Don't worry, tomorrow’s technology will be ambient and calm.

Niels van Hamersveld

In the past decades, digital transformation caused product and services to move from a physical to a digital environment. Now we see those digital elements seamlessly merge back into our physical climate. By adding intelligent sensor technology to our everyday environments they will become sensitive to us. Our surroundings are full of advanced sensors and actuators without us noticing any of it unless we want to. This is what ambient technology is. The tools to create this ambient movement are already here and they become extremely empowering when their use is combined.

Voice + Gestures + Artificial Intelligence + Interactive Projection  = Holy sh*t, everything is possible!

Voice assistants are rising, such as Apple HomePod, Amazon Alexa and Google Home. Gesture is a bit behind, with devices such as Microsoft Kinect and Google Soli, but they too are rapidly evolving. Combining voice and gesture is a logical next step in interface design, as they are the way we verbally and non-verbally interact with one another. Jared Ficklin demonstrated what this could look like in the session: 'Interactive Light: Projection Based Interfaces', just point at something and say what you want it to do.

Add machine learning to the mix - and some time for the system to learn - and it will understand you even if you misspoke, use slang, or are drunk. But as Samsung NEXT’s Patrick Chang points out in the talk 'Touch, Voice, Gesture: What’s Next?' that context awareness is key. For instance, in a masterclass, Spike Lee triggered multiple Siri's in the room when shouting "SIRIously?" in reply to one of the audience's questions. A few years from now that won't happen anymore. Like a Tesla car, a smart speaker that you buy today will improve greatly after you bought it, one software update at a time.

Visual interfaces no longer will be confined to a rectangular screen. By adding depth sensing to a beamer, any surface can become interactive. When a beamer can take the objects in a room into consideration, some very interesting new types of interfacing arise, as Jared showed us.

"Some day, light will be cheaper than ink". - Jared Ficklin

So why calm?

Because right now we live in a world where information is competing for our attention, using pop-ups, notifications and annoying red dots. When foreseeing the current state of digital intrusiveness, you might get something like hyper-reality, as envisioned in this video art piece by Keiichi Matsuda:

However, in the talk Humanizing Autonomy, Liesl Capper of Akin talks about Artificial Intelligence and its enormous potential empathetic capacity. “It will understand how you are feeling, what’s going on for you, and where you want to go in life. It’s not just going to be conversational, it’s going to be ambient and predictive”. And we don’t want attention-grabbing and visually stimulating notifications, but the devices of today cannot assess situations well and prioritize information accordingly.

“It’s not just going to be conversational, it’s going to be ambient and predictive.” -Liesl Capper

Right now, the intelligence of digital services is the correct interpretation of what a user wants. Google Search is doing a good job at this, but the user still needs to actively ask for something. For instance, when you are driving a car you are subconsciously communicating with it. By reading your body language the car might know you could use a break so it suggests a place to stop and meanwhile blow some cold air from the dashboard. No need for annoying red dots. This is what Calm technology is. It aims to only show the absolute minimum amount of information and thus require the smallest possible amount of attention.

I am confident that in situations where we don't want technology to be intrusive, it won't be. Simply because people don't want that, or in other words: because there is a market for calm technology. So instead of hyper-reality, it will be more like subtle digitally enhanced reality.

Except for entertainment purposes of course, those are going to be insane.