Digitization of consumerism is the only way to stop us from destroying our planet
For the past 2.5 million years humans have been carrying so much weights on their shoulders that it is no surprise that they no longer want to do it. This is the reason why AR technology is approaching. Fortunately.
Genetic research has shown that it is very likely that Homo Sapiens were mating with Neanderthals, thus we share the gene pool. Moreover, Neanderthals went extinct, while humans are still alive.
A theory exists that Homo Sapiens simply ate Neanderthals. Regardless of the fact that this is only a theory, it accurately reflects a human nature. A human who is rather willing to eat anything, even his close friends, than to resign from eating at all, especially when they are hungry. Nowadays, their appetite is so immense that thanks to consumption, transport and animal husbandry, humans consume Arctic and will eat up the equator pretty soon.
It all stems from the fact that people want to have everything. In addition, it has to be more and more each time: everything and everywhere. Plus, they don’t want to carry anything anymore. Do you even imagine carrying your beloved one, aquarium, kid, painting, stamp collection, family souvenirs, board games, cinema, TV, computer and camera with yourself all the time? It’s simply impossible.
My hypothesis is that the only option, in which people can have it all or rather have a sense of possessing everything and continue consumerism, is to transferring sales into a digital and virtual space. Obviously, you cannot carry everything around as you have to eat something, wear some clothes and live somewhere.
However, digitization of consumerism seems to be the only way to stop us from exploiting our planet to the extent leading to a sad ending. If people continue to buy plastic cups, trendy caps, appliances with rare minerals instead of their digital equivalents, then in several dozen years human species will cease to exist.
Let’s start from the very beginning.
The Paleolithic extended from 2.5 million years B.C. to circa about 10K years B.C. and during this period people had to carry everything they had around. Hunting and gathering forced people to lead a nomadic lifestyle, thus carry their stuff around all the time.
Moreover, wheels and draught animals had not been used yet and our grandfathers and grandmothers had been carrying everything on their shoulders for 2.5 million years. Around 60K generation dragged their belongings around from birth to death. It is entirely understandable that people got tired and no longer want to continue dragging.
The Mesolithic, being the middle division of the Stone Age, extended to 5K years B.C. It was a period of technological development. The Mesolithic age ended with the transition to agriculture. During this beautiful period people domesticated sheep and pigs, invented an axe, arch and canoe, learned to extract flint and practiced weaving. They continued, however, to lead a nomadic lifestyle and carry their belongings around. And they possessed more and more things.
The Neolithic began about 9K years B.C. and lasted until 2K years B.C. as a civilization of farming. Transportation was still very primitive and non-motorized. People were using manpower and draught animals or one of natural propelling forces such as river and ocean currents or wind.
The wheel was created around 4500 B.C. in Mesopotamia. The first written evidence comes from Sumerian civilization, while the oldest documented one traces back to 3.2K years B.C. (Slovenia).
About 2200 years later, in the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution began and became a turning point that diametrically changed ways of transportation and production. The rapid technological development started a whole new era in which machines were used in all processes for the very first time. At the beginning, the steam-powered machines were used, then turbines and, with time, different types of engines, namely combustion, electric, hybrid and other types.
The beginning of the 21st century is an era of the Internet, smartphones and even faster growth of technological development.
OpenAl built GPT-3, the strongest autoregressive language model having a capacity of 175 billion machine learning parameters. The previous one, GPT-2, had a capacity of 1.5 billion parameters when it was placed on the market in 2019.
The wireless Internet will become faster after transferring from popular 4G/LTE with bandwidth of 0.1 Gbit/s, to the newly introduced 5G at speeds of 10Gbit/s and finally to 6G network which is going to be introduced by Samsung in 2030 with planned bandwidth of 2Tbit/s, which equals ‘2000’ Gbit/s.
Each day, 2.5 quintillion bits of data are produced. It is clear that when IoT (Internet of Things) reaches the mass market, these numbers will become repeatedly higher. As much as 90% of data that I am talking about, has been created within past two years.
On the other hand, since the 18th century, a number of wild areas providing renewable natural resources has dwindled from 100% to 30% (in 2020).
Even permafrost has begun to thaw and release methane gas which can increase global warming to much greater extent.
Within 200 years people have managed to climb incredible technological peaks and, at the same time, led to a situation where our planet is at risk of being ‘burned alive’. Our main task is to diminish CO2 emissions and maintain energy balance on the planet. If we want to survive as a species, we have to start to produce, transport and consume less things. People should opt only for local production or farming.
Speaking of our hypothesis, I don’t believe that we are able to tame consumption. If people want to survive as a species, consumption and possession of goods should take place mainly in a virtual reality. From a technological point of view, we are ready for it and the process has already begun.
Phygital is a new word describing a combination of a real and virtual worlds. The connection between them should be very strong and unnoticeable at the same time. To quote ‘Phygital: A new dimension in customer experience’. I hope that a word ‘customer’ will be removed from that sentence in the future.
Using a phenomenon of phygital solely for increasing sales of products and achieving greater profit in both physical and digital worlds, will prove to be destructive for society in the long run.
However, in order to create a phygital world there is a need for new means and technologies that will be introduced on a massive scale. On one hand, they will resolve our problems. On the other hand, they will provide pleasure connected with possessing things without a need for physical production and transport of the goods.
Smartphones played enormous role in the development and education. However, they cannot do anything more. Nowadays, their innovation lies only in developing already existing features, namely better camera, faster chip, greater memory or higher screen resolution.
From this perspective, a laser scanner Lidar used in iPad 11 and iPhone 12 Pro will prove to be truly innovative and ground-breaking. And this is a breakthrough that we really need.
Changes are necessary and they already happen, not only on a technological level but also on the economic one. Traditional digital business models, such as shopping and subscription, change before our eyes. Nowadays, to put it very simply, it can be observed in transferring traditional and rental shops to online shops, books vs e-books, CDs vs Spotify. However, the economy of avatars is right around the corner.
‘Avatars from video games are perceived as a key place of players’ affective investments in games and fun’.
It means that the players are emotionally attached to their avatars and thus willing to invest in them not only their money but also emotions. Purchase of avatars and assets is a well established trend on gaming platforms. The important information is that users are not owners of what they have bought. All rights are owned by the platforms where the purchase has been made.
Blockchain platforms, that enable users to buy and sell avatars and assets for digital money, will prove to be another breakthrough. You mark my words as it will completely turn the tide.
If you mix phygital and economy with AR, then you get a recipe to a revolution and breakthrough.
Augmented reality (AR) along with virtual reality (VR) constitute Cross Reality (XR). In AR technology, live images from a camera in smartphones, tablets and computers are enhanced by additional graphic elements that do not exist in reality. The elements are fitted to a filmed space to such an extent that an illusion is created that they are a part of the real space.
PokemonGo proves to be the most popular AR mobile app. New contents for this technology is, however, prepared by well-known producers, including CD Projekt S.A. with The Witcher, Lenovo with Star Wars AR and many others. Entertainment, however, is not the only direction of AR development. The practical application will be of utmost importance for the breakthrough.
In the future, AR technology will entail using glasses (smart glasses) that will be optimized to an extent that they will resemble sunglasses or corrective glasses. Special lenses are in the phase of clinical trials and will be used in further stages of technological development.
Connecting net directly to a brain sounds like sci-fi at the moment. However, such tests are already conducted. Facebook has a system in which electrodes are attached to a forehead in order to measure and sample brain waves, while AI builds a model on the basis of the waves and recognizes thoughts related with them.
On the other hand, Neuralink has a chip prototype that can be implanted under skin along with several dozen of micro hair that are implanted in a brain. This may sound ominous but the procedure is bloodless and conducted by a fully automated device in 30 minutes.
The device enables users to manage a given mobile app via their thoughts. The aim of both devices is to help disabled people who are able to communicate only by thoughts. I can easily imagine that a man of future will be able to read minds and navigate the Internet via thoughts.
Let’s assume that we are wearing AR glasses. Now imagine that we are in a long journey and we would like to have our computer with us. However, we do not want a small laptop that is light and easy to carry around. We would like to have the biggest screen in the world. Or rather three screens, a keyboard and a separate screen for a calendar.
In a physical world, it would require manufacturing and transport of numerous parts, circuits, cases and other indispensable gauds. Each part comes from different factories and then has to travel to an assembly facility. They are assembled by people and robots, using further energy and materials. Then they are transported to a wholesale store and reach a shop or warehouse. Finally, they are delivered to self-service parcel pick-up stations or directly to your home. Have a look at the same process in AR.
Clearly, there will still be a need to produce computers so that the whole system can work. However, using immersive technologies on a massive scale may diminish an amount of manufactured hardware and a need to transport. In XR, a small group of people sitting at their homes and working on virtual computers, can create even the most powerful system without a need to use tons of physical hardware.
Thanks to VR, we all can share almost magical experiences of much deeper immersion than the one experienced in cinema or during playing computer games. Watching a match can prove to be more immersive than actually being at a stadium. This is already possible thanks to live streaming of NBA which has taken place since 2016 thanks to NextVR (owned by apple). Virtual reality already has its niche market. Each year, several million of headsets are sold and the investments start to slowly pay off.
In virtual reality, users are isolated from the outer world for 100%, while in AR the level of immersion can be changed from 0% to 99%. If we display absolutely nothing on lenses, then 0% immersion is applied. However, the whole space can be filled up increasing the immersion up to 99%.
Clearly, the final version of headsets will combine AR and VR headsets, thus creating XR. This will enable using the technologies on an ultra massive scale. I am absolutely convinced (and it is not only my opinion) that XR will prove to be a game changer.
The important information is that AR devices are still in the prototyping process or enterprise release, while consumer versions are not ready yet. Most probably, it will take approximately 1–3 years for smart glasses to reach a consumer market. However, the level of investments made by the Big Tech is so high that undoubtedly good times are to come for this market.
Before we continue, let me explain why Google Glass failed in 2015. There was a need to constantly film an image in order to add graphic elements.
In consequence, the system was violating copyright of everyone around. Reportedly, a fight in a bar drove the final nail into the coffin.
When the case went to court, a film made with Google Glass smart glasses was provided as an evidence.
The evidence was not approved due the lack of permission from one side of the conflict. However, the situation proved to be the final nail into the coffin for Google Glass smart glasses.
Let me add, that the solution of a problem with copyright during using smart glasses, has already been found. Apple and Facebook, use space scanning and create a point cloud which does not require obtaining copyright.
On the other hand, Microsoft and Google sell enterprise software exclusively and thus do not assume responsibility for copyright.
Microsoft proves to be an indisputable leader in AR. In 2019, the company released HoloLens 2. The smart glasses became the best AR device on the market. Last year, Microsoft signed a contract worth $ 0.5 billion with American army which may serve as a proof of their quality.
Moreover, NASA ordered such a significant amount of HL2 that last year the smart glasses were completely unavailable for other corporations, let alone small size companies. Nowadays, you can buy the HL for about PLN 20 000. Microsoft has built a very vast strategy for Cross Reality (XR), https://www.microsoft.com/pl-pl/hololens
From a technological point of view, Hololens 2 is built on Snapdragon 850 platform and it does a good job. The majority of graphics are processed not in the device but in Azure cloud. I have been talking about this solution for years as taking into consideration the development of wireless Internet, the implementation of clouds seems obvious.
The resolution of HL2 glasses (I struggle to call them ‘smart’ glasses) is still not very impressive but the level of accuracy of projected holograms proves to be already decent. The HL2 includes two types of cameras: the external ones are used to film space around a user, while two infrared ones monitor movements of eyeballs.
Eye movement can reveal human personality. This fact has been known since the seventies. Both the external cameras and eye tracking are used in top consumer models of VR headsets. A field of vision is perceived as a key parameter. In HL2, it is twice the width of HL1.
Currently, Microsoft focuses on building a platform of the future based on its cloud computing service Azure. Their ‘camera’, Azure Kinect DK proves to be a truly groundbreaking device that can change the face of numerous industries. The reason is that this is not a regular camera but a developer kit that includes cameras (some of them being able to measure the distance), video projectors, microphones and loudspeakers.
The kit allows connecting several other kits in an easy way thanks to which you can film scenes live at different angles and play them in 3D. Azure Kinect DK includes AI which analyzes the gathered data in real time. Therefore, it can present the analyzed results in real time giving a possibility to use them in real time as well.
Facebook proves to be another important player on the market. Mark Zuckerberg has recently announced that a project called Aria will be released in 2021. Facebook management explains that Aria is a research project aiming at exploring possibilities and needs for AR as well as determining a level of safety measures connected with data collection.
Their aim is to build a system consisting of several parts. One of them includes, among others, smart glasses that are manufactured in cooperation with a manufacturer of iconic sunglasses, Ray-ban. The second one is Live Maps that will create 3D models of the world.
The system will create a separate 3D map for each user by scanning space around them. In the future, it should recognize the places that have already been scanned so there will be no need for scanning them again. This will mean a radical acceleration of its work.
To quote: ‘LiveMaps will allow combining virtual and real worlds in an effective way using smart glasses of the future. The AR glasses will download the newest data from 3D maps and only detect changes such as street names or a new parking. Then the system will update the 3D map with the changes. Its practical application is currently tested by the Aria project.’
In a period between summer holidays and December 2016, FB/Oculus and HTC had been competing with each other over who would start consumer sales of VR headsets. The Oculus won. The victory, however, was not complete.
Tim Cook announced that Apple would not participate in the competition which was not entirely true. The company was interested exclusively in AR and since 2017 they have been announcing that within 3–4 years they will release smart glasses that will become a game changer. And it happens that it will be exactly at the turn of 2020/2021.
Since that announcement, Apple has introduced numerous solutions on the market. They are not widely popular yet but they are headed in one direction. ARKit, an augmented reality (AR) platform for iOS devices, iPad 11 pro and iPhone 12 pro use a built-in laser Lidar: https://www.apple.com/pl/augmented-reality/
Rumor has it that SONY will produce lenses/screen for the Apple’s glasses. On the other hand, you can never be sure of anything until a given product officially reaches the market.
Google was the first to introduce an AR solution that was very close to AR glasses. In 2013, a brand new concept of Google glasses was introduced during Christmas. The company started to sell them in 2015. However, the glasses were withdrawn from sales two years later.
Despite the initial failure, Google released Glass Enterprise Edition 2 in 2015, i.e. the AR glasses for business purposes. They are based on Qualcomm Snapdragon XR1 which, according to Google, provides longer battery life. Smith Optics was responsible for manufacturing frames that resemble regular glasses which means that the headset is more handy than competitive headsets, such as HoloLens by Microsoft or Magic Leap. GEE2 smart glasses cost $999.
I’ve saved the best for last: a joke. What is the most expensive rock in the world? Magic Leap. The startup received more than $3.5 billion for the development of a new platform and AR smart glasses from Google and Alibaba Group, among others. In 2018, a company AT& T became an exclusive investor of Magic Leap.
‘The founder, Rony Abovitz, was planning to build an alternative reality. The problem was that he already existed in one.’
Magic Leap produced the weakest and least attractive device on the market. Apparently, the problem was that Abovitz refused to use sub-assemblies manufactured by other companies so that Magic Leap had to build each part on their own. In consequence, he resigned after 9 years of work and was replaced with Peggy Johnson, a former executive director of Microsoft, in May 2020. We’ll see what comes next.
Back in a high school in the nineties, I was playing the drums in a band called ‘Embarrassment’. The good old days! We were wandering around the city and ‘processing movies’ in old boxes with photographic Kodak films. Imagine how colorful and immersive the movies were back then. We were wearing headphones and our backpacks were full of indispensable things. We treated them as our homes. That’s how we called the backpacks: little homes.
It all stems from the fact that people have always wanted to have everything at hand. In addition, it has to be more and more each time: everything and everywhere. Plus, they don’t want to carry anything anymore. Do you even imagine carrying your beloved one, aquarium, kid, painting, stamp collection, family souvenirs, board games, cinema, TV, computer and camera with yourself all the time? It’s simply impossible.
People had been following a nomadic existence for 2.5 million years which means that 60K generations did not have homes. Everything had been carried around since birth till death. Computers appeared 80 years ago. Smartphones were introduced much later, only 15 years ago. Only one generation may say that they know smartphones since birth. Clearly, we experience fast technological development and there is no possibility to stop it.
One important question arises. It was technological development that caused climatic issues. Is it possible that it will save us from them too? I feel that it’s not only a possibility but the only solution that is in front of us.
About the author:
Marcin Łunkiewicz is a founder of mimo.ooo, a VR pioneer in Europe responsible for manufacturing, production and distribution of XR/AI formats. He is responsible for creative automation and aims at creating tools based on AI algorithms that will automatically generate individualized contents for respective users as well as projecting them in XR formats.
He delivered lectures on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, XR/AI/5G markets and narratives in XR technology during festivals and events in Warsaw, Vienna, London, Paris, Brussels, Katowice, Tallinn, Poznań, Gdynia, Cracow, Yokohama, Kyoto, Osaka, Oslo and New York.