I was in the grocery store when I realized that something new was going on: our entrance into the era of computing that I call convergence — the convergence of man and machine – is already changing the face of collaboration.
In the recent past, collaboration did a great job of connecting people to people through video, voice and the virtual workspace, which improved productivity and the intimacy of connection. A video chat, whether for business or pleasure, communicates more than a simple phone call. Add a collective workspace and you’re off like a rocket. In this collaboration between people, the technology served as a conduit.
But now I’m sensing the beginning of something different: collaborating with the machine itself. Here’s an example: I’m pretty focused on maintaining my health and my weight so when I go to the grocery store, I have a health app that’s connected to my online health profile and running with augmented reality. When I show my phone my choice of broccoli, it votes thumbs up; when I grab my favorite cookies, it displays the calories and cholesterol they will add to my daily intake, notes that it’s contrary to medication I’m on, and advises me against it. (Of course when I get to the beer aisle, I over-ride its displeasure: this is collaborative, after all, not dictatorial!)
On a larger scale, connected cities are starting to be dotted with street lamps that turn on as you approach; location-based marketing campaigns are delivering coupons to our phones as we near the store; semi-autonomous cars will soon communicate with the street lights and cars around us for collision avoidance while we steer.
If you use the music service Pandora, trying to vote thumbs/thumbs down to get it deliver just the right mix for you (Jazz, not schmaltz, Monk but no covers) it starts to almost feel like a negotiation with the Music Genome database. And when Amazon.com makes suggestions for an account used by the whole family, which invariably is a wild hodge-podge of tastes (Die Hard, Howard’s End, and Jackass 2 for instance), it sheds a light on your family that you may not have seen otherwise.
And of course telekinetically controlled wheelchairs and limbs are perhaps as tightly collaborative with a machine as one can get.
It’s not an over-estimation to predict that Google Glasses and other types of wearable computing platforms are dramatically changing collaboration. When you can call up maps and plot routes, ask your glasses to pronounce a word in a foreign language, initiate a connection to someone across the world to join you virtually as you fly down a roller-coaster actually, we’ll be collaborating with each other and with machines on the Internet of Everything and we are all in for a wild ride. I can’t wait!