reality, we’re gradually making the digital sphere part of our world. In time, we won’t know where the dividing line is because there won’t be one. That’s a daunting yet exciting proposition and something that will fundamentally change our perception of reality and what it is to be human. 

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