A meeting where attendees are beamed in for the day. A scanner that seeks out potential contacts at a. Too far fetched? Not at all. The technology is already here.
Fasten your seat belt for the ride of your life. While the industrial revolution took about 200 years, the digital revolution - fueled by the tremendous information and networking power of the Internet - will rocket its way into society in no more than 20 years. And it will transform our lives as surely and profoundly as did the printing press or the invention of the wheel.
It's still very early in the trip. Half of 377 million global Internet users have come online in just the past two years. But once we fully digitize the business and communication process, a whole new universe will open up.
What will our meetings look like then?
G3, the Widget, and More Two characters - G3 (short for third generation) - represent a tsunami of change that will make today's cell phones seem as antiquated as the hand-cranked ones used by our great-grandparents. G3 is a protocol that represents global high-bandwidth wireless Internet access. While current cell phones operate at 9.6 kbs, the G3 standards will be 20 to 200 times faster - lightning fast, compared with today's PC modem connections.
This speed and use of miniaturization technology will open up a whole new range of options. Your cell phone will morph into a wireless palm device, a video camera, a video phone, a still camera, a Walkman, a pager, a television, a radio, a geo-positioner, a credit card (with a micro payment system for parking meters, vending machines, etc.), a wireless web browser, and much more.
This "widget" will have a huge impact on meetings, starting with the old "dead-tree" (a.k.a. paper) programs, which will give way to electronic announcements. On-site programs will be customized based on your preferences and will be immediately updated when changes occur. Speaker bios and high-resolution video clips will help you decide which sessions to attend. Using foldable display technology (prototypes for "electronic paper" are currently under development by the MIT Media Lab), you will be able to pull out your high-resolution, touch-sensitive, and voice-sensitive Web browser from your pocket, unfold it like a piece of paper, and access the latest program.
At trade shows, show dailies will become history, as the current show information will always be available electronically. A high-resolution, interactive floor plan and product directory will be provided and updated wirelessly via the Internet. The product directory, sorted by your preferences, will display full multimedia presentations and a calendar to set up appointments with exhibitors based on your schedule, their schedules, your ranked product preferences, and the most efficient path through the hall. Credit card or bar code scanning for lead retrieval will become history, as all contact information will be beamed by the widget.
Eventually, even the need for name badges may be eliminated with heads-up display technology that will recognize the person approaching your booth and unobtrusively display his or her name, company, and title on the inside of your glasses or contact lens.
Even now, a wireless networking device from Shockfish lets you enter your preferences and determine who around you in a 10- to 20-foot radius matches them. You can then use the device to get the names, a picture, and background information on the people surrounding you, and identify who you'd like to network with. This technology will eventually be transferred to the widget as well.
On-Site Feedback The talking head is dead. No more standing behind a lectern. No more one-way information flow. Attendees armed with widgets or similar devices will have the ability to interact and customize programs to a far greater degree than ever before - and they will insist on doing so.
Even agendas and the entire program content will be developed collaboratively by all of the attendees. In essence, the format of meetings will change to take advantage of the strength of face-to-face group communication - brainstorming, collaboration, relationship building - assisted by these devices.
For example, Brahler is among several companies that provide wireless audience polling devices for meetings. These allow audience members to vote or respond to questions, and then display the results immediately on a screen for all to see. They can also be used for anonymous or individual voting.
In the future, widget devices could be used in the same capacity, eliminating the need for a middleman. Even evaluation and survey forms can be replaced by these devices, which would provide immediate, accurate, and fully compiled feedback as soon as attendees leave the room.
Science Fiction Becomes Fact There's no question that emerging technologies will eliminate some meetings, especially among members of work teams. High-quality wireless picture-phones (one of the widget's capabilities) will provide instant teleconferencing, and webcasts will routinely bring people together without them having to leave their computers.
What might virtual meetings look like further into the future? Picture this: a conference table at which half the participants are real and half are illusions. A technology being explored right now by researchers known as tele-immersion will create the illusion of a co-presence-an "advanced shared environment" that will transform the way people interact. This technology can also be used for training, providing people with tutors at a distance, as well as material that they can both access in the three-dimensional space between them.
Most of the scenarios described above are in development at the current time. As these are adopted, what will have seemed science fiction in the past will become science fact. The Jetsons weren't that far off after all.
It's two in the afternoon, and your "widget" (Wireless Internet Device for Geo-Positioning, E-commerce and Telecommunications) alerts you to an upcoming business dinner appointment this evening. The widget automatically sends out a v-mail (video-mail) confirmation to the person you will be meeting and to your spouse as a reminder that you won't be home for dinner. Upon receiving a return v-mail acceptance, the widget makes the dining reservations based on your preferences, restaurant proximity to both parties, restaurant table availability, and recent food critic ratings.
The widget then provides a high-resolution map display with step-by-step audio driving directions to the restaurant for both parties and sends departure reminders based on current traffic conditions to ensure on-time arrival. If a traffic tie-up occurs en route, the widget will reroute you to the optimal detour based on immediate traffic conditions and automatically relay the new arrival time to the restaurant and to your dinner guest. On the way, the widget will provide CD-quality music programming (any song that has ever been recorded) transmitted to your high-fidelity car speakers, or, if you prefer, a synopsis of the latest market trends and background on the company of the person you will be meeting.
During the meeting, any conversations and verbal agreements can be automatically recorded, transcribed, and translated. The widget can also be used to provide graphic support (interactive, high-resolution, 3-D, multimedia slides)-or just to share pictures of the spouse and kids. After the sumptuous meal (there are some things you just can't digitize), you will use the widget to double-check the bill for accuracy and then to beam payment from your bank account. All tax-deductible transactions, of course, will be recorded and stored for automated tax returns at the end of the year.