I have watched a number of vision videos, and almost all of them have one thing in common: major infrastructure assumptions. Glass walls with controls, rooms with special speakers and microphones, sensors in inexpensive mirrors, projectors and sensors in open spaces. It isn’t that these things aren’t possible, but look around your house. If it is new, you may have conduits for wires that are increasingly becoming obsolete, why: devices. I don’t need to run Ethernet through the house anymore, and soon, cable TV may only need one port. All of this infrastructure requires infrastructure, that is why we call it infrastructure. These fancy class panels and mirrors and projects will require power and home network connections. Even in major industrial spaces, or major retrofits of homes or offices, history should tell people not to invest in the latest stuff to embed.
What is the alternative?
You already know the answer. It is in your pocket. The answer is devices. Devices can come and go. They are built for that. Even big screen TVs have moved past their immoveable past. If you want to read RFID tags for clothing, it won’t be your mirror, it will be your phone. If you want to stream music from your home system, it will take place over portable devices, from TVs to alarm clocks. And if some device doesn’t do everything you want, just wait, one will come along and replace it. And none of them will require you to paint, pull cables or cut out openings in walls.
So the next time you see an infrastructure video like this one from Corning, appreciate the creativity and the vision, but realize that your home probably won’t look like this, and the world won’t operate this way either, at least not anytime soon. Your future is more likely to be made up of interactions with screens that are mounted on walls or sitting on desks, rollout displays that you roll-up and put away. You will still have that granite counter and it won’t have a projector mounted above it to help you cook. Your phone charging on the counter may offer some guidance, or your tablet PC precariously standing in the cookbook holder, but your refrigerator won’t connect to the grocery store (though with the data from loyalty program tracking your grocery store may connect to you) and you won’t have any waving gestures on walls. Some Microsoft-Kinect-like device may pick up movement, but it will do so much like it does today, you might just have a better display in place.
Organizations should not stop creating visions, but they should also show more likely scenarios that people can relate to. When people go to buy a device in the future, they shouldn’t be disappointed because it is a thing and not a wall—ultimately the answer for most people will be a web of personal devices not a seamless, clean, embedded collection of new infrastructure components. I’m planning on buying the best stuff I can afford, not getting too attached to it, and replacing it when I feel so compelled. That’s also good for the consumer economy, and not so good for a sustainable economy. If businesses want to create a real vision, let’s see what these videos look like in a non-consumer-oriented sustainable economy. Those would be very enlightening visions that would really get people to think.