A future where "technology and human become one" is fast arriving, a German microtrend analyst has predicted in a bit of forward thinking at CeBIT.
Nils Müller, CEO of TrendOne, defined the 1.0 era as involving passive entertainment like TV viewing. Web 2.0 saw a rise in audience-generated content like blogs and podcasts. The ongoing 3.0 period represents a deeper level of engagement, where users "jump into" media such as virtual worlds, he added.
But evidence of the 4.0 era – an "always-on" world where humans can "self-upgrade" through technology extensions – is already nigh and being driven by the youngest generation, according to Müller.
"Our kids will talk to the web like they talk to a friend," he said as a video presentation showed a user entering a series of natural-language queries such as "how far away is the moon" into the AskWiki search engine, now in beta.
While to adults virtual worlds such as Second Life were novelties, today's children are growing up virtually, he argued. As evidence, Muller pointed to Barbie Girls, a virtual world launched last year. Some three million young fans of the doll signed up for the service within 60 days of its launch, according to one report.
Outside of computers, three-dimensional technologies will find widespread applications, Muller said. 3D printers, now expensive devices often used for design and prototyping, will cost €500 (£385) "and everyone can have one at home", he predicted.
A UK company called Musion has developed a 3D holographic projection system. Recently, Cisco used the system to "beam" a couple of its executives on stage to deliver a speech. According to Muller, 3D holographs will power the next generation of television.
More important than one particularly flashy technology or another is the fact that the line between human and device will blur and even disappear, he suggested.
He pointed to medically focused devices such as the implant chip for restoring sight, being developed by German company Retinal Implant, as well as the work ongoing at Cyberkinetics, which hopes to provide severely disabled people with the ability to control a computer with their thoughts.
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