The Near Future is Already Here

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It was a busy and exciting day at Union Market’s Dock 5 yesterday in Washington, D.C. It was the long-awaited Near Future Event, where NCTA President and CEO Michael Powell explained it best when he said, “We don’t want to look so far ahead that we’re engaged in science fiction. We want to look to the near future.” In many cases, the near future is already here in its early experimental stages, thanks to ISP providers who provide the networks that almost every technology innovation to come will depend on. As CableLabs CEO and co-host of the event Phil McKinney relayed with Powell, a high-speed network, and in many cases, a gigabit network, will be required to make the near future a reality.


Attendees enjoyed trying out the different virtual reality and augmented reality exhibits on display, and caught a glimpse of what’s just around the corner. Some flew over Manhattan with Birdly, others explored a model of Local Motors’ self-driving, 3D printed bus called Olli, or tried out Taqtile’s 3D maps app using Microsoft’s HoloLens, an AR headset, and viewed a city landscape from multiple perspectives.

But the crux of what pulled the entire event together were the speakers, each of whom conveyed how all of the innovations around the conference, which are still in their infancy, tie back to the core concepts of Play, Work, Learn, and Live – and how these creative disruptions will transform those four areas in our lives.

Starting with PLAY, Google VR Senior Engineer Paul Debevec showed how the movies and the cinematic experiences we know today will change as engineers come to master the art of digitizing humans into movies, television and video games, helping to enhance storytelling through that added touch of photorealism. Senior Vice President of Technicolor/MPC Timothy Dodd spoke on how VR, game engines and mixed reality tools will change our perspective and how we view sports in particular. And in an interesting discussion about his job as a futurist for 20th Century Fox, Ted Schilowitz shared his insights on how people are more ready for VR than ever before. Thanks to our smartphones and our nature to break down the barriers that technology present us with today, we as humans are always striving for that interactive, up close and personal experience that VR provides.

On WORK, CEO of Zoom, Eric Yuan, connected with the audience through a video conferencing call, and demonstrated how user-friendly technology can enhance remote work collaboration among colleagues and meeting participants. Local Motors Chief Strategy Officer Justin Fishkin started off his presentation on autonomous vehicles by asking “What would Henry Ford have done had the internet existed back then?” He introduced the audience to Olli, the self-driving bus mentioned earlier, and one which people will be able to summon on an app as they do with Uber and Lyft. Ricardo Poupada, CEO of 5th Wall – a studio focused on VR, AR, and 360 video – showcased the different ways that these technologies are impacting the retail, healthcare, and entertainment industries. He further emphasized the power of AR, and how Apple CEO Tim Cook has even said that AR will be a fundamental part of the future.

During the LEARN segment, Chief Technology Officer for IBM Watson, Rob High, took things in a different direction when he talked about cognition and the importance of building empathy into artificial intelligence. David Traum, director of Natural Language Research at USC Institute for Creative Technology, played on this bond between humans and technology when he demonstrated USC’s creation of the hologram of a Holocaust survivor. The hologram provides a bridge for future generations to interact with a piece of history. And fittingly, 15-year-old Liam McKinley, whom one might say is a symbol of the near future himself, took the audience through Skoolbot, a mobile app for Google Classroom that he created. He made a point to ask technology innovators and creators in the audience to consider investing in bot-centric customer service – which he says his generation favors.

Closing out the day was the LIVE portion of the conference. Dr. Wyatt Decker, executive of the Mayo Clinic, blew attendees away with the different diagnostic tools and life-saving surgeries that will soon be possible thanks to 3D printing, VR, AR, genomics and data mining. Re:Imagine Group CEO Peter Hirschberg guided the audience through the cities of tomorrow, which he explained will be built on maker spaces, AI, and other emerging technologies. Lastly, Co-Founder of Taqtile Dirck Schou, Jr., showcased “HoloMaps,” which, as mentioned earlier, takes 3D modeling and AR to the next level.

The riveting discussions throughout the day all centered around the possibilities and challenges that lie ahead, and we look forward to bringing those conversations to you as we unveil them bit by bit in the next few weeks. Check back here in the “near future” for comments and insights from our speakers, exhibitors, and attendees.