Back to the (50-Year) Future

Recently I saw the newly released 50th-anniversary version of 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film that got me thinking about the future, as well as the last 50 years. When the original was released in 1968, it defined the height of futuristic thinking. The visions of life in space foreshadowed a world yet to be, but one that was portrayed in realistic terms.

And though I’ve seen the movie many times and it’s one of my all-time favorites, this new viewing was an entirely different experience. Why? Because so many of the things that Stanley Kubrick included as futuristic are now commonplace. Until just a few years ago you couldn’t say that.  

For example, in one scene, a character makes a video phone call from a space transport to his young daughter for her birthday. Today many of us make video phone calls regularly. Another scene shows the same character watching a movie playing in front of his seat on the transport, much like the screens we see today on JetBlue and other airlines. And finally, an important character in the movie is the HAL 9000 — a computer that can have completely natural conversations that only a few years ago seemed phantasmagoric.

This scene hit home when I watched part of a recent Google developer conference in which the tech giant showed off its computer-based Google Assistant, which can strike up a completely natural conversation over the phone as it performs a rather mundane task: making an appointment.

I hope you will watch this incredibly interesting video clip. You’ll hear two voices in the process of making an appointment at a salon. It’s nearly impossible to detect that the conversation is happening between a person and a computer. And the person on the phone is unaware that she is talking with a computer. As you can imagine, this demo has been covered a lot in tech blogs, and it’s been revealed that Google’s accomplishment, which is astounding, is limited to a small set of tasks. It’s not like the Google Assistant can actually have a real conversation with you beyond these limited tasks, as HAL could. But it’s clear where things are going.  

Now, putting this back into the context of 2001, I started thinking about what things exist today — things we know about that are here but not quite developed but that we know for sure will be, and probably not in 50 years but more likely in five or 10 years.

I wrote a blog post at the end of 2016 titled “The Alphabet of the Future,” in which I talked about virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence. These technologies are what I referred to above — things that are actively being worked on today but are still in their infancy.

How these things will shape the live event experience is anyone’s guess, but what’s interesting to me is that it’s not too soon to start imagining. This so-called technology of the future is moving faster than ever and will be commonplace sooner than you may think. This scares some people and excites others, but one thing seems certain — the technology future we’ll all be living within in just a few years is much less imaginary than was the case 50 years ago.

How will your organization embrace these new technologies? Do you think about this now? Do you have a board committee brainstorming? Is it worth carving out time to get out on the cutting edge? If not your organization, then someone else will.

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