Have you ever stopped to marvel at common kitchen utensils? We use the fork, spoon, and knife every day. These technologies have become so integrated into our lives that, collectively, we don’t spare them a thought. This ability to blend into reality is the inevitable future of tech.
Many groups within our culture seem to draw a difference between “technology” and “tech.” They’ll discuss Bronze Age technologies and compare them to Iron Age technologies, but throw a computer into the mix and there’s a sudden need to linguistically segment one from the other. They’re no longer simply talking about technologies—they’re discussing IT, or “tech,” and there are layers of meaning in that abbreviation most of us have never considered.
Becoming part of the world
Of deeper interest is who draws the line, and where. My 12-year-old cousin speaks about the microcomputer revolution of the 1980s in the same manner as people discuss ancient Roman aqueducts or variations in the shape of spearheads among prehistorical hominids. Having personally lived through this era, I find the idea of my beloved childhood 80286 microprocessor not being sacred enough to be considered tech to be like a slap in the face.
People my age refer to Alan Turing’s Enigma-cracking bombe the same way they talk about utensils. Turing’s invention is so intricately wound within history that we literally can’t conceive a world where at least some level of computational capability didn’t exist. We’re unable to understand what it was like to perform complex mathematics before there was some form of mechanical or electrical calculator. We don’t know what to do with a slide rule.
But as we write and read endless articles about the future of tech, we truly understand that the technologies and concepts we breathlessly venerate today will, in short order, be as mundane, ancient, and blended into the reality of future generations as the humble fork is to us today.
We haven’t even scratched the surface of the transformation that 3D printing and other additive manufacturing technologies will unlock. We can only speculate what a hyperconnected world decked out with every imaginable sensor will be like. In 10 years, we’ll know. When my 12-year-old cousin reaches his 20s, these technologies will be as the internet was at the turn of the millennium: still a little bit novel, but you already couldn’t live without it.
Blended reality as the future of tech
At the turn of the millennium, virtually every family in developed nations had a computer at home. A mere 15 years later, there are more smartphones than people. Middle-class citizens of the developing world—let alone the developed world!—carry around access to the sum total of human knowledge in their pockets.
Wearable tech, sensors, augmented reality, microfluidics, additive manufacturing, and more are just being commercialized today, explains a CNET article. Forbes suggests that, 10 years from now, we’ll be scanning broken things and then running down to Staples to print replacement parts. In 25 years, we’ll all have a room that makes not only spare parts, but clothing with computers, sensors, and emergency medical-intervention tech woven right in.
We use the term “blended reality” to describe the above. What this really means is that it’s uncertain is how we, as individuals and as a society, will react. The pace of change has itself changed. We no longer take 100,000 years to alter the shape of a spearhead. No longer does a single city’s aqueduct stand for hundreds of years as a culture’s greatest technological achievement.
We have gone from the discovery of DNA to handheld machines that use nanotechnology to isolate and read individual strands of it in less than a human lifetime. We have gone from the creation of the web browser to the use of machine learning and the aggregation of data from billions of devices to perform analysis beyond human capability in less than 20 years.
Blended reality is our attempt to label a novel human experience. It comes from our need to understand that, for the first time, we’re having to accept that the future of tech can become the mundane technology of the past before many of us even know what those future technologies are. For better or worse, this is the world we’ve created. I, for one, can’t wait for a room that 3D prints clothes.