Her, Not Ready Player One

Tech incumbents wanted the future to look a lot like Ready Player One. But maybe life has other plans and Large Language Models and AI, not Virtual Reality, end up driving the generational change that leads to the next paradigm.

We once thought we were building a future straight out of Ready Player One. However, it turns out, our future is shaping up to be more akin to the movie Her.

A paradigm shift around the corner

The driver for a generational change is a paradigm shift. The history of computing is essentially a chain of these shifts, each triggered by a groundbreaking technological advancement within its underlying foundation. These pivotal moments don’t just tweak the status quo; they redefine how we interact with technology.

From mainframes to personal computers (PCs), from desktop applications to the web, first on PCs, and then on mobile. Each new technological wave enables the upcoming paradigm and causes a seismic shift in human-computer interaction (HCU), spurring the rise of fresh tools and new entrants to the market.

Easier, closer

At the core of every shift there is a central theme: frictionless interaction and deeper human-tech integration. Technology keeps coming closer to our bodies and becoming more user-friendly.

Even though mobile seems today like the endgame, it just takes a technological breakthrough to bring about new product possibilities we’re not even dreaming of. Imagine trying to conceptualize the personal computer back in the ’60s, or an iPhone in the ’90s; our forecasts are often limited by the lens of the present. We might now be at the same point.

We may think we’re predicting the future, but we’re just projecting our current toolkit into the future. We’re missing the foundational shift that will pave the way for what’s next. It’s also why sci-fi movies from the last century are cluttered with cables and machinery. They were simply extrapolating from what they knew.

A false start

That being said, industry incumbents, like Apple and Meta, are keenly aware of history’s cyclical nature. Their eyes are set on the next paradigm shift, and both seem to think it’ll be a VR wonderland straight out of Ready Player One. But here’s the catch: VR might add more friction than it removes, making it a counterintuitive successor to our handy mobile devices.

Now, skip VR; it’s advancements in Large Language Models (LLMs) and Artificial Intelligence that may be the real game changers.

AI-driven social networks are already remodeling our digital friendships — removing the need for humans to create the content that populates our feeds. While multi-modal interactions with platforms like ChatGPT offer a user experience that’s more human-like than ever before.

They’re steering HCU towards an era of synthetic social networks and ambient computing.

Ambient computing

For startups looking to gain a foothold, LLMs offer the first opportunity since the dawn of the iPhone to capture user attention and to replace the phone as the de facto device.

This is precisely why Meta’s smart glasses — not the Oculus headset — are their ticket to a frictionless, immersive user experience. By folding AI into everyday items, Meta is streamlining product design in an unprecedented way.

A device that can master multi-modal input might very well be the heir to the smartphone throne and pave the way to a the new paradigm. One that aims to make technology so integral to our surroundings that we forget it’s even there.

It’s the next frontier, challenging the continuous computing emerged from the smartphone and leading to a computing that fuses with our environment. The advent of AI isn’t just an incremental update; it’s a revolutionary shift and probably the next chapter in the ongoing story of human progress.

First published on October 05, 2023