BMW i Future Thought Series - Masters of Reality BMW i Future Thought Series - Masters of Reality



The second of the BMW i Future Thought Series articles explores how creativity, co-operation and compassion will be key to thriving in an era in which the digital world is something we live in rather than look at.

Woman with a digital interface

It is the near future, the city is Medellín. You are a worker in the digital gig economy. Today, your job is to pick up groceries from local supermarkets and deliver them to affluent city workers. You negotiate the world using a heads-up display that overlays graphics onto the built environment around you. Two-thirds of everything you see in your world comprises digital imagery. Ads for everything from dieting and virtual pets interrupt you as you make your way though the city, and the environment you are forced to inhabit is a cacophony of visual and aural noise.

VR at Home

While the above sounds like the prologue to a cyber-punk novel, it actually describes a short film by designer Keiichi Matsuda. Hyper-Reality is a vision of a potential future that carries a warning: When interruption, information overload, and dissonance are a problem in the smartphone era, how will we cope with the next wave of devices? 

“It has become common practice and in some cases, socially acceptable to be mentally absent while being physically present,” says Michell Zappa, founder of foresight organisation Envisioning. “We will continue to see an extrapolation of these behaviours in the coming 15 years, when we will have contact lenses or technology-enabled optics that overlay and mediate what we are seeing with digital imagery.”

Technology futurist Daniel Burrus agrees that the kind of immersive computing described by Zappa is inevitable. Burrus also believes that it is the responsibility of individuals to determine whether our future with these devices is oppressive or empowering, integrating or isolating: “The best question to ask is, ‘what kind of a future do we want to live in?’ This is tricky, because while there is a manual for how to turn on devices, charge them or update the software, there is no manual for how to use them to forge a fulfilling life – that part is up to us.” 

There is no definitive answer to Burrus’s question, but a starting point may be the using of devices to engage in the aspects of life that help us to feel more human. At this early stage in their adoption, we are witnessing an array of immersive technologies coming to the fore that enable us to be more creative, co-operative and compassionate.

VR Interface


The digital space has always been an area for creativity and experimentation. In the future, this spirit of creativity will burst out of screens and onto the world around us. Whether that is through the augmented reality (AR) devices described by Zappa and Burrus, or hologram technology and real-time projections.

An advanced example of the latter could be seen in restaurant Sagaya, designed by art collective teamLab. The technology used in the restaurant is designed to immerse diners in Japanese aesthetics, creating poetic colours and natural themes such as Cherry Blossom, which responds to diners’ movements and the dishes they eat.

In the scenario of immersive creativity, every aspect of the physical environment will be able to be redesigned digitally. This will also apply to the world of fashion. Designer Kailu Guan proved this point at New York Textile Month in late 2016 when she created a collection that revealed a series of virtual layers when viewed through a smartphone. The augmented layers comprise animations of running water, spikes and dots, and show how digital and physical design are truly blurring

Digital Interface
VR Interface


Creating together in a state of immersive co-operation will enable use to create a more fulfilling future. Cyborg anthropologist Amber Case examines integration between humans and machines at MIT, and is excited about the potential for us to redesign our environment collaboratively.

Case compares the outset of AR and VR with the early days of the internet, when the web was a more creative and playful place. “In the early days of the internet, people were much more willing to create new structures online. Now, the web has become a less creative place with pre-determined templates. Hopefully with these new technologies we will see a return to the web being a place where you can be creative,” she says, “and also a little weird.” 

An early template for envisaging how people will be able to create their own environment in the future can be seen in the open world game Anyland. Using a VR headset, players step into a limitless world in which they are able to edit the landscape and create anything they want to, from lightsabres to skyscrapers. The mechanics of the game encourage play, experimentation and togetherness as players meet friends online and create whatever their imagination can muster.



Immersive technologies – specifically VR – have the ability to surround us in new scenarios and explore vividly the lives of others. Recent years have seen innovators experiment with VR to encourage empathy, compassion and understanding.

The Guardian’s latest foray into VR enables viewers to experience the first year of life as a human. Research on neural development and vision went into an experience that allows people to revisit a stage of life that is unremembered, but crucial to the development of all people. 

Using Daydream View, Google’s platform for high-quality, mobile VR, First Impressions starts with the viewer only being able to see muted colours. Then, hues of red and green, and then yellow and blue begin to form. A voiceover by Charles Nelson, professor of paediatrics at Harvard, guides viewers through the experience, explaining how the development of behaviour and social functioning can be impaired if babies are not given responsive care and social interaction. Crucially, the viewer is shown what it is like to be an infant, rather than told, rendering the experience much more vivid and affecting.


The coming wave of immersive interfaces will mark a shift in how humans experience the world. The way that we interact, learn, and think will be affected as our minds mould to fit our new device-led, digital habits. As professor Herbert Marshall McLuhan famously declared: “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”

However, the key to avoiding a future like Matsuda’s - where technology is dictating the terms of our existence - must surely lie in retaining human traits like creativity, co-operation and compassion. As Burrus explains, immersive technologies are inevitable, but how we negotiate the future is up to us.


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