October 2023

What is the third era of personal computing?

There are a couple of technology trends that we’re immensely excited about at Loomery. Spatial computing and machine learning, both technologies that have been around for many years, are showing new and astounding promise.

In fact, we firmly believe that this is the third age of personal computing.

Let’s set some historical context. 

The last half century of human progress has been defined by computing. Half of that was the arrival of the PC; from the office to a computer in every home. The other half was the introduction of mobile and ultimately putting a computer in every pocket.

Now, there are 7 billion smartphones in the world. That’s about 85% of the global population.

Each age, each era of computing has been underpinned by rapidly advancing technologies. Technology that broke barriers, shook up our assumptions, and pushed things forward. The “PC era” was enabled at first by graphical user interfaces, microprocessors, the PC operating system, the CD, email - and ultimately the internet.

However, it was slow and we were limited in what we could do and achieve, even with the web.

The “mobile era”, the second major era of computing, was enabled by touch screens, apps, powerful miniature chips, higher capacity batteries and, ultimately, the shift to the cloud.

But the screen is too small, the battery is rubbish and you got a direct link into the Cloud but no good way to get what you wanted. 

Enter the third age of computing. 

In fact, it has many names… Spatial era. PC3. Web…4? In simple terms, it’s defined by machine learning (or AI more broadly) and spatial computing. Both machine learning and spatial are fundamentally enabled by powerful graphic processing units (GPUs), and a proliferation of sensors. 

And it’s happening right now. From a computer in every home, to every pocket, to computing everywhere. 

The first era was static, you were fixed to one place to do your computing. The second era unleashed us from the desk as it was inherently mobile. This was hugely liberating as you no longer had to print out your directions on a piece of paper before you left the house or office, in fact it was the end of us getting lost at all. 

The third era adds technology to even more spaces and places around us; the theory is you’re living your life, and computing happens around you. In the first era the onus was on you to instruct software but in the third era computing is continuous, proactive and always-on.

For the third era, it’s becoming clear that the foundational technologies are spatial (computing in 3D spaces) and machine learning (the form of AI whereby technology that learns from data). Both technology spaces have been around for a while - decades in fact - so why is it different this time? Well, this is a unique moment, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, several technologies (including the constituent parts of ML/spatial) are maturing at a similar point and we can see it working. Just try on a Vision Pro for proof of that (we have - and it’s astounding). For machine learning, the last 18 months have seen an acceleration in the application of new techniques, to deliver new levels of intelligence around how to answer questions and understand the world, such as through ChatGPT.

In spatial, there have been impressive developments by MagicLeap, Microsoft with HoloLens and Oculus. But Apple’s entry into the AR/VR market provides a new baseline expectation for what a highly usable device has to do. We’ve written about why it’s the best AR/VR platform, by far. And of course, AR/VR devices will only get better and lighter from here.

Secondly, and crucially, these two technologies are accelerating each other - spatial massively increases the data available and the surface area for adding value to life. Machine learning makes spatial computing possible. It’s the classic better data > makes better experiences > makes better data loop, but with really tangible applications and use cases.

These technologies, even if we could hypothetically stop any further innovation and progress at this point, will power decades of economic growth. They could be bigger than the mobile revolution, perhaps even bigger than the internet, in terms of their impact on people and the economy. Both machine learning and spatial are interesting on their own but the big leap is their combination. We think looking at them in isolation is a mistake. Experiences that take full advantage of these ‘third era’ technologies will look different, feel different, and fundamentally change our relationship with computers.

This new era is happening right now, at the meeting point of spatial computing and machine learning, and at Loomery we want to help your organisation get ahead of the competition. Find out more here.

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