Welcome to ‘The Future of Text Volume 3’ where we focus on VR/AR and AI.
VR (including AR) is about to go mainstream and this can offer tremendous improvements for how we think, work and communicate.
There are serious issues around how open and VR environments will be and how knowledge objects and environments will be portable. Think Mac VS. PC and the Web Browser Wars but for the entire work environment.
The potential of text augmented with AI is also only now beginning to be be understood to improve the lives of individual users, though it has been used, in various guises and under various names (ML, algorithms etc.) to power social networks and ‘fake news’ for years.
More important than the specific benefits working in VR will have, is perhaps the opportunity we now have to reset our thinking and return to first principles to better understand how we can think and communicate with digital text. Douglas Engelbart, Ted Nelson and other pioneers led a ‘Cambrian Explosion’ of innovation for how we can interact with digital text in the 60s and 70s by giving us digital editing, hypertext-links and so on, but once we, the public, felt we knew what digital text was (text which can be edited, shared and linked), innovation slowed to a crawl. The hypertext community, as represented by ACM Hypertext, has demonstrated powerful ways we can interact with text, far beyond what is in general use, but the inertia of what exists and the lack of curiosity among users has made it prohibitively expensive to develop and put into use new systems.
With the advent of VR, where text will be freed from the small rectangles of traditional environments, we can again dream of what text can be. There will again be public curiosity as to what text can be.
To truly unleash text in VR we will need to re-examine what text is, what infrastructures support textual dialogue and what we want text to do for us. The excitement of VR fuels our imagination again–just think of working in a library where every wall can instantly display different aspects of what you are reading such as outlines and glossary definitions and images from the book are framed on the wall, all the while being interactive for you to change the variables in diagrams and see connections with cited sources. This is an incredibly exciting future once headsets get better (lighter and more comfortable as well as better visual quality). Because this cannot happen without fundamental infrastructure improvements, what we build for VR will benefit text in all digital forms.
This is important. The future of humanity will depend on how we can improve how we think and communicate and the written word, with all it’s unique characteristics of being swimmable, readable at your own pace and so on, will remain a key to this. The future of text we choose will choose how our future will be written.