A few weeks ago I was home watching a basketball game with my 5-year-old nephew, Jack. It was fantastic to be hanging out with him, period. But he ended up taking my brain off cruise control and blowing me away when he walked up to the TV, placed his tiny fingers on the flat screen and tried to swipe it to change the channel.

Sometimes all it takes is a child to get you to slow down and realize how fast technology is changing right before our eyes. We’ve evolved from a world with no computers, to massive supercomputers requiring manual coding, to a basic point-and-click visual desktop, to touchscreens – all in less than 100 years. Many claim innovation died after the iPhone. (“We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters,” famously wrote the Founders Fund) But I believe we are at the beginning of a new frontier where the line between the virtual and the real is blurring – and, with that blur, seamlessly feeding our basic human need for interaction.

In the UK, about 400 students participated in a study where 8- to 10-year olds used computerized, multi-touch, multi-user desk surfaces for three years to learn math. At the end, students in the techie group collaborated more and had higher scores than the conventional group that used the traditional paper-based approach. The effects of touchscreen technology are just beginning to be seen, and a new wave of technology is adding depth and even more organic interactivity to computer experiences. And it’s happening now.

Take a look at Leap Motion, an incredible San Francisco-based company that developed a 3D motion sensor to register all the natural movements of your hand and its tendons down to one hundredth of a millimeter. Leap Motion brought the desktop to life by adding another dimension, and it created a way to capture our instinctual body movements to interact with the computers. It will soon be time for developers and entrepreneurs to harness all the opportunities that come with Leap’s technology – adding a third dimension to gaming, spreadsheets, and everything in between - and expanding the limits of our imagination while at the same time improving how our minds process information.

Microsoft’s Kinect, and Google Glass are also bridging the software and physical worlds, with several others following suit. Thalmic Labs built an armband that allows you to control devices with your gestures through a Bluetooth connection. Researchers are even harnessing the power of the neurons in the human brain, giving quadriplegics the ability to move robotic arms simply by thinking about it. The next step: incorporating sensory feedback.

Most of this technology is not exclusive. Leap Motion’s sensor is scheduled to go on sale this May for about $80, and in late 2013 you, too, can have Thalmic Labs’ MYO armband for just $149. Other dynamic technologies are making similar strides, like Condition One. The startup enables people to capture and share immersive videos with a 180-degree field of vision, which adjusts your view as you move your mobile device. It has set the stage for a new video standard, forming partnerships with companies like The Guardian, Popular Science, Discovery Communications and Mercedes.

Gone are the days where we’re chained to technology and its experiences in two dimensions. We’re making computing a natural extension of the human experience, exposing a new platform that will unleash radical creativity. The next step in human evolution is happening now, and someday my nephew’s kids will wonder what it was like when we had to use a mouse or a touchscreen to access computing power. We will soon see a wave of entrepreneurs who will capitalize on these new computing forms and amaze us with applications that few of us can imagine.

We just may get flying cars after all.

close button

This site was built with many thanks to:

Development: Static Interactive
Images: Chicago Ideas week
Site Design: Carli Papp