A New Kind of Internet Interface

What would it be like to have the internet right at your fingertips?

No, I’m not talking about traditional internet devices like computers, or even tablets and smartphones.

Literally, your fingertips.

I’m talking about an interface where a little handwaving replaces a mouse click or a touchscreen swipe.  Where, instead of staring at a separate screen to find out what we want to know, every last bit of information is displayed right in front of us. Something that is able to update in real time with information about places or people just by our looking at them and display that information right next to them. Of course, it would also be able to take commands from us and display what we want it to… at the risk of making us look a little crazy. Or like mimes. Your choice.

There’s a show out there called Accel World that demonstrates this concept perfectly, where a person’s eyes are his internet interface. Everyone is linked to the internet, no matter where they are. The one caveat? When I say linked, I mean literally. People have their nervous systems wired at birth to be able to connect to the “global net,” and they actually have a jack in their neck that they can plug cords into for private communication, at the very least. Basically, what we have here are humans that have computers embedded into them, with their hands as the mouse and keyboard and their eyes as the monitor.

Sound awesome? Definitely. Scary? Even more so. What would happen if someone were to hack, well, you? Or if a computer virus were to infect you? You’d be completely disoriented, perhaps even left without your sight. If there is no disconnect switch — or you’re in the middle of a road at the time — good luck trying to do anything. Plus, the idea of drilling inside my skull or neck just to connect me to the internet kinda creeps me out. It’s enough that the internet rules our daily lives, but for it to be literally a part of us, running on our brainwaves? No thanks.

On the other hand, something like this would be insanely useful. Think about being able to send a photo or a video to someone with just a flick of the wrist, immediately after you took it. Think about being at a baseball game and not only being able to watch your favorite team live, but also being able to tap into the video feed and watching them that way, especially if you’re in the obstructed seats. Even a simple magnification of what you’re seeing would work. Think about being able to buy something from a store by just looking and waving at the product, and then picking it up and walking right out of the store without having to pass through a checkout line.

So, what about a compromise? Turns out engineers are already working on this, as seen in this video (http://vimeo.com/37562944). This contraption is a 3D monitor that uses cameras to track where your hands are behind the transparent screen, allowing you to navigate the computer with waves and other hand motions. The obvious problem with this, regarding this proposal, is that this is a fixed object. No one wants to be carrying that monitor and all of the cameras everywhere they go. So how do we make it portable?

The technology for that is also in development. Head-up displays are prevalent in aircraft the world over for their ability to display data to the pilot without his having to look down at any instruments, basically overlaying the information on the windshield. So that he doesn’t have to refocus his eyes, the HUD is an infinity display, which fools the eyes into thinking that the symbols displayed on the HUD are somewhere ahead of the airplane instead of on a piece of glass two feet in front of the pilot. Recently, people have been developing personal HUDs, to bring this technology into the realm of scuba diving, skiing, and other sports or military purposes.

If we can create a set of personal HUDs small enough to fit into a glasses frame or contact lens yet powerful enough to display something akin to the computer screen you are seeing right now (something akin to Google’s Project Glass, revealed earlier this month), 3D cameras also small enough to fit, and a way to immediately disconnect from them (like, say, taking them off) this augmented reality may soon be… a reality.

And if they can be made with prescription lenses, they might get me to start wearing my glasses more often.

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