Will completely new types of devices start to appear in offices?
Cisco telepresence today gives a rich, immersive experience, but the drawback is that you have to go to the telepresence suite. I’ve been experimenting with robotic telepresence, where you [control] the body of a robot and it becomes an extension of you, a physical avatar. We are already seeing robotic avatars used by some doctors to do their rounds, and patients find it really offers them much the same relationship to having a doctor walk by in person to check up on them. It allows doctors to scale their skills to more patients, so they are more productive. It will do the same for businesspeople when the costs come down. When you can visit Europe, India, and China in a single day [using a robot], you can maintain better relationships and be more productive.
The first of those robots are on sale already and are relatively simple. How will they become more sophisticated?
Maybe the experience today isn’t as high-fidelity as it could be, but over the next few years the quality will become HD or super-HD, and maybe they’ll be semiautonomous. You could be in control of more than one robot, and tell them to wander by themselves and let you know when they find something interesting. A robot might have facial recognition and say, ‘Hey, Dave, I just ran into Bob, who you met before at this particular event.’ When I look through the eyes of the robot I might not just see the video feed, but also information about the person.
What about technology that allows us to do less, so we can dedicate more time to what matters?
A good example of this is the interactive avatar I developed, Halie. She can understand what you say to her, uses facial recognition, and can do things like manage your calendar or book business trips. Ultimately that technology will allow everyone to have their own virtual personal assistant, so they spend less time on administration.
How will all these new technologies change the people that make up the workforce and how they operate?
Already it is clear that people and collaboration matter so much more at work than they did before. You can no longer do your job without collaborating with others, and we will soon rely on being able to access any person, regardless of place, and [use] tools like social networking at work.
That might change how employment works. It could become the norm for people to have multiple employers, because they can more easily share their expertise with multiple employers very easily with this technology.