In 1996 I read Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte. At that time I was a couple of years out of university and working for a large telecommunications company (aka the phone company) in British Columbia, Canada. It wasn’t required reading, however, it was relevant to my industry and I really enjoyed the book. I have always been more interested in the future than the past. From the book, the two points that often come back to mind are bits and atoms, and the Negroponte Switch.
The concept of bits and atoms is dead simple: all information that is currently in physical form (atoms) will be made available in digital form (bits). Once all information is in digital form it is easily mixed, mashed up, and new and interesting creations are released.
The Negroponte Switch refers to the information transmission medium used by different devices. When the book was written, most telephones were hardwired to the telephone network, while television sets received their broadcast signal wirelessly via antenna. The mobility that cellular phones provided meant that telephones would become wireless, while the increasing bandwidth requirements for television meant that they would become hardwired.
What will be the next Negroponte switch?
In 2012, Nicholas Negroponte had this to say about what’s next…
Rather than a switch, it will be a merging of atoms with bits
In the past several years we have seen traditional manufacturing companies (examples include Ford, GM, and Boeing) acquire software companies and add software-based services to their product catalogs. At the same time, software companies (Facebook, Google, Microsoft) have added hardware to their portfolios. I don’t think this is a switch, but, more of a realization that physical things (the atoms) and software (the bits) are best experienced when they are tightly integrated and delivered as a unified experience.
Digital Humans and Beyond
In the current transition, all physical things are being made smart (aka Internet of Things and Machine Learning). This is what Kevin Kelly refers to as Cognification in his book, The Inevitable. Put another way, every physical thing will have a digital twin. Combined with Augmented Reality our need for physical things will begin their decline. With brain-machine interfaces (BMI) we will do away with the need for physical things almost completely and transition from living in an Augmented world to spending all of our time in a Virtual world. This will have a profound shift in how our economy works, transportation, what our homes will look like and what it means to be human. Read Tim Urban‘s lengthy article, Neuralink and the Brain’s Magical Future, for a possible outcome.