I probably won’t ruffle too many feathers when I say very few people love meetings.
As much as we’d like to think otherwise, meetings just don’t elicit the same emotions as, say, space flight. Of course, that doesn’t mean they’ll stay that way forever. In fact, looking down the road just three to five years, there are some incredible technologies that will hit the mass market and change the way we communicate with coworkers, customers and colleagues. I’d wager that within that timeframe, meetings are going to become less like Office Space and more like Star Wars.
Using new technologies like 3D spatial binaural audio, gesture interfaces, and super-high-resolution video, we will be able to build incredibly immersive (and relatively inexpensive) experiences for workers to connect more effectively. Even new technology that allows visually stunning projection of holograms will begin to find application in the meetings arena. Although this sounds like sci-fi, the idea of near-real remote communication is a Holy Grail for productivity.
We are inheriting a world full of pixels. In cities such as San Francisco, New York and London, the average 14-year old is going to school with $1,500 in technology in their backpack. And the products that they carry and use throughout the day are screens and displays that enable them to communicate visually and in real time.
Meetings are going to become less like Office Space and more like Star Wars.
Studies have long shown how audio and video cues are essential aspects of human-to-human interaction. The better and more lifelike we can make our remote meetings, the better we can work together. Expressions and gestures are critical for conveying body language; in fact, 60 percent of all communication is conveyed via body language.
None of this is as far away as it seems. We’re seeing a lot of this technology in niche use cases today, and things are developing very quickly. The personal jet of corporate communication, a $100,000 telepresence system, can now be recreated using an app and a few UHD TVs over the Internet with a $100 Logitech camera. That would not have been possible two years ago.
That said, here’s a brief glimpse into the technology that will power a not-so-distant future.
Ultra HD Live Video Streaming
Pervasive screens and the theme of pixels everywhere are a major trend in our lives: smartphones, tablets, phablets, and hybrids. These form factors are heading in two different directions – small and portable, and large and immersive.
Everyone is fixated on mobile solutions that sit in our pockets and move with us as we go about our lives, but the other side of this coin has yet to be tapped: the big-screen market of TVs and 30-plus-inch monitors and the way these larger screens and densely packed pixels arrays will enable large-dimension personal telepresence. These new UHD monitors, placed in our homes and businesses, could lead to a whole new set of more immersive, high-end applications for meetings.
Ultra HD-quality screens and streaming of 4K video-conferencing (which, by the way, is four times the resolution of your retina screen) can represent the ultimate meeting experience. When the quality is so good that you feel like you can touch the person on the screen, your eyes are tricked into thinking it’s real, especially when projected onto a life-sized screen. This incredible level of fidelity is available today on high-caliber telepresence systems. Unfortunately, they cost millions of dollars and requires camera hardware that is not available on the mass market, not to mention the prohibitively expensive bandwidth required to actually use them.
Luckily, software is ahead of the curve and can help close that hardware gap. In 12 months, we’ll see $100 cameras capable of capturing a 4K-quality video conference, the release of codecs like H.265 that process the live video to fit through public Internet pipes, and $5,000 Ultra HD screens playing it on the wall.
And this isn’t just for business. There’s a reason why companies, from Apple to Intel to Samsung, are pouring billions in R&D into this space. On the consumer side this is a Trojan horse into the living room.
3D Binaural Audio
Ever been on a conference call with multiple people where folks continually talk over each other? It’s a mess, and nearly impossible to resolve the voices, or better yet understand what is being said. The issue is that the voices are being pushed to you from a one-dimension mono speaker with super-low fidelity. Not only do bad audio calls make your brain hurt, they actually reduce cognitive function and introduce fatigue as you strain to make sense of the conversation. Thankfully, there’s a software-only solution: 3D spatial, binaural sound.
3D spatial binaural sound is where meeting attendees actually sound like they’re coming from different parts of the room (to the left, to the right, closer, or further away), which in turn allows the brain to unlock and understand simultaneous voices. 3D sound is also possible to implement regardless of the microphone or speaker setup. The result is something akin to magic.
Demos have been around for a while, but real-life use cases have been notoriously difficult to implement. Luckily, I can tell you with confidence that 3D audio is fewer than 12 months away.
Many of us have seen Minority Report, but most of us probably remember the gesture-based, crime-fighting computer interface more than we do the plot. Technology such as the Leap Motion sensor and Microsoft’s Kinect are making this a possibility. In the realm of meetings, this means easily creating virtual breakout rooms with a wave of your hand, gesturing documents from your work screen to your meeting screen for instant sharing, and detailed, no-touch manipulation of images and video. Or effortlessly mute participants with too much background noise and reorganize video feeds.
The video of Tupac Shakur performing at the Coachella music festival in 2012 drew millions of views on YouTube. Behind the Mars-exploring Curiosity Rover, it was the most delightful technological feat of 2012. Holograms – while difficult to pull off and still prohibitively expensive (the Coachella performance reportedly cost $400,000) – will become the new private jet of communication and threaten to unseat telepresence as a “must have” by CEOs and leaders of industry.
Questions remain about the feasibility of creating holograms in realtime (the company who created Tupac is now bankrupt), and they’ll probably be fairly noisy without curated video content to project, but it certainly remains a possibility that holograms could crack C-level Fortune 100 suites in three to four years.
Either way, these four technologies are not as far away as they might seem. And it’s likely that in just a few short years, the way we communicate will be on par with the furthest reaches of our collective imagination just 30 years ago. So what’s left to invent once we get to holograms, pervasive life-like screens, 3D audio and next-gen interfaces? Will this be the opus of innovation in communications? Well, there’s always teleporting, but that’s just science fiction.