Back to the Future Reality

HILL VALLEY, 21 October, 2015 — Today Marty McFly arrived in that alternate future reality where the Cubs win the World Series and hoverboards work over any surface (except water, of course). Back to the Future Part II came out in 1989, the same year that Tim Berners-Lee began sketching out his vision for what we now know as the World Wide Web.

Four years later we had Mosaic, the first really practical web browser. For the first time, a significant number of people were exposed to the Web as a reality. Many were wondering what exactly it was good for, and whether it was going to catch on.

Of course it was harder in 1993 to see the Web as the globe-spanning medium we now take for granted. Such a radical level of transformation required people to build Web-based content and software, and other people to use that content and software. That kind of ecosystem takes time to develop and grow.

The Web grew quite steadily for the next 14 years. Then in 2007 came a major disruptive leap: Apple launched the iPhone. For the first time, consumers could put the Web in their pocket and take it with them everywhere. We now take this reality for granted.

I think we are now, in 2015, about to enter the Mosaic stage of Virtual Reality. The technology itself has existed for many years, but in spring of 2016 it will for the first time become widely available to consumers (via competing platforms from Facebook, Valve, SONY and others). Its close cousin, see-through 3D Augmented Reality, will launch soon thereafter, from Microsoft, Google and others.

Many people are asking what VR will be good for. Assuming a rate of evolution analogous to the one from Mosaic to iPhone, the answer to that will become very clear over the next 14 years, more or less. Between now and then applications for VR and AR will continue to grow and develop. People will come to rely on personal and professional applications of VR/AR that nobody today has even thought of.

Then sometime around 2030, VR will get its iPhone: People will just pop in their cyber-contact lenses (which will also double as cameras). Immersive Virtual Reality and see-through Augmented Reality will become one and the same technology, and people will begin to take that reality for granted.

And that reality will come to seem quite normal. Until around 2040, when neural implants get their Mosaic. I can’t even imagine what reality will be like after around 2055, when neural implants get their iPhone, a full century after lightning struck the courthouse clock in Hill Valley.

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