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Are we about to enter a new ‘golden era’ in technology?

Voice-based assistants and bots — plus enhanced sound and audio — will have a dramatic impact on the man-machine interface.

Jeff Bezos at Code Conference 2016.
Asa Mathat

A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry.

At the recent Code Conference, Jeff Bezos made a rather provocative statement when he said that when we talk about technology, we are on "the edge of a golden era."

When it comes to artificial intelligence, Bezos said, "It’s probably hard to overstate how big of an impact it’s going to have on society over the next 20 years." He also said that Amazon has 1,000 people working on its Alexa platform, which powers the company’s popular voice-controlled Echo device.

Of course, Bezos is hardly alone with this line of thinking about artificial intelligence and its impact. Apple, Microsoft and Google are spending billions of dollars in research to create next generations of digital personal assistants and AI bots that will help automate a whole range of queries, tasks and jobs.

AI — and especially voice-based assistants and bots — will have a dramatic impact on the man-machine interface and be a part of ushering in a golden era of technology.

We have been researching AI as it relates to personal assistants since 2011, and the more we dig into AI, machine learning and cognitive analysis, the more we agree with Bezos that AI — and especially voice-based assistants and bots — will have a dramatic impact on the man-machine interface and be a part of ushering in a golden era of technology.

However, I think when we look at a new era in technology we should probably extend this to not only AI, speech and the role machine learning will play, but also in the way we use technology to see the world around us in new ways, as well as the role enhanced sound and audio will impact this new era of tech.

Since the beginning of computing, our interface with machines has been basically via text, keyboard inputs and 2-D flat screens. For more than 50 years, this man-machine interface has served us well. But the next generation of CPUs, GPUs, storage, mobile screens, optics and wireless technologies are going to make the man-machine interface richer and more immersive.

The introduction of AR and VR will deliver the next major leap in this journey. With AR, we virtually see content and related data as we view it through various devices. With VR, we experience a form of teleportation that puts us at the center of the action. The computing experience becomes more visual and rich as these technologies create new virtual worlds for us to see, work and play in, and delivers the kind of immersive technology experiences that go way beyond what we have had for the last 50 years.

The visual experiences that AR and VR deliver to users will be a big part of ushering in a new age in technology that breaks away from the past.

AI-based voice assistants and bots enhance the AR and VR experiences, since so many of the apps tied to these visual environments will demand hands-free operations. However, it is the visual experiences that AR and VR deliver to users that will be a big part of ushering in a new age in technology that breaks away from the past and delivers a much richer, visually stunning approach to interacting with technology at many levels.

Audio and sound will also be important in the new golden era of computing. If you have used Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive or the Sony PlayStation VR headsets, you know that a big part of the experience, especially in gaming and entertainment, includes 3-D and surround-sound audio. When you put on a high-quality headset and play a VR game or watch a VR-based movie or video, high-quality sound makes the experience come alive. High-quality audio is becoming just as important to those who listen to music, podcasts and streaming media as all of these applications gain from enhanced audio.

Although Bezos mainly pointed out AI as a key to his "golden era" thinking, it is clear that AR, VR and 3-D audio will also be critical components of delivering a radical new way for us to interact with technology in the future. For those of us who have been in this industry for decades, a richer computing experience will be welcome.

I can see how this new era — say, 50 years from now — will be more visual, with more intelligent interfaces, but can’t even imagine what the computing and tech environment will be like. The only thing that is assured is that technology does not stand still, and the computing experience of tomorrow will be one that will not be recognizable today.

Tim Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981, and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others. Reach him @Bajarin.

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