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Throughout history, each significant advancement in internet service accessibility has sparked the proliferation of corresponding applications that have become a major part of everyday life. The introduction of dial up connections was accompanied with the ability to view and interact with websites; recent advancements in broadband connectivity have allowed for streaming services like Netflix to usurp traditional television services. As the gigabit age emerges, ideas that were once relegated to science fiction are becoming reality. Concepts seen in television and movies, such as holodecks and holographic communications, or an AI life coach that could make you a superhero, are no longer elements of fiction. As technology continues to advance, gigabit era applications promise revolutionary levels of connection, integration, and usefulness.
One innovative platform enabled by gigabit internet is vivid telepresence, or remote presence. This technology is capable of revolutionizing the way we gather and collaborate. Thanks to researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications, we are now one step closer to a real-life Star Trek holodeck. Utilizing over 20 digital cameras, photorealistic 3d avatars of users are created. Avatars closely resemble the user, with every minute detail, such as hand fidgets or wrinkles in clothing, being captured. (1) The 3d avatar is then projected into a variety of virtual spaces. Provided the hardware and connection speed are present, meetings of any kind with anyone from anywhere can be conducted on this digital 'ethereal plane'. In a gigabit world you can have Thanksgiving dinner with family members no matter their location or conduct business meetings with people located on the other side of the world.
Gigabit technology also allows for many other revolutionary capabilities. Advanced telecommuting will not only change the way people meet for work, but also the way people search for work; with a fiber internet connection, job searches will no longer be confined to specific geographic regions defined by commuting distance. With gigabit speeds, telemedicine will make visits to the doctor for anything less than emergencies a thing of the past. Some experts even predict that most people by 2025 will have a medical 'pod' in their own homes through which most doctor, patient interactions will take place (2). Augmented reality (AR) powered by gigabit speeds allows for many possibilities, including the ability to drastically expand the average person's perspective of the world around them. Pokemon Go, with its creatures that exist in a digital overlay of reality, is only the beginning in AR development. Imagine a Wikipedia overlay on a pair of glasses that tells you anything you want to know about whatever it is you are looking at. AR can provide children trapped in low-income education systems with the ability to gain a worldly perspective by traveling the globe virtually. One day we could even be capable of being in multiple locations at once by utilizing augmented reality.
As technology continues to advance, it will become even more tightly intertwined with all aspects of humanity. As things like 'life logging', personal dashboards, and embedded sensors come online, people will become even more interconnected with technology and each other. According to Laurel Papworth, human history will be divided into two generational categories: The Lost Generations which had to manually document their lives and the Eternity Generations which will have their lives from birth to death recorded in the online databases. 'Lifestreaming from ultrasound to final illness...', as Laurel puts it (2). This kind of data-intensive recording of life will allow for better control of day-to-day life functions. All of this collected data can be illustrated on a visual dashboard that can be used to make more educated decisions, avoid coercive marketing tactics, or better manage scheduling.
Our future looks bright as long as these powerful new technologies are equitable and democratized. Just having these amazing new platforms available won't be enough to ensure fair use. We will need to actively promote and teach digital literacy. Please stay tuned for our next Article, Digital Literacy: A Meta-Study. Where we will discuss the digital divide and steps to close it more in depth.