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TODAY'S OTHER NEWS

PropTech Today - will the home of 2040 be a blank physical space?

“There won’t be a single home but millions of different homes”, is one quote. 

“There will be an end to gadgets”, is another. 

The video linked to below, filmed in 1989 by the forward-thinking and much-loved Tomorrow’s World, shows a fascinating insight into what they thought our homes would be like in 2020. 

Before reading on, spend 3 minutes 45 seconds watching this video, shared into a PropTech WhatsApp group over the weekend by EAT's very own Nat Daniels. 

I thought I would use it as a light-hearted end to this column for 2019 and for us all to laugh at their predictions, joke at their silliness and, ultimately, consider how wrong they were. 

Sadly, save a few comments, I think you can see that they were actually quite accurate with some of their visions and technologies. 

Ultimately, what I picked out most was the aspect of personalisation and control that was clearly an aspiration. Whilst ‘gadgets’ still define us, that is through choice - our phones are glued to our hands and we have repetitive strain injury in our fingers.

I might get quite dystopian at this point and suggest that maybe the pendulum has swung so much in the opposite direction that we have become as much enabled by as imprisoned by our dependence on gadgets. 

But, this is Christmas so I won’t go down that rabbit hole and, besides, those of you with children will already have wrestled with the notion that on Christmas Day you will be instantly portrayed as the best parent in the world and then completely ignored for a considerable period in the future. 

Mobile phones and iPads are gateways to isolation of the physical environment, and in there is a point I want to focus on.

It follows a question I was asked earlier this year in Vienna while I was moderating a conference about residential property and virtual reality. There was a delay in proceedings as the next speaker was running late. I decided to just run an impromptu Q&A session. Ask me anything, I said, and let’s see where it leads. 

They asked what my thoughts are on virtual reality. Am I excited by it? Is it any good? And how can it be used in the residential property market? 

I came to the front of the stage and sat down. There were about 100 people there in front of me. The next speaker was quite a way off so I went off on a rant. Let me try to succinctly put it together here.

Am I excited by Virtual Reality? Yes. Currently, I am interested in aspects that most people are not really considering: its use in planning, thanks to amazing powers of collaboration, brings builders, planners and architects together inside the virtual building and this really excites me. 

The efficiency gains will be tremendous, but more so the impact on health and safety. Giving people a true understanding of a build and the risks involved mean all can be monitored and changed before the physical build take place. 

There is another application that I’m interested in, albeit on a longer-term basis. I have previously called it ‘selective reality’, referring to the ability to easily move from one form or reality to another. 

I am excited by the possibility of moving from full-on reality straight to a mixed-reality form, where digital imagery is superimposed over the physical environment. 

Then, should I choose to, I could just transport myself completely into a virtual environment and be wherever I want to be. 

What does this mean for the home of 2040, you might be asking? 

Well, in the video, there is a lot of attention given to the seamless integration of you and your home. You could almost lift the audio and place it over the projection for how we’ll use space in 2040, given how this remains a main focus for mixed-reality technology today. 

I am careful there to suggest physical space rather than ‘home’. 

About 9 years ago, I was working as a consultant for a deep-tech firm in London. I was given a demo of a new piece of VR kit, the first development kit, in fact, from Oculus, a new start up from the US that was revolutionising the sector. 

I was in a VR experience and while it was very laggy (as I turned my head it took a while to catch up) and quite pixelated, I remember giggling. Physically giggling. This was quite remarkable given the fact that I wanted to be sick into a bucket due to the nausea. 

This giggling happened again about 4 years later as the technology improved and I was invited back for another demo with a piece of kit that had moved the needle further in terms of immersive experience. I was able to manipulate the environment, move physically in a virtual space and engage with others within that setting. 

I sat down, giggled and thought of the possibilities. 

It was then that I considered the possibilities of our proprioceptive position in space and what it meant for our own future; the future of my children, particularly. 

The immersion was becoming so considerable that the fictional account written by Ernest Kline in his book Ready Player One (read it this Christmas), the rights to which were purchased by Steven Speilberg before it had even been published, could easily become a reality. 

What was stopping us living in a virtual environment? Could we be so distraught by our own humanity that living in a created world would be more favourable than living in our own? 

This notion is partly the reason why I replace the idea of the ‘home’ with that of physical space. I am not necessarily sure we will know what ‘home’ will stand for as we move into a more selective or mixed reality. 

Let me paint that picture for you more specifically, and please excuse me for generalising somewhat, but this is unavoidable because we’re working with a very long timeline. Even this millennial generation lacks the right mindset; it will be their children that will move more towards this vision. 

Millennial generations are currently becoming more and more comfortable with a convergence of their work and personal lives. This is both in the mentality of the ‘always on generation’, but also in the convergence of physical space too.

I have travelled the world and am seeing this convergence of co-living and co-working spaces everywhere, especially among nomadic, gig economy workers. 

This will accelerate through the generational shift as these people become parents and their own mentality starts to influence the next generation who have merged worlds and interchange between them quite happily because they trust that they have control over what they are doing and when. 

Combine this attitudinal change with the technological. Moore’s Law is true still to this today. Quantum computing and AI will aid this development into the next phase, suggesting that technological power will continue to grow. This will enable ever more powerful and more realistic virtual environments. 

I would therefore hypothesise that future generations will view a physical space as something they can augment virtually to their own taste at any given time. 

This could either be controlled manually or automatically. Given the advancement of AI and personalisation, our environments could well change automatically as our own physical and emotional state alters; akin to how our autonomous nervous system adapts to our body’s needs. 

A truly personal experience, forever, wherever we choose to be. 

Damn Tomorrow’s World for making me think this through and wrestle my thoughts down on ‘paper’.

I don’t expect you all to drink the Yuletide Kool-Aid,  but I do hope that it at least makes you consider how this could potentially impact the home of 2040. 

I also don’t expect you to have any understanding of this unless you have truly been immersed in a virtual experience that doesn’t just trick your sight, but all of your other senses, too. 

My simple point is that there is a very good chance that the home of 2040 may not even be a home; just a blank physical space. 

Happy Christmas. 

*James Dearsley is a leading PropTech influencer and commentator, and is co-founder of PropTech platform UnissuYou can follow James on Twitter here.

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