It was a typical reaction. Whoa, awesome! I’m gonna tweet this. Hey, wait a second. Are robots taking over planet Earth? Have they already?
This April, the nonprofit organization Immersive Technology hosted an event titled “The Era of Experience:” a panel of men and women whose jobs involve creating, pondering and challenging the sort of jaw-droppingly awesome technology that leaves you wide-eyed, and confuses the hell out of your grandmother (gesture controlled display monitors, 3D mobile displays and tiny cameras that can read, interpret and draw inferences from your unique biometric traits).
To give you some perspective, John Underkoffler was there. John Underkoffler is the Chief Scientist from Oblong Industries. Oblong Industries created the technology that you saw in Minority Report. Minority Report is the pop culture example that 9 out of 10 people will provide when asked to explain how technology will forever change the world in the very near future.
Among the glory and drama and brilliance that informed the evening, two truths stuck with me:
 Things are changing. No, really. They are.
Whether you first witnessed it with the widespread adoption of the World Wide Web in the 1990s or the explosion of mobile media in the last two years, you’ve been listening to experts telling you that our world is changing. Radically. For years. But your life has remained, to a large degree, the same.
Well, brace yourself. By the late 2010s, you are going to be the subject – wittingly or not – of a major sea change in the way technology affects us average Joes. Somewhere in Milan for example, a hidden camera is identifying retail store visitors based on their facial features. In the near future, predictive modeling will convert historic information into an accurate forecast of your buying behaviors using your unique biometric information.
Imagine yourself walking into Z Grocery Store. You see coupons, point of sale displays and banners announcing that week’s sales and promotions. Those sales and promotions have been curated by a marketing professional who knows just what sort of person shops at Z Grocery Store: age range, gender, income and purchasing behaviors.
But that was yesterday’s marketing landscape. In tomorrow’s marketing landscape, there will likely be a very small camera mounted near the store’s entrance. When you walk in, the camera will recognize your face. It will feed that recognition into a system. That system has logged photographs and video of your previous visits and knows that you are not only a fully employed female mother of one in the middle income bracket for your zip code, but also that your brow is furrowed in such a way that you are 56% more likely to purchase a gallon of vanilla ice cream today. Then you’re going to receive a coupon for vanilla ice cream on your mobile phone.
Think I’m exaggerating? Go Google “immersive technology.”
The paradigm shift lies in the fact that today’s technology doesn’t just interpret your physical environment, but reacts to it. Yep, things are changing.
 It’s OK to be scared, but keep on living.
Mine is not an uncommon thought: this is some frightening stuff. I am tempted to smash my computer and cancel my wireless service and head to that eponymous pond in Massachusettes that every one of us has dreamed of at some point in our lives.
But, isn’t it far more challenging – and interesting – to explore the emerging ethical and social questions that are part of any major revolution in technology?
Let’s revisit Z Grocery Store. Suppose the system that is predicting my ice cream purchasing habits is also compiling data on my daughter. Now fast forward to 2026. When my daughter submits her application to University A, the admissions committee layers her biometric data records to determine whether she is a good fit for their class.
Is this a good thing? Suppose my daughter strongly believes that University A is a good fit for her, but the admissions committee says otherwise. And it has the data to prove so, incontrovertibly. One could argue that this makes for a stronger university class and better education system. But my daughter is upset. Now, University B determines that she is a perfect match for their entering class and gives her a generous scholarship. Good news for my checkbook, but is it good news for my daughter?
Will immersive technology immerse us unduly? When does statistical probability become cause for corrective action?
I am watching this future unfold before me; I am blinking under a constellation of legal and ethical uncertainties. Is the unique composition of my face considered private property or public domain? Do we have a right to the data that is compiled around us and can we do anything to protect it? Should we? Are there positive applications of this technology?
I’m curious to hear your thoughts. And meanwhile, I will keep on living. In fact, I think I’ll go buy a gallon of vanilla ice cream and rent Minority Report tonight.