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Bracing For Change In The Era Of The Augmented Workforce

Cathy Hackl | The Augmented Workforce Launch | Oct 13, 2021

Cathy Hackl Embracing for Change the Augmented Workforce - Bracing For Change In The Era Of The Augmented WorkforceWe are living through a period of rapid change, possibly beyond society’s capacity to keep up. The metaverse has taken over tech headlines.  There’s an unprecedented acceleration and convergence of technology. It’s rampant and widespread. Various emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and 5G, along with dozens of devices that work together (Internet of Things), have helped to create an environment in which new inventions, possibilities, and learning curves change weekly.

According to Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, authors of The Future Is Faster Than You Think, “Moore’s Law is the reason the smartphone in your pocket is a thousand times smaller, a thousand times cheaper, and a million times more powerful than a supercomputer from the 1970s. In 2023 the average thousand-dollar laptop will have the same computing power as a human brain (roughly 1016 cycles per second). Twenty-five years after that, that same average laptop will have the power of all the human brains currently on Earth.” That’s rampant, exponential acceleration.

Rampant Acceleration

In the past, there was a slow evolution of technology, which gave people time to adapt. In the decade to come, it will feel more like the Cambrian Explosion—an event over 500 million years ago when most living things burst into being. For instance, radio preceded the advent of the television by decades, which trained people to go to a device for news and entertainment. Mainstream cell phones predated the smartphone’s popularity by thirty years and slowly changed how we interact and work. The Internet was prevalent for ten years before mobile apps were popularized and changed how we consumed and processed information. These gradual changes, one on top of the other, made for a smooth transition from a typical household living in the 1950s to a family living in the 2000s. How many people today use a smartphone, laptop, ebook, and tablet multiple times a day? This would’ve been unthinkable in 1950. But the change was gradual and maneuverable.

Make no mistake—technology is evolving, as is our relationship with it. In the first phase of the Internet, we connected information. A person could search the web using a search engine, send a document via email, and use all this new information in novel ways. The second phase of the Internet-connected people. Facebook and Twitter created a social media revolution, conceivably connecting one person with millions of other people in ways that were unthinkable in the past (e.g., think of a president’s or movie star’s Twitter feed). And in the third phase (which we’re entering), the Internet is connecting people, places, and things in a more dynamic and amplified way.

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The Internet of Things is amplifying the concept of location and the concept of merging our digital and physical lives. It’s gradually impacting more of how we live, work, and play. A union of digital and physical realities, already seamlessly affecting many areas of our lives. From an acceleration technology standpoint, we’re seeing an even greater change than what we’ve seen in the past—and at a faster pace. The combined rate and scale of change is causing exponential acceleration.

Diamandis and Kotler, again in The Future Is Faster than You Think, wrote, “In the next decade, we’ll experience more progress than in the past 100 years.”

They explain: “We’ve been living through a time of constantly accelerating technological capabilities. We’re living in a world of increasing, exponentially growing computational power. Technology is always on, always available, and we’re now moving into the quantum computing era—these exponential technologies are enabling artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, synthetic biology, augmented reality, blockchain and allowing these technologies to converge, creating new business models. It’s the convergence of these technologies that creates waves on top of waves of capability, which will change our world—every industry—our economy, our government, our health, our families. Everything is beginning to change.”

If you think that is a great deal to consider, Diamandis and Kotler also predict that meta-intelligence (i.e., when humans merge with technology), will take place in less than twenty years. We will be able to connect our brains with the Cloud with the help of a Health Cloud implementation consultant. The accumulation of AI, AR, 5G, and IoT, plus related technologies such as crypto/blockchain and extended reality (XR) may have snuck up on us, but we can adapt and catch up.

Business Disruption

Businesses are constantly on the lookout for things that decrease time, cost, and increase value. That’s why businesses are one of the main drivers of technology. Manufacturers equip operators with augmented reality devices. Instead of reading a paper manual or asking another person for help, AR glasses teach operators where to go for parts or how to fix equipment. Connected sensors on hardhats monitor workers’ location and notify them of dangers or other equipment.

In the restaurant industry, line cooks work alongside robot arms equipped with different appendages like hamburger flippers or deep fry baskets. Even marketing teams have to evolve as they work with digital influencers (CGI people who pose with sponsored clothing or gear).

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We’re used to working side-by-side with devices that we believe are safe, and doing that saves us time. For instance, many families have a robotic vacuum cleaner, and they don’t think twice about it. Warehouses use robots to fetch and store packages. Tye Brady, Amazon Robotics’ chief technologist, said, “The efficiencies we gain from our associates and robotics working together harmoniously—what I like to call a symphony of humans and machines working together—allows us to pass along a lower cost to our customer.” As these “cobots” (robot co-workers or collaborative robots) become prevalent, it’s likely that our interaction in the home with Alexa, Siri, or Roomba, will have conditioned us to be accepting of our new digital co-workers.

Conferences are disrupted by virtual reality. In 2018, Cathy spoke at Lethbridge College’s Merging Realities, the first conference hosted in virtual reality. Over three hundred people registered for the event. People outfitted their avatars in business attire.

Virtual reality reduces costs to participants since hosts do not have to rent out large convention centers. It also opens the doors to even more participants since people aren’t held back by physical constraints. Vendors create 3D booths to upload into the lobby. “Instead of handing out pens and candy, they can give away free credits to their product or services, something that would actually be more beneficial since it brings potential customers right to their website instead of a pen they’ll forget in a desk drawer,” said Lily Snyder, digital technologist. “Vendors who pay a premium can have a whole virtual experience of their product or service in action for participants to take part in.”

Since then virtual reality conferences like Enablers of Tomorrow, Women in XR Venture Fund Pitch Showcase, and Educators in VR Summit are all examples of VR disrupting business. Public speakers better engage with audiences in “nonlinear conversations.” Talking points, instead of planned slides, allow the audience to more easily move from topic to topic based on their interest. VR provides subject material on an as-needed basis instead of going from slide to slide. Immersive environments like virtual and augmented reality and holographic telepresence make more sense than ever. Virtual reality is data-rich, providing a whole new level to the conference experience.

At the time of this writing, companies are getting rid of their corporate headquarters, opting to stay remote even after the pandemic subsides. Kara Swisher stated that Zoom’s shares rose 60 percent in the month of February 2020 as employees embarked on a litany of Zoom meetings from home. One managing director at Accenture asked her team to buy Oculus Quests headsets so they could meet virtually for daily tasks. In the past she had only used VR for specific training modules or client needs but after a few weeks using VR with her team she noticed “group energy and sense of camaraderie are better than with any other mode of communication.”

A training manager at Nestle Purina thinks using VR will “help the company recruit a more technically fluent workforce in the future.” Nestle Purina uses virtual reality to build out shelf ideas and category concepts. VR lowers the risk for employees who build live tests. It also accelerates time to market because of the shared vision customers and employees virtually walk through together. “Instead of showing them PowerPoint after PowerPoint or showing them a demo that might not be to scale, we’re able to use the virtual reality technology in ways that offer customized solutions and allow us to make changes over and over and over again,” said Kenny Endermuhle, Senior Manager of Retail Innovation Strategy at Nestlé Purina.

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Months into the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, a local chapter of the Construction Financial Management Association conducted their monthly meeting in virtual reality. The virtual reality boardroom was what the chapter needed after burnout from “zoom fatigue.” Experiencing the immersion of virtual reality once inspired construction firms in the meeting to investigate other opportunities for augmented and mixed reality.

The companies that can provide tools to work from home are the ones experiencing growth and profits. Yet, even with this data, some companies decided not to hold virtual conferences. In early and mid-2020, they canceled or postponed previously scheduled (physical) conferences, even across tech-forward industries like telecommunications, entertainment, and social networking. Their failure to adapt cost them business.

From a financial standpoint, younger generations prefer mobile banking, and 5G will provide financial services like machine learning-powered chatbots, direct-to-consumer banking, and no-fee trading more secure and robust. Through virtual and augmented reality, everyday people can understand their portfolios because data is represented in a way that naturally makes sense to them. They can make decisions based on 3D representations of numbers and accounts.

Fidelity Labs introduced a financial agent called Cora. She operates with voice commands to answer questions and presents relevant information to the client. Capital One created Eno, a natural-language SMS text-based assistant that generates awareness about customer needs and works as a browser extension by generating virtual card numbers. Customers can generate secure card numbers while keeping their actual card numbers safe from potential fraud.

Some opportunities can optimize the financial industry, which I can mention, for example, Artificial Intelligence chatbots that can answer investor questions. Also,  Artificial Intelligence simulations can help investors with decision support. Banks can build Virtual Reality branches. Cryptocurrency buyers feel empowered by having actual ownership of digital media, and Mixed Reality can help investors visualize complex data and concepts.


Social Disruption

The Internet and mobile technology changed how we communicate as human beings. Generation Z (a.k.a., the iGeneration) make and break friendships on social media, never confronting each other in real life. Families are divided online by algorithms that feed them one-sided articles, making Thanksgiving dinner a battle of “Fake News.” The Internet, with its promise of opening world views, now seems to close them. From a social standpoint, the convergence of technologies will continue to change how we interact with family members, friends, and co-workers. In under ten years, people will be able to experience a volumetric or holographic (3D visual) representation of a friend or family member in front of them. They’ll be able to have a conversation with someone as if they were sitting in the same room, though thousands of miles apart.

At Magic Leap, Cathy worked with an amazing  corporate team, including some of the most advanced software developers specialized on spatial computing, which Simon Greenwold defines as “human interaction with a machine in which the machine retains and manipulates referents to real objects and spaces.” The dev team created a mixed reality chessboard and the ability to play against a live 3D opponent. One chess player was on the first floor, and the other was on the second floor. They saw each other as holographic images and could see each other’s moves as they played on the virtual chessboard. Companies like Spatial, Rec Room, AlcoveVR, VR chat, and Galaxity are among the spatial computing companies altering the way we work and play from a social standpoint. These social VR apps change the way we share experiences, how we share photos of our vacations, and how we relate to people because we’re interacting in a 3D space and experiencing the same presence as in real life.

If given a choice, most students would likely rather have a volumetric display of Abraham Lincoln giving a speech than read about it or watch a video representation of it. Holograms have something 2D videos don’t: presence. When people interact with a volumetric video, they have the experience that they are there with that person, and they experience emotion and memory that comes from physical interaction.

Internet dating will change dramatically when people do not have to guess whether a flat picture represents the person accurately since they will have a holographic display of the person right in front of them that may be harder to manipulate. Instead of having quarantine-safe first dates on Skype, potential couples can date via volumetric video. Someone who may come across as boring or distant on video can be themselves by moving around as a hologram. And if the date isn’t working out? Simply shut off the stream.

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Maybe someone tested positive for an asymptomatic version of a virus. They want to go dancing but don’t want to get anyone sick. Dance clubs will enable people to join the dance floor where they’ll be a holographic presence for others to see and to experience the club themselves using VR. The possibilities are endless.

Golf and country clubs are already being reimagined with virtual reality. Ready Player Golf re-envisions a golf outing in virtual reality. Friends join in VR to play a few holes. Colleagues or business partners can join in for a virtual game and talk business. Charities like Doctors Without Borders have taken advantage of the social aspect of VR in Ready Player Golf. RPG generated $12,300 from 78 donors and sponsors.

We may be physical creatures, but we now have digital personas as well. These existences—online and offline, physical and digital—are slowly merging. That doesn’t mean that future generations will always represent themselves as their physical persona in the digital world. They can choose to be the color purple, a dinosaur, or a superhero—or all three! In the future, people will choose to be whatever they want to be because they’re a lot more fluid in their concept of identity. And that will transcend even further in the future.

For instance, Facebook has created a social VR world called Facebook Horizon, which it describes as a “social experience where you can explore, play, and create with others in VR.” Cathy was an early beta tester of Facebook Horizon. She was one of the first people to livestream from inside Horizon and show the world what it looks like. In Horizon people are represented by avatars that look like themselves as their Horizon avatar is linked to their Facebook profile. People can play games, but more interestingly create worlds that their friends can explore. Here lies the possibility for monetizing digital goods within Facebook, making virtual living a profitable one. Facebook Horizon is monitored by real Facebook employees (represented as avatars) to avoid some of the social pitfalls that can effect people in VR.

While Facebook essentially requires you to be “you” in VR, other virtual realities allow more freedom where a boy might appear as the wizard Gandalf, or an older woman may appear as Iron Man. These virtual realities are interesting because they allow people to experience a completely different life. But, anonymity is not without consequences. Social VR is like the early days of the Internet. People met in chat rooms and talked to strangers; there were no online rules of etiquette. In some social VR platforms, people “sensory bomb” others who are new to VR, causing them confusion without a chance to escape or set boundaries. In the workforce, etiquette and social harassment guidelines will need to be put in place before deploying VR. People will find significance and purpose in the virtual world, which will change how they relate to each other in the physical world.

We anticipate seeing job ads in the future for people who can work seamlessly between digital and physical realities. We think this way because job titles like “hologram stylist” exist today. Hologram stylists work with people to prepare them for volumetric video capture. They pick clothes to wear and how a person’s hair should best be worn so that it is fully captured in 3D. Fashion brands like Gucci are already turning to digital only clothing and accessories. Virtual couture designers make digital fashion first, in the form of filters or 3D assets. As we depend on AI robots, like Amazon Alexa or Siri, they will become gatekeepers. Business-to-Robot-Consumer (B2R2C) marketing managers will reach customers through robots. No matter how we communicate, we expect AR, VR, AI, and 5G to have an impact.

Entertainment Disruption

Hollywood is shifting to more immersive content—not just for viewers but also during production. In 2016, director Jon Favreau started experimenting with VR through a film called Gnomes & Goblins. He took what he learned and applied them to his remakes of The Jungle Book and The Lion King.

Traditionally, for a blend of live-action and animated films, the actors speak into a microphone while standing up, remaining stationary when recording their lines. Instead of utilizing the traditional route, Favreau had the performers act together in a live space so that he could capture their movements and their facial expressions. He then incorporated that into the animation. Favreau also had people act using VR so that they could see themselves as a lion, hyena, or a warthog. The crew joined them in VR too. This changed how people performed because they were able to see themselves as the animated character and were able to interact in a digital space. If you had to play a lion, would you rather stand still at a microphone or see yourself as a lion in VR? Peter Rubin from Wired wrote:

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The Lion King was filmed entirely in virtual reality (well, save a single photographed shot). All the locations you know from the original—Pride Rock, the elephant graveyard, Rafiki’s Ancient Tree—exist, but not as practical sets or files confined to an animator’s computer. They live inside a kind of filmmaking video­game as 360-degree virtual environments, full of digitized animals, around which Favreau and his crew could roam. Headsets on, filmmakers had access to all the tools of the trade, just in virtual form.

We believe this will lead to a transition from storytelling, where we’re passive recipients of information to “story-living,” where we’re active participants in the story with agency—a capacity to act independently. The ultimate way to experience this will be in an artificial reality like VR. Of course, this isn’t completely new. There have been branching narrative concepts in the past, blending “choose your own adventure,” with certain digital technologies. In approximately five years from now, there will be another shift from “story living” to “story doing” (similar to AR) where the person is part of the story. Think of a supercharged version of Pokémon GO. The previously passive audience will now be active, leading to improvements in engagement and entertainment. The increased use of interactive storytelling techniques will blur the lines between mediums. Watching a pitched medieval battle on TV? Pick up the controller (or your VR headset!) and help turn the tide. This transformative experience is coming soon to a screen near you.

To get access to new content from my second book,  HYPERLINK ""The Augmented Workforce: How AR, AI, and 5G Will Impact Every Dollar You Make with my co-author,  HYPERLINK ""John Buzzell, visit

Cathy Hackl is a globally recognized tech futurist and top business executive with deep experience working in metaverse-related fields with companies like HTC VIVE, Magic Leap, and Amazon Web Services. She’s the founder of the Futures Intelligence Group where she advises Fortune 1000 and top luxury fashion brands on metaverse growth strategies, NFTs, and how to extend their brands into virtual worlds. She’s a sought-after consultant, speaker, and media personality. Hackl was recently featured in 60 Minutes+, Bloomberg and Cheddar’s coverage of the metaverse and is a contributor to Forbes. She has written two books and is writing an anticipated book on the business opportunities of the metaverse that will be published by Bloomsbury Publishing. Hackl has been dubbed the Godmother of the Metaverse and is one of the top tech voices on LinkedIn.

NCFA Fintech Confidential Issue 4 250 - Bracing For Change In The Era Of The Augmented Workforce

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