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The Future of Text

We believe that the potential of richly interactive text to truly augment how we think & communicate is massive. Text after all, is externalised symbols we can interact with to extend our mind’s reach.

Text is both a medium & a tool for thought.

Our approach is to focus on Intelligence Augmentation (IA). We need to augment how we think, not hope an external system will do that for us (as is the potential with AI). This flows from The Future of Text founder Frode Hegland’s mentor, Doug Engelbart’s perspective, as captured by this apocryphal exchange* (though Doug agreed it was representative of their discussions):

Marvin Minsky: “We are going to make machines intelligent!”
Doug Engelbart: “What are you going to do for people?”

Neuroscientist Gregory Hickok* highlights that “perception is highly active”, something we feel means that we should work to make knowledge in text more richly and usefully interactive. We see the coming use of headsets (VR/AR) as an historic opportunity to unleash the potential of text and to harness the power of AI in multidimensional spaces, far beyond the narrow bandwidth of only voice or rectangular screens.

It is difficult to imagine what a future of text will be in traditional systems, since culturally we ‘know’ what the ‘truth’ is of digital text: word processing, web, messages and a few other uses. We need to dream to innovate but as Doug Engelbart pointed out, dreaming is hard work. With the advent of VR we hope to again inspire dreaming, by moving into an entirely new environment and inspiring new thinking about how text can augment how we think and communicate, in VR, on traditional displays and in other media, including paper.

The Book, Symposium, Metadata and XR coding work is supported by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Our work is to host dialogue, develop infrastructures and build software so that we can all experiment with what experiencing augmented environments are like:

  • Dialog : We host weekly Lab meetings with monthly special presentations as well as an annual series of Future of Text Symposia, for over a decade. The resulting work is published in our Journal and in a series of compendium books.

  • Experiences : We have developed Software for reading and authoring in traditional digital environments and we are now developing for XR environments.

  • Infrastructure : We work to develop open and robust infrastructures, primarily through Visual-Meta.



The aim of the work is to give mastery of tools for thought to help people feel mastery of thinking in general.

More specifically, the aim of the work is to make text better connected and more interactive to support augmenting how we think and communicate. A visual illustration of one of our approaches of this is the integrated Concept Map in our macOS software ‘Author’:



This work is now supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Some of this work was covered in a recent BBC interview.

Current work on a Digital Library function in Reader software and how to make the multiple hundreds of thousands of words in The Future of Text editions accessible to the reader through an ‘AI Edition’.


Future of Text 2018, including Future of Text founder Frode Hegland top left, and Vint Cerf, seated, centre, at the location where Vint & Bob Kahn finalised the TCP-IP protocol.



If we truly value knowledge, we must also value how knowledge is created, stored, shared, accessed & interacted with.