Some would think that the world of future has arrived today, the internet has changed society. The mobile changed it again. In the future, the internet is everywhere – in wall screens, furniture, billboards and even in contact lens. If you blink you will be online. Scientists at the University of Washington have perfected the virtual retinal display (VRD) in which red, green and blue laser light can be shone directly on to the retina. Contact lens will have facial recognition capability so you will be able to recognise your friends via Facebook. In fact, you will have a world of information at the blink of eye. According to Michio Kaku these pattern recognition systems have a 90% success rate. At a business meeting or social function, you will never be embarrassed because you forgot someone's name.
The goal of ubiquitous computing is to bring the computer into your domain by putting chips everywhere. The purpose of virtual reality is to put us into the computer. Today, we can live in a virtual world i.e., www.secondlife.com. You can control your world and be part of someone else's world as an avatar. Virtual reality is already the staple of video games. In the future as computer power expands, tourists will visit unreal worlds that seem real. Does this mean the end of the holiday as we know it as real experiences are no longer necessary? Virtual reality is already changing the shopping experience, for example, Westfield shopping centre in West London unveiled a "tweet" mirror which allowed customers to see images of themselves and post the content straight to their chosen social networking site. Those who used the service were thus able to see how they looked in particular garments and then seek real–time advice from their online friends and family members. More, if a customer decided not to purchase an item, the image was nevertheless sent to their email address, together with a link to the website of the clothing brand in question, should they later change their mind. Yet another example of a retailer allowing consumers to connect with their social networks while in–store, as well as create digital images to make the process of shopping more fun and engaging.
All of this technology has reduced our level of patience in the world creating a culture of immediacy – the unabated consumer appetite for empowering, time saving services in the context of time sensitive cultural landscape. When we go shopping, technology enabled solutions are cutting out the need to pay. Scan–it is a service which allows shoppers to scan and bag items while they shop – thereby eliminating time spent waiting at the check–out. The device keeps a running total and occasionally offers the shopper targeted coupons for products which complement those already scanned. Once finished, shoppers simply upload their bill and pay via their mobile phone or at the cash register. This technology is used in Walmart, Tesco and numerous other supermarkets offering customers the opportunity to save time during their weekly shop, while retailers benefit by encouraging them to spend more via the use of coupons. Similar queue beating technologies are used in airports or hotels making the receptionist supburdious in tomorrow's era.
Social media and the culture of immediacy means consumers want everything right here, right now. Commentary by the Future Foundation draws into a world of where fresh information is being created all the time without pause. Blogs are being posted, news broken, data logged, statuses updated, locations tagged, queries posed and opinions vented. A real time web revolution has arrived. This revolution is a cultural and consumer force of impressive reach that is only just beginning to reveal some of its potential. In almost every arena, there is little opportunity for us all not to be informed, updated and empowered through real–time services while the abundance of instant retrieval of information is enabling tourists to make better, more informed, more confident decisions at breakneck speed.
Haptic technologies are allowing us to feel the presence of objects that the computer generated. The technology first developed by scientists to handle highly radioactive materials with remote controlled robotic arms has moved on, in which the sense of touch allows tourists to feel something. Basically by simulating the sensation of pressure i.e., as you move your finger across a table haptic technologies will simulate the feeling of a wooden table. In this way, you can feel the presence of objects that are seen in virtual reality goggles, completing the illusion that you are somewhere else.
Augmented reality is already changing provision of information, as Claire Hatton of Google said ‘30% of hotel booking in the cities of Tokyo and Seoul are on the day of arrival via the mobile phone'. Combine this trend with augmented reality on mobile phones, tourists can find out anything about a hotel by simply pointing the phone at the building then making a decision whether to book or not etc. In the future, tourists will walk into museums and go to an exhibit and the contact lens will give a description of each object. A virtual guide will give you a cybertour as you pass. Augmented reality will allow you to see reconstructions of historical sites which are no longer there – along with an interactive recantations of battles of events from history. Hikers will never get lost in the future as they will know there exact position in a foreign land along with the names of all the plants. Tourists will be able to speak the local language via software translator. An American tourist can order Peking Duck in a restaurant in Kunming using the right Mandarin dialect. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh have pioneered computer assisted translation (CAT) which attaches electrodes to the neck and face of the speaker, these pick up the contraction of the muscles and decipher the words being spoken. This approach, does not require audio equipment, since the words can be mounted silently. Then a computer translates these words and a voice synthesizer speaks them out loud. As Micho Kaku says in the future, language barriers will no longer be a barrier. Finally, like the Greek Gods, we think certain commands and our wishes will be obeyed. Today, the brain can control a computer, in the far future tourists will be able dream about a destination and then play that creation on their computer and create an itinerary and test experiences. Scientists at the Advanced Telecommunications Research Computational Neuroscience Laboratory in Kyoto use fMRI scans to record where the brain stores images and reproduce those image as jpeg files.
Technology is so embedded in tourism products it is hard to escape. With the world facing a scarcity of resources in the future, innovation is the bedrock of sustainable architecture. The Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC), has designed the Fab Lab House, which is a wooden construction which incorporates a number of solar innovations – including the use of flexible solar panels – and is designed to illustrate how consumers can adopt a more eco–friendly style of living.
The collaboration between Google and New York City saw the launch of an interactive visitor information centre and a digital platform where visitors can retrieve information about the city, on the go. The website NYCGO.com is a Google–fuelled local search and reference site, which provides information of attractions and activities of New York City. The website contains useful visitor information such as maps powered by Google, travel deals from Travelocity and local content from Time Out New York, nightlife culture magazine Paper, the New York Observer and eco–living guide Greenopia. A unique characteristic of this website is that it allows visitors to download information on hotels, restaurants and access discount packages directly from their mobile smartphones such as iPhone and Blackberry. Users are also able to send details of attractions and locations of activities to their mobile phones via text messages. These locations are powered by Google Maps, which then allows users to navigate the city on the go by quickly accessing walking, driving or subway directions to their destinations. This digital platform is supported by an interactive visitor centre which features interactive map tables that are powered by Google Maps API, allowing visitors to navigate venues and attractions, as well as create personalized itineraries which can be printed, emailed, or sent to the user's mobile device. The centre also features a gigantic video wall where users can view their personalized itineraries in virtual 3D – powered by Google Earth. This collaboration between Google and New York City shows that destinations are starting to embrace the use of technologies to explore and support the visitors' experience. Therefore, where does the future begin and end, technology is one blurred journey for the tourism industry.
Dr Ian Yeoman's new book, 2050: Tomorrows Tourism will be published in 2012.
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