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What if …Reality+Digital Reality becomes … Reality – I

The FDC IEEE Digtal Reality Initiative is looking at the impact of a growing digital world interacting weith the physical one. Image credit: Digital Reality Initiative

Yesterday (or today, given the time difference) I participated at an Industry Panel, Roadmapping Communications Technologies, and from my part I discussed a few aspects of the Digital Reality Initiative run at FDC IEEE.

As I was preparing for the talk I started to feel uneasy on the very name of the initiative: Digital Reality. The more I considered it the more misleading it seemed. In this series of posts I would like to share my views on Digital Reality and its roadmapping, possibly convincing you too that a different name would be better.

The area of “Digital Reality” is a melange of technology -of course- with psychology, economics, society and even, if I may, a bit of philosophy. This is why I am so interested in it and this is why our group involves, and solicits involvement of people coming from different paths of life.

What we have seen happening since the birth of modern computers is a progressive capability to process numbers on the one hand and to convert a growing variety of manifestation of the physical world in numbers. As an example we have managed to convert sounds, music, voice into digits and today telecommunications infrastructures transport these bits that once appropriately interpreted can be translated back into sounds, music, voice. As technology got better the fidelity of the transformation, that is the conversion from the physical reality to the digital one and  back to the physical one, has become so good that we no longer appreciate the conversion going on.

Of course, music and voice is just an example (chosen because it was actually the first “conversion” that took roots). We transform landscapes into digital images that can be displayed on big screen providing an immersive sensation to the point you may no longer perceive it is a “copy”. Virtual Reality is scrambling to get better, seamless, technology to immerse us into a virtual world that is undistinguishable from the real one, integrating visual and haptic sensations. We are not there yet, but every year we are getting a bit closer.

Bits are now used to mimic sensations, sentiment analyses of crowds have progressed significantly. Wait a moment. This is different!

When I am converting an image into a digital representation I am starting from something that is “physical”. Not so when we enter the space of sensations, emotion, feeling or crowd sentiment. Here we are making some wild guessing of a physical world that cannot be pinpointed in a mechanical way. We use data (digital entities) to create other data.

Yet, it turns out that these emerging meanings can be quite accurate and can be used in simulation to a good degree of fidelity. Take as an example the design of security exits in a mall. Engineers together with psychologists and experts in human behaviour are using software to simulate what could happen if a situation of danger (true or just perceived) materialises in a crowd inside the mall. Will there be a stampede? Will the designed security exits and exit pathways be adequate to manage the stampede?

This software creates a digital reality of a sort that coexists with the physical reality of the (future) mall and that is taken very seriously as reality.

The point I am making is that our technology has progressed to the point that the everyday physical reality becomes expanded and that (virtual) Digital Reality becomes as real as the physical one.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.

One comment

  1. Thanks for the interesting article Roberto! Important is the perception of reality. Generation Z gets socialized with physical and virtual reality, due to this, they only perceive 1 reality, which is formed jointly by virtual and physical world.