According to its title, the fourth whitepaper in the Meeting Professionals International Foundation Future of Meetings series is about “meeting communication.” But that seems too bland a label for the paper’s mashup of futuristic possiblities like reading attendees’ minds, selling personal data, and carrying around “super iPhones” that monitor blood pressure and stress levels.

As in the previous Future of Meetings papers, readers of this fourth installment hear from a broad range of experts from outside the meetings industry—a purposeful choice on the part of MPI and its research partner, the International Centre for Research in Events, Tourism and Hospitality at Leeds Metropolitan University in the U.K. MPI conducted interviews with writers, teachers, and thinkers in fields such as science, population, technology, digital media, and business, as well as with economists and futurists.

Getting Really Personal

If you’ve used Xbox Kinect you’re already familiar with gesture tracking. The new whitepaper sees these gaming biometrics enabling “more observational research of how people operate within venue spaces, and in physical dimensions.” (And smartphones, by the way, will have more location devices. Meeting professionals, the white paper says, will be able to know where delegates are at all times, and how much time they spend at different locations.)

But future feedback may go beyond how attendees are physically interacting with their environments. What if you knew how alert they were? How bored? How stressed?

One innovative product already can reveal when attendees are confused. Gosoapbox, designed for use in classrooms, is a feedback system that allows students to anonymously ask questions from any computer, smartphone, or tablet during class. Through its “confusion barometer” feature, students also choose their status throughout the session—either “I am getting it” or “I am confused.” When a teacher (or meeting presenter) sees a spike in confusion, she can slow down, review, or ask for specific questions, thereby creating a better learning experience.

A future permutation of this concept could be data that is collected without attendees actively reporting their own status. “There’s actually a fair amount of talk about creating portable devices that will give you real time information about your blood pressure and your pulse,” says Dr. Michael Chorost, a technology theorist and author. “There might be patches you stick on your body that will gather information about hormone levels in your blood or cortisol [i.e., stress] levels. In 10 years, your iPhone knows when your heart’s racing, when you’re angry, when you’re tired, when you’re bored.

“I can imagine people giving their iPhones permission to share certain data subsets with meeting organizers—their stress levels, their degrees of alertness.”

Not invasive enough for you? How about direct brain intervention—innovations that in theory, Chorost says, could enable “subsets of information to be sent to someone else’s brain that trigger their neurons in such a way as to invoke simulation of what the sending brain is feeling or experiencing or thinking or feeling on an emotional and affective level.”

The current parallel is cochlear implants, which bypass damaged portions of the ear and send electrical signals directly to the auditory nerve and the brain, which recognizes the signals as sound.

So imagine the meeting planner gets the emotional equivalent of the sound signal: “Neural information can enhance our understanding and interactions,” Chorost says. “I get information from your facial expression, but what if I knew when you were feeling angry or bored or frightened or concerned, even when I couldn’t see you? And, more important, what if I could get that kind of information about groups of people collectively?”

Big Data

We all know that data about us and our activities—especially online—is constantly being tracked and used by businesses to predict our purchasing habits and preferences and try to sell us more things. What’s coming, says Martin Blinder, CEO of Tictrac, is a time when individuals take control of their own data and sell it to the highest bidder. “Up until now, everyone made money out of the consumer except the consumer,” he says. Forrester Research started writing and researching this idea 18 months ago, calling it “personal identity management,” or PIDM. “Although widespread adoption of PIDM remains a few years away, the ecosystem of data lockers and authorization managers is already rapidly evolving,” the firm says in its most recent report, “Making Sense of a Fractured Consumer Data Ecosystem.” The report continues, “Firms ranging from traditional data compilers to platforms in lean startup mode funded by Silicon Valley are looking for ways to provide consumers with more control of their personal data and privacy—and a small handful of firms are actually working toward a model that allows individuals to monetize their data.”

Mobility and Privacy

The meeting and hospitality industries depend on mobile technologies that allow attendees and customers to communicate while traveling and to access information from anywhere. Mobile devices also enable greater collaboration, networking, and feedback on site at meetings.

But the free flow of information raises privacy concerns as well. As MPI’s topic paper notes: “In the future, the capacity of these converged devices will increase, enhancing the probability that meeting planners and hospitality providers will need to increase responsiveness and vigilance on social and mobile networks.”

The initial findings of the MPI Foundation Future of Meetings project were released in October at the IMEX America event in Las Vegas. The first paper in the series covered meeting design with regard to technology; the second looked at meeting design and the attendee experience; and the third considered meeting content.