3 Ways We’ll Communicate in the Future

Beyond the Facebook Phone: Telepathy, holograms, and the new Internet.

Ever since Alexander Graham Bell shouted “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you!” into his telephone back in 1876, it seems like mankind has been in an arms race to develop electronic communications technology.

Enter the newly released Facebook Phone (aka the HTC First), Mark Zuckerberg’s own attempt at Graham-Belling the silicone game. But, while interesting, coding up a giant app and preloading it onto a cheap phone doesn’t so much count as innovation as it does marketing. In short, our desire to quickly and constantly communicate definitely won’t stop at the Facebook Phone.

No, where we’re heading as a species is much more enveloping, inclusive, and implanted.

Real, Actual Telepathy (Thanks to the Network)

Since Google announced Google Glass in April of last year, countless other companies have started their own take on the head-mounted display, including Oakley and Sony. But wearing glasses all the time is gonna get annoying.

Which is why we’re going to learn telepathy. Well, more accurately, we’re going to invent it. Dave Evans, the “chief futurist” at Cisco Labs, told DNA that researchers are working on a way to upload and download information directly to/from our brains with the aid of nothing more than a tiny silicone implant. The result, he said in an interview with ITPro, would allow us to “communicate by thought alone over the network.”

Spacey, yes, but not all that far-fetched. We’ve already got video games we can control with our eyes, prosthetics that respond to our thoughts, and MRIs that can predict what we’re going to say before we say it. Give those researchers a couple decades, and we’ll have to do little more than think someone’s name to shit-talk them on the Internet.

Holograms Better Than Star Trek’s (And More Practical)

As anyone in a long-distance relationship can tell you, video communication is the bane of modern telephony. FaceTime sucks, Skype sucks (less so), and even if either of those cursed programs works correctly, the end result isn’t exactly tangible in terms of serving a purpose higher than a standard phone call would. The static shot, close contact with your device, and poor service make the point of the tech difficult to achieve. But video conferencing as a concept, however, is massively viable as a communications technology.

So long as we add holograms. Forget a Holodeck, I’m talking about a fully enveloping technology with far-reaching implications for telecommuting, lectures and live performances—one that includes the setting from your co-worker’s office, allowing the two of you to tangibly collaborate in real time in completely different places. Or one that displays every member of GWAR in your living room as they slay characters at their live show, allowing you to get the full bloody experience of a schlocky metal act without all the mess.

Surprisingly, we’re actually almost there. The Tupac (non)hologram from last year got everyone excited, but more promising is holographic Japanese pop star Hatsune, who sells out arenas for her “live” performances. Even more practical is the work of Intel GM Cigdem Ertem, who recently delivered a conference presentation in Turkey as a full hologram. A few decades from now, we may never have to leave the house.

Floating in the Worldstream (AKA 3-D Browsing)

Ah, the web. Despite being a non-physical place with no concrete layout besides what we apply to it, we still refer to Internet happenings spatially—i.e., “it’s on the top right.” But as we continue to move more and more into using the web more like a diary organized by time, the “web” metaphor, which invokes visions of hyperlinks slapdashed together to form an archaic, inefficient network of information, seems unlikely to make it into the next decade. We simply aren’t using the Internet in the same way as 10 years ago.

Which is why Wired contributors David Gelernter and Erik Freeman developed the concept of the “worldstream.” Instead of using links to form a web, the worldstream uses “narrative streams” (made up of social media, blogs, and so on) to follow the temporal nature of the Internet. The result is a drastically different representation of being online, with info flowing to you from the future and away into the past in an organized cluster. That necessarily means the invention of a virtual 3-D display (think Hackers) that allows us to literally surf through the worldstream and extract pertinent info.

And that actually already exists in the form of lifestreams.com, a software prototype that puts an esthetic on Freeman and Gelerntner’s vision. While not the enveloping online experience that this will come to be, lifestreams.com does show what we can do with our current limited technology. A few more years, and we’ll be surfing the web literally.