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Making Zoom and the likes a thing of the past …

Mesh may not be the future but for sure it provides a glimpse into the future of communications and co-presence of physical and digital space. Image credit: Microsoft

Microsoft has announced its Mesh platform and t their Ignite event. You can get all details, and there are plenty, in their Innovation Stories and take a look at the clip to see how it may look like.

I am saying “it may look like” because the way it can look depends on the type of I/O device you have available. In principle the platform supports tablets and plain vanilla screens, like the one of our PC, as well as 3D VR goggles, like the HoloLens. It is obvious that the experience will greatly be influenced by the device you and the people gathering for the meeting on the platform will be using. Additionally, what you are going to see will depend on the way the content has been prepared. It can be as simple as a Power Point presentation or as complex as an hologram modelling, in the digital space, an ambient, like a manufacture assembly line.

I haven’t had the opportunity of trying it out, only saw a number of clips available on YouTube and I should say I am not overwhelmed by what I saw. It looks a lot like a video game, and I am probably too old to be a fan of video games. What you see  screams “fake” from every photogram. The people participating are rendered as avatars, digital characters. The use of artificial intelligence to provide some mimic to the avatar does not help that much. Again, my perception is of something totally fake, and not even the kind of fake you see, and love, in a Disney cartoon.

Having said that, I am convinced that this is the future.

It might take 5, 10 or 20 more years but I am sure that the future of mixed reality, sitting in our one living room and hosting our digital friends holograms (of a sort) on the couch will not only be possible, it will become normal. That is the key,  when we will move from the possible to the normal.

Obviously, before that we will be engaged in meetings at work, at our clients premises, at expos, … as well as attending mix reality disco (too old to do that, by my grandchildren, having grown up, will surely dive in the virtual space). The evolution that can be expected will be from niches (like surgery, special activities in an assembly line or repair shop, real estate sales,…) to full penetration in the work place, then it will be the turn for universities and college, then it will be retail stores and eventually our homes.

20 years is probably too much, 5 years is really too soon, although we may start seeing the first niche applications appearing (notice that I am referring to a situation where you are experiencing “reality” not fake/artificial as it is today). Ten years might be sufficient to see a broader penetration, although I do not feel it will reach our homes in such a short time.

There are two technologies that are required:

  • devices that can seamlessly connect us to the digital space
  • a seamless fabric that has local intelligence and basically unlimited bandwidth and processing power.

Of the two, the second is the one that I see it happening in ten years. You may call it 6G, a local communications fabric based on smart, intelligent edge (able to render whatever object in a credible, real life way).

The first one may become available tomorrow (I don’t think so) or it might take 20 more years. Ideally electronic contact lenses might do the trick but we are really very far away from practical implementation (heat dissipation and powering remain huge hurdles that we have not been able to address).

So thanks to MS for showing us the future, but that, for the time being is just that; the future.

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.