Making the Technology of the Future Work Today

Making the Technology of the Future Work Today

“I stood alone in an empty room beside a ferocious dinosaur,” writes Brian X. Chen. He isn’t happy about it. Yet.

Mr. Chen is reviewing the first games for Oculus Rift, the virtual reality, or VR, system released by Facebook on Monday. He does so with a certain crabby excitement: It requires a $1,500 computer-and-goggles setup that is something of an eyesore, the rig doesn’t fit, and some of the early games don’t feel as if they need this elaborate production.

In other words, it feels like the early days in most path-breaking technologies. A little-noticed quality of the future is that it arrives consisting mostly of the past. All innovations consist of things already around us, with a few innovations — and people, even video game designers, interact with them using the rules they already know.

It took about 40 years after the invention of the printing press for paper folding to commonly create smaller, cheaper volumes. In the early days of cars, people drove “horseless carriages,” fearful of travel at a ripping 20 miles an hour. The first web pages looked like cluttered magazines. In every case, it took awhile to learn the rules of the new tech, and then embed them into the product.

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