20 Jan 2014, 21:53

Software is eating the world

This comes as no shock to anyone – software has been replacing a lot of things over the past few decades. This post is about that, but why I think we’re still only at the beginning of it all.

Virtual Reality

Michael Abrash published a PDF about where he believes Virtual Reality will be within the next 2 years. It’s a great write up and really helps give some framing to what you can expect. Michael knows his stuff and is working on VR at Valve software. He’s also one of the pioneers in 3D graphics having worked alongside John Carmack on games like Quake.

I’m super exciting about VR. I backed the Occulus Rift on Kick Starter. I spent more than my fair share of time focusing on how to make it more immersive. I really enjoy researching it.

I’m curious about who else is seriously interested in this space, so I thought I’d jot down some of my thoughts on where this technology could take us.

Integrating more of your senses

Current virtual reality work focuses on the visuals & tracking. Making things work visually is the first big step. Tracking is improving, latencies are dropping. The ability to have the world around you adjust fast enough to your head movements is important in creating full immersion.

But that’s just one of your senses being served.

Touch

The major advancement after the visuals will be touch. Tactile response will take immersion to a significantly higher level.

Obviously there’s a lot of work to make this work. I personally don’t even know where I’d start with this. Maybe some crappy gloves? The issue here would be the strength and the awareness you had to wear gloves to make it work. Anyway, I’m getting off topic.

Touch will unlock the real power of software. It will make the “software is eating the world” metaphor of today look like the entrée.

All hardware becomes software

Consider a world where you have amazing VR headsets – full motion tracking, detail so high you can’t tell the difference between real life and the screen in front of your eyes.

Then consider we have nailed the tactile response problem.

Why do we need hardware? Almost anything can be software.

In your virtual world you have an iPad. You’re using it in your hands. It looks great. It’s not real. It’s just a software simulation of an iPad. But it feels real. It’s no less real to you than the hardware based version you have today. Only this one could literally weigh 0 grams if you wanted.

Existing hardware is dead

When a “new iPad” is released, it’s a software update – not something constructed in China, shipped to your door. You update it instantly over the air.

You decide your TV needs to be the size of your entire wall for a movie night? No problem, it’s just a property you set on your TV. Because the TV isn’t real, only existing in your Virtual Reality world, it can be any size you want it to be. Could this be the future of the in-app purchase? Upgrade to a 120″ TV screen – $1.99!

Need a 3rd monitor on your PC? What about a wall of monitors? What about changing all their sizes? All software.

Think about this for a moment. It starts to get insane how many things you don’t really need once it’s inside a realistic virtual space.

People could have apartments that only have their bed, kitchen, couch, dining table. Nothing else.

Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality?

Some of this doesn’t need to be in an entire Virtual Reality space. Some of it could just be Augmented Reality. The Television example, or iPad example. You may still have your actual apartment or workspace around you, but just be seeing physical objects that don’t actually exist.

The benefits of the model

Remember when computers seemed new? You wouldn’t need to buy expensive encyclopedias for your kids – you wouldn’t need to cut down half a tree just to print those books. You didn’t need a type writer. You could store your recipes on there.

Then the internet took that up a level too.

What I’m suggesting for the future makes that look like peanuts. Think about all the different things that wouldn’t actually be needed. I can see about 20 things on my desk alone that could just be virtual. Resource consumption would plummet. Shipping would be non-existent. Demand for software developers would explode.

The App Store model would replace almost everything you buy from Amazon. The only exceptions I can think of are food and furniture. I also suppose folks won’t be adopting nudism, so lets lock in clothing as still existing too 😉

If you ever wanted to disrupt Amazon, you’d do it by making the need for delivery & warehousing redundant.

How far away is this?

I think it’s still pretty far away. But still closer than many might imagine – inside my lifetime is my hope. The big challenge in my view of the future here is the tactile response hardware. There’s significant investment occurring in the visual & tracking space, but less so in the tactile response arena.

About a year ago I spent a reasonable amount of time researching what did exist in the tactile space. It didn’t fill me with confidence as the current “state of the art” wasn’t very good. Having said that, it struck me as being where Virtual Reality was about 20 years ago. Technology moves faster and faster.

Do you agree?

What do you think? Where do you see this technology going?

I think it’s an awesomely exciting time to be alive. What strikes me as crazy is that almost anyone reading this blog is likely to have the ability to be part of creating this type of future. I’d love to hear from you if you’re interested in this type of space as it would be great to share some ideas.