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It’s no secret that digital communication rules our lives—from the hours we spend on Facebook to the number of times we check our phones for text messages, we spend a significant portion of our day using technology to stay in touch with our friends, families, and co-workers. But what does the future hold for communication technology?

Network-Based Telepathy

Telepathic communication has been in sci-fi movies for years, but have you ever thought about what it would be like to actually use it?

Dave Evans has. The former chief futurist at Cisco, Evans stated in a 2011 interview that “we will create Internet-based telepathy,” and predicted that both hardware and software would soon be integrated into “wetware”—the human body. Sounds far-fetched, doesn’t it?

Not as far as you might think. In a fascinating (or horrifying, depending on how you feel about this sort of thing) experiment, Dr. Rajesh Rao and members of his lab at the University of Washington have created a rudimentary “telepathic” system that connects the brains of two people.

brain2brain-eeg

Imagine a very simple two-player video game. On a screen, there’s a city, a cannon, and a pirate ship. The pirate ship occasionally fires rockets toward the city—if they hit the city, the players lose. They can, however, use the cannon to shoot down the rockets. There are also occasional passenger planes, which should not be shot down.

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Only the first player can see the screen, and only the second player can control the cannon. All the first player has to do is say “fire” when a rocket comes into the firing path of the cannon, and not say anything at all when a plane goes by.

That’s what Rao and his colleagues created—except there’s no verbal communication. The sender is hooked up to an EEG sensor, which detects brain activity in certain areas; the receiver is hooked up to a TMS device, which stimulates the brain. To make a long neuroscientific story short, the sender imagines moving his right hand, and this signal is transmitted through the EEG sensor, between two networked computers, and into the TMS machine, causing the receiver’s hand to twitch and hit the “fire” button.

brain2brain-cannon

So how accurate is it? After four practice sessions, the two participants were performing at 100%—they shot down all of the rockets and let all of the planes through.

While we’re a ways off from seeing this technology used at a consumer level, it’s easy to imagine what we might do with it. Sending texts directly to friends’ smart glasses just by thinking a few words. Transmitting sensory information so someone can see or hear (or even feel) what you’re experiencing. Operating a computer with no input devices. The possibilities are limitless.

Holograms

While we aren’t quite at the level of Star Trek or Demolition Man, we’ve come quite a long way with projecting 3-dimensional images. One of the leaders in this field is a company called Holoxica, which is currently working on advanced holography for use in engineering, science, and medical imaging. In a recent TED talk, founder Javid Kahn discussed the progression of holographic technology from simple objects, like a digital clock, to more complex ones, like a multi-layered human anatomical model. (He also stressed that true holography requires light diffusion, which is not what you get when you project an image onto a transparent screen—sorry, Tupac fans.)

It’s quite possible that responsive surfaces like the ones being developed at the MIT media labs will combine with holography to revolutionize the workplace of tomorrow, with colleagues working together from around the world in a virtual environment that closely resembles an office. Think about it: you could manipulate a three-dimensional virtual object in real-time, even touch a representation of the surface of it, and then print it using 3D printing. Telecommuting could look a lot different in the next 20 years or so.

AI-Assisted Communication

If you’ve used Gmail’s priority inbox Gmail's Priority Inbox Solves The Bacn Problem Gmail's Priority Inbox Solves The Bacn Problem Read More , you’ve already had a glimpse at how artificial intelligence can help us when it comes to communication. We’re inundated with hundreds or thousands of messages a day from a number of sources: e-mail, IM, phone call, text, and others. What if our computers were capable of filtering and sorting all of this information effectively?

artificial-intelligence

Even more interestingly, what if we could take advantage of AI to respond to these communications more efficiently? Eventually, all communication could be run through two filters of AI, creating very economical and efficient communications. A number of app developers are already working toward a system like this, including the crew behind Mailstrom Buried In Emails? Shrink Your Massive Inbox To Zero With Mailstrom Buried In Emails? Shrink Your Massive Inbox To Zero With Mailstrom We've offered a number of solutions through the years to manage your Gmail account and to clean up a cluttered inbox. Nothing is more convenient than a central online solution like Mailstrom. Read More . Although Mailstrom doesn’t use an AI algorithm, it aims to learn a lot about your e-mail behavior and allow you to take advantage of what it learns.

For example, if you receive a number of e-mails from different people that are all about the same thing, you could use Mailstrom to respond to all of them with a single e-mail, even though they’re from different e-mail threads. And, of course, it also helps you delete a huge number of e-mails at the same time, getting you one step closer to the elusive inbox zero.

The world is getting closer to effective AI-assisted communication every day, and it won’t be surprising if the way you communicate looks a lot different 5 years from now.

Instantaneous Translation

If you read our article on advanced computing technologies that DARPA has been researching You Won't Believe It: DARPA Future Research Into Advanced Computers You Won't Believe It: DARPA Future Research Into Advanced Computers DARPA is one of the most fascinating and secretive parts of the US government. The following are some of DARPA's most advanced projects that promise to transform the world of technology. Read More , you might remember MADCAT, a system for automatically classifying and translating documents. DARPA is also working on a system called Broad Operational Language Translation, or BOLT, a system that will someday instantaneously translate foreign languages into English.

translation-app

Outside of the highly secretive DARPA, there are companies working on similar translation systems, such as the Compadre system by SpeechGear. There are a number of components in Compadre, but the most interesting one, Interact, is a great example of the potential of instant translation. To use Interact, you just say the words you want translated—your device translates the words into another language and speaks them aloud.

With technology like this, the phrase “language barrier” may be a thing of the past.

Conclusion

Scientists and computer engineers around the world are working on some very exciting communication technologies that could quickly revolutionize the way we talk to, work with, and relate to each other. Michael Wesch said that “When media changes, human relationships change,” and it looks like we’re at a perfect point in history to see just how true that is.

Which communication technologies are you most excited for? What other technologies have you seen that you’re interested in? How will the technologies above shape the world? Share your thoughts below!

Brain2Brain projecttouch screen interface Via Shutterstock, Fusion of human with artificial intelligence via Shutterstock, Vector interface of mobile translator application via Shutterstock,

  1. TarunSh
    April 30, 2015 at 6:03 am

    Edward Snowden, a 31-year-old whistleblower, leaked top secret information about NSA surveillance activities. These future secret communication devices are surely be the one that keeps the personal communication secured. Namely few are Blackphone (https://blackphone.ch), SpeakInPrivate (www.speakinprivate.com) and apps like SilentText (https://www.silentcircle.com/), cellcrypt.

  2. Joe
    March 25, 2015 at 3:36 pm

    I am most excited about the language barrier being a thing of the past. I have learned a lot in my life time but could never fully learn a language. This could change the business world in so many ways, and bring fresh ideas all over the world.

    Lets also not forget about the phrase .. there are plenty of fish in the sea. This could change the world of dating in tremendous ways, open up new barriers to companionship and friendship.

    I really hope I am alive to see the day everybody can communicate through technology.

    Very interesting read, love the site.

    • Dann Albright
      March 30, 2015 at 11:10 am

      Realtime translation will be an amazing thing if and when we get it to work. I know that DARPA has had at least some success with translating written things, so that's a good sign. It's not easy—translating isn't always easy for people, much less machines—but getting the basics should be doable. We'll keep you updated—there are a lot of us here that are interested in that kind of tech!

  3. Naoman
    August 13, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    Google translate is not perfect. beware of it.
    For example it doesn't support my native language which happens to be 'urdu' . Urdu is ignored in every translation and localization program. It isn't supported by google, microsoft and the rest.

    any way my point is 'dont rely too much on current translation technologies' they might betray you.

    • Dann A
      August 14, 2014 at 10:11 pm

      I totally agree that online translators can run into a lot of problems. Google Translate is notorious in linguistics for providing some really weird translations. I'm surprised that it doesn't support Urdu, though!

  4. Lynne M
    August 12, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    I use Google Translate very effectively; it provides both a visual and audible translation in many different languages. I'm not quite sure what Interact does differently.

    • Dann A
      August 14, 2014 at 10:10 pm

      I haven't used Google Translate very much, and I only have a basic idea of what Interact does, but it seems to me that it has a stronger focus on portability and always-on translation. Have you used Google Translate in situations like they highlight in the Interact video?

  5. Saikat B
    August 12, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Probably also through a VR device like Oculus Rift.

    What could be more interesting than "intercultural communication". Here's where real time translation apps will come handy.

    And the small but BIG question -- will email still exist? :)

    • Dann A
      August 14, 2014 at 10:09 pm

      I agree that real-time translation apps could be really useful. As a psycholinguistics researcher, that brings up a lot of questions about translation equivalents and difficulties with meaning, but that's another story.

      Doing some of these things through VR is also a really interesting idea; I would imagine that we'll start seeing things like that soon!

      As far as e-mail . . . I think it'll be here for a long time. :-) No matter how much we want to get rid of it, I think it's here to stay.

  6. dragonmouth
    August 12, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Everybody (scientists, futurists, prospective users, bloggers) concentrates only on the positive aspects of the new technology. Anybody who mentions any negative possibilities is shouted down as a naysayers, negativists or a Luddite. ALL aspects need to be openly and freely discussed.

    The above technology is as exciting as waiting for the Alien or the Jaws shark to attack.

    As with any technology, Beware of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

    • Dann A
      August 14, 2014 at 10:06 pm

      Yes, there are definitely some unnerving technologies out there. Are there any that you find particularly scary? I think the EEG / TMS telepathy one above is a bit terrifying. Reminds me a bit of Dollhouse.

  7. John Steed
    August 11, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    There is nothing at all exciting about the above.

    • Dann A
      August 11, 2014 at 7:50 pm

      Do you know of more exciting ones? Care to share any links? That would make your comment much more useful.

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