US bound – the Fulbright Harkness Fellowship

Last night I spent a great evening dining with previous Harkness fellows in Wellington. I’m incredibly fortunate to be heading to the US early next year on a Fulbright-Harkness Fellowship to look at the future of public interest journalism and hopefully pick up some ideas that could be applied here in New Zealand.

Here’s a piece AUT University’s magazine ran on the fellowship and my upcoming trip.

 

The lounge of the future – circa 2021

Ten years from now the lounge is looking a lot less cluttered, a tad spartan even.

But just say the magic word and your voice-activated lounge comes to life. The walls don’t just have ears – they have eyes and a nimble brain too …

Gone are the black and silver boxes that once made up your home entertainment stack – everything is miniaturised now thanks to nanotechnology – which allows complex electronics to be built on a tiny scale. So your components fit snugly within the walls – or built into the furniture.

There’s no such thing as a remote control any more. Gesture control and voice recognition started to take off a decade ago and with a curt command or the flick of a wrist, you can do everything from surf the web to channel surf the 1000 stations beaming in digitally to light up your walls.

All digital content is now streamed in high-quality from the cloud, so there isn’t a hard drive or Blu-ray disc in sight. By now, Google has come up with true universal search so you can instantly search the contents of every video, audio clip and photo ever digitised, as well as every document ever published. Your brain isn’t directly hooked up to the internet yet – but they’re working on it.

The TV has gone from being mounted on the wall to becoming the wall. Paper-thin OLED (organic light-emitting diode) panels coat the walls, displaying your favourite pattern of wallpaper when the TV is off, and a beautiful Super Hi-Vision picture when it is on.

Super Hi-Vision or ultra HD as its commonly known, is as close to 20/20 human vision as the Japanese engineers who invented it can get us – 15 times the resolution of the best high-definition displays on the market back in 2011.

So you can switch to a web camera on the Serengeti plains and turn your room into sun-drenched grass land. Even better, full auto-stereoscopic 3D is built into your walls, so you don’t have to wear funny glasses to get a 360 degree, three-dimensional picture around you. Virtual mirror technology also means those 3D wall screens augment your reality. So you can walk amidst that pride of Serengeti lions. Flexible sensor rods built into a slinky suit you are wearing simulate resistance, so when you pat the virtual lion in front of you, it feels like you are actually stroking a big cat. Oh, by the way, smell-o-vision is now fairly passe. That’s lion’s breath wafting your way and watching MasterChef is a whole new experience.

These days Facebook is much more virtually realistic. Your digital avatar friends actually gather at your wall to chat and barter Farmville vegetables, though you are all of course just shuffling around your lounge rooms in front of those virtual mirrors.

There isn’t a subwoofer or tweeter in sight in your lounge. Speakers are now made from carbon nanotubes, which are a few billionths of a metre thick and coat the walls and ceiling in a thin vibrating membrane immersing you in high-fidelity sound from all directions.

The Wi-fi network was switched off years ago. Now the LED lamps around your house that offer mood lighting, also send wireless broadband around your house. Visible frequency wireless uses the colour spectrum to send large amounts of data as light signals. The LEDs flicker as they transmit, but much faster than the human eye can detect. The signals are more secure, allow for more data to be sent and can go through walls.

The lounge of the future is a real sensory theatre. But sometimes you just want to curl up with a decent e-book. After the much-hyped iPad and the long-forgotten Kindle got people interested in digital screens, scientists came up with e-paper. Now everyone is carrying an A4-sized digital screen folded up like a hanky. Unfolding it displays a crisp page delivering you everything from the morning newspaper to the latest Dan Brown novel.

Originally published in the Herald on Sunday