The iWatch is getting the usual amount of press attention, but even if it's a hit it will mostly just be more of what we've got already. There are, however, three technologies waiting in the wings that could rival the computer as a game-changer.
1. Performance Enhancing Drugs
While people see the use of performance enhancing drugs like steroids as a form of cheating, the business world has never been that squeamish. Addiction to caffeine, for example, is not just tolerated but actively encouraged as a productivity enhancer.
Since coffee is fine, why not amphetamines? According to a recent study, a common use of the drug today is "to work harder and longer hours." Ayn Rand, for example, wrote the bestseller The Fountainhead while high on uppers.
Of course, the problem amphetamine is the side effects, like paranoia and brain damage. However, millions of workers take antidepressants like Wellbutrin and anti-anxiety medicines like Xanax without any management complaints.
It's only a matter of time before pharmaceutical firms develop drugs with the work-enhancing power of amphetamine but without side effects. When that happens, I suspect most companies will be more than happy to let worker-bees get more buzzed up.
2. Real-Time Animation
As anyone who's been to the movies lately knows, computer animation is now nearly indistinguishable from reality. Movie animation, however, is produced slowly, with a computer creating individual frames, which are then combined to create the footage.
However, there's another, simpler tyep of animation called "real-time" where the computer processes all the frames on the fly. Here's what was possible with real-time animation 10 years ago:
And here's what's possible with real-time today, using off-the-shelf products from Reallusion, a developer of animation software:
In the above example, the voice and lip movements were generated from a text script, but it could just as easily been generated from a human voice, which leads us how this technology could change the business world.
In another ten years, it will be impossible for the human eye to detect the difference between a real person on camera and an imitation person animated in real-time. This will allow people to create idealized versions of themselves for videoconferencing.
For example, I could be sitting at home in my PJs with three days of scruffy beard growth but still videoconference myself into the workplace and look not just dressed for success but 20 years younger and with a nice tan, too.
As tools like Facetime and Skype make videoconferencing more popular and business travel less common, in the future we may end up interacting with coworkers whose true appearance and even gender remain unknown.
3. Remote Lie Detection.
The Internet, like many other of today's most powerful technologies, was pioneered by the US Department of Defense. That organization is now pioneering a lie detection device that works without the subject knowing he or she is being assessed.
According to the New Scientist website, the device "will use microwave or laser beams reflected off a subject's skin to assess various physiological parameters without the need for wires or skin contacts."
Since DoD technology often flows into the business world, it's not just probable but likely that such devices will be installed at workplaces to monitor blue collar and clerical workers to discover, for instance, whether they're stealing.
From there, it's a very short leap from monitoring workers to monitoring professionals, managers and executives, entirely without their knowledge, either within the workplace or during public events, like earnings announcements.
Given enough miniaturization, an employee might even be able to train such a device on a manager to confirm that he or she is telling the truth about promised raises and promotions.
Since this technology requires physical presence, the availability of these devices will help drive the workplace away from in-person contact to virtual situations, where individuals control how they're represented, probably through real-time animation.
Combine all the technologies and you've got a business world where people work--or seem to work--incredibly long hours and avoid face-to-face meetings in favor of virtual meetings between their animated avatars.
Whether those avatars will be wearing iWatches, of course, remains to be seen.