The Fourth Transformation is your VR wake-up call

Robert Scoble and Shel Israel just published The Fourth Transformation: How Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence Change Everything. It’s an indispensable guide to the future, and a gripping read. Get yourself a copy.

This is not an unbiased review. While Scoble and Israel wrote this book and are responsible for the content, I edited it. But that also means I’m intimately familiar with every word, so I certainly know what you’re getting. And what you’re getting is a brief but comprehensive 208-page rundown on how the next five years will be completely different because of a fundamental change in how we interact with technology.

What is The Fourth Transformation?

There are moments in technology where everything changes.

The first was when PCs from Apple and IBM made it possible for ordinary people to get access to computers. A computer on every desk transformed the world of business by making information and computing into a utility.

The second was when Macintoshes and Windows changed the interface from arcane to obvious. Layer the Web on that interface and you’re interacting directly with information by pointing and clicking. That transformation gave us all the power to touch and manipulate information.

The third was innovation of mobile. And like the others, it came with a new interface. Now we were using apps and tapping (and talking). Having any information you want available instantly through a device in your pocket transformed everything yet again. (That’s why my colleagues and I wrote The Mobile Mind Shift).

In this book, Scoble and Israel demonstrate that we are on the verge of a fourth fundamental transformation. In this transformation, we will use smart glasses to see an enhanced world and interact with it, in three full dimensions, using our voices and our eyes. I have no doubt that this change is just as fundamental as the transformations that PCs, GUIs, and smartphones created.

Scoble and Israel demonstrate the breadth of the change

Robert Scoble is ubiquitous and dogged. As a result of his influence, he’s managed to get himself an inside picture of everything that’s happening in the world of virtual reality (VR). Shel Israel is one of the world’s best explainers, and an intrepid investigator. Together, they’ve identified the dimensions of this shift and comprehensively documented it.

For example, the book features:

  • A broad and understandable explanation of the dimensions of this technology. This includes point clouds (the 3D models of reality that VR depends on), augmented reality (information overlaid on top of the real world), and mixed reality (a mixture of real and virtual worlds viewed through smart glasses). There’s a useful glossary at the back, too.
  • A detailed tour through the ways that the fourth transformation will upend market sectors. There are chapters on shopping, on enterprises (where VR headsets are already changing the way people work), and especially, on the world of health. I loved the description of how surgeons at the NYU Langone Medical Center saved a patient’s leg by modeling and virtually rehearsing a complex surgery, for example.
  • A terrifying chapter on the downsides of this technology. What’s the world like when your glasses know everything about you, and all that information’s on the Net? When your kid’s teachers are virtual and your sex partner may not even be a real person? When hackers can see everything you’re looking at? This book is optimistic, but not Pollyanna, because there’s some creepy stuff ahead.
  • The missing link to fluid virtual interactions. An analyst knows that for any new technology, there’s some behind-the-scenes technology bit that has to work for things to really change. For example, mobile couldn’t take off until screen-tapping and mobile data coverage got better. In the case of VR and mixed reality, that technology is interacting by simply looking at things. While this book was in development, Scoble and Israel discovered Eyefluence, a startup with the key tech that will make that point-with-your-eyes interaction possible. When Google bought Eyefluence just as the book was wrapping up, I knew they had found the missing link.

This is an optimist’s view of the world of VR and AI

I only have one quibble with this book. I think Scoble and Israel are optimists. I have no doubt that the world they described will get here. But my analyst experience tells me that it won’t get here as quickly as they imagine. Their timeline is a tad too aggressive.

That said, if I’ve learned one thing in 20 years as an analyst, it’s that predicting the future is much easier than predicting the timing of that future.

The timing of this book is perfect. VR is at the center of what technology retailers are pitching for this holiday season. I have no doubt that everyone will be talking about it soon. And I have no doubt that it’s going to dominate our discussions of the future of technology for the next five years. So now is absolutely the right moment to get this entertaining and insightful book.

I enjoyed editing this book because I felt like I got an advance peek into an incredible future. Now you can read it and get the same experience.

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