Exponential technologies are upending old business models and unlocking new possibilities. The ways in which humanity is addressing global grand challenges are changing, whether regarding energy, shelter, healthcare, or education. Change is all around us.
As SU’s Director of Community Engagement, I am particularly interested in how exponential technology opens up new frontiers and opportunities to enhance the state of people’s connections and bonds. Below are five especially exciting exponential technologies in this domain and an overview of how they can transform the ways that people engage with each other.
1. Augmented reality (AR)
AR technology will help people connect with and learn more about those around them, facilitating the formation of new relationships.
Imagine being at a park, and having AR features integrated into your glasses. You can see information related to the people around you that you might not have known otherwise:
The person sitting across the park might be an alumnus of your university.
The woman reading nearby might, like you, also be a beginner violinist.
Knowing more about the strangers around us every day could help us initiate and carry out conversations that are more meaningful for us. In this way, AR can help create communities; the technology empowers people to come together who otherwise wouldn’t have.
I have experienced AR’s utility at conferences, too. Surrounded by tons of people, it’s guesswork, at best, deciding who might be most interesting to talk to. That isn’t even factoring in the social anxiety associated with approaching complete strangers!
Knowing something about people around us can help us network more efficiently and intentionally. At large events, AR can empower introverts with information, helping them approach strangers, spark conversations, and develop great things.
2. Virtual reality (VR)
One of the technologies I am most excited about is VR. In an increasingly global world, friends and family often span distant geographies and numerous time zones. While phones, messaging apps, and video are great at helping us stay connected, VR will create ever more immersive and realistic ways for us to be present with the people that matter to us, surpassing physical barriers.
Imagine being able to hang out in a VR meeting room with a group of your friends from all over the world. Already, apps like vTime and Altspace are democratizing this capability by putting it into the hands of consumers. Companies like eXp Realty already hold the majority of their work meetings in VR, and this trend is likely to continue.
How might collaborating in VR workspaces also help us spend more time in person with family and friends? You could work from a rural community, collaborate with co-workers elsewhere using a VR meeting room, and be back in your rural community with your loved ones as fast as you remove a headset.
No more having to uproot yourself for your career, or having to choose between career and family. VR enables you to have the best of both worlds. The advent of holoportation technology, which allows holographic avatars of a person to be projected anywhere in the world, will take this even further by unlocking new ways to foster connection across distance, blurring the lines between our physical and virtual worlds.
3. Advances in mobility and transportation
Self-driving vehicles will give us back our time to spend on cultivating relationships we care about. Instead of having to concentrate on the road, self-driving vehicles will optimize our commute so that we can spend more time at home, and less on the road. It will also free up time to do other things during the commute, like watching a movie or talking to a loved one.
Hyperloops will enable people to commute long distances in a short span of time, providing another possibility for people to live in their dream communities, while still being physically present where employment opportunities abound. Imagine being able to live with your elderly parents in a small town in Nevada, and only having a 30-minute commute to your job in Silicon Valley. This is a future that is possible.
4. Artificial intelligence (AI)
AI has the power to make the formation of bonds between people dramatically more efficient. Trying to make friends at a party or meet the love of your life at a bar can be really hit or miss. Imagine if AI knew you well enough to suggest which people at a gathering or event you would be most likely to hit it off with.
The formation of relationships with other people will always be a human process which technology cannot replace. However, technology can enhance our efforts to build a community of people who can help us and be a part of our social fabric throughout our lives.
Next, conceive of a future where the exchange of social capital could be tracked over time on an immutable ledger. This social capital could possess both a social value within a community and also a financial value, similar to fiat or cryptocurrencies. This is one application of the blockchain that could influence the way people connect with one another.
At Singularity University, we have nearly 200,000 members in our global community. Imagine if - to incentivize a culture of support and helping others - we could track when members of our community collaborate or help one another. We could issue crypto tokens representing the social capital exchanged. These tokens would be valued like stock in a market, or redeemed for special experiences and opportunities within our community ecosystem. This shift would, in turn, encourage the types of cultural behaviors we want to see at SU among our community members.
By having an immutable record of social capital transactions, we could also create social network maps to better understand our community’s social dynamics and the role individuals play in that network. These maps would enhance the development of community-building and mobilization strategies.
Building the next-gen community
The communities we’re a part of, and the social bonds with those in our networks, are critical components of the human experience. Just like in many other fields, exponential technology is beginning to modify and enhance the tools and means which we use to build more meaningful and plentiful relationships.
If you’re looking to make connections with people who are thoughtful about the way these technologies are being applied, join us. Download our app and then start meeting other members of the SU global community, find out about various virtual and local events happening all over the world, and access cutting-edge thought leadership about the future.
Ravi is Director of Community Engagement at Singularity University. He applies a service attitude, an understanding of psychology and social behavior, and design thinking to create innovative new experiences that build stronger impact-oriented communities.