The word "augmented" shifts meaning depending on context in tech. It was the subject of a collection of talks titled The Augmented Worker at the O'Reilly Media event Next: Economy, Friday, Nov. 13 in San Francisco.
To start off the session, Tim O'Reilly spoke with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella about the idea of agents like personal assistants, as the next evolution in user interface— Nadella described the concept as the "third runtime," the first being PC operating systems, the second being browsers, and the third being things like Siri and Cortana, a text or speech-based way to do tasks that span our app ecosystems.
"The race is on," Nadella said.
O'Reilly asked him about augmentation in the 21st century and what what that looks like. Nadella said it comes down to productivity, and productivity comes down to three factors: land, labor, and capital, and Microsoft wants to make sure it's driving those. On the topic of artificial intelligence, Nadella said "It's technology that's inevitable. The question is 'how do we design the human in the loop so the human gets more leverage?'"
Of course, it's hard to talk about augmented reality and Microsoft without discussing HoloLens, the company's AR head-mounted display. They didn't talk about it for long, but when O'Reilly asked Nadella where he's hedging his bets in terms of AR versus VR, Nadella said AR, partly because in the past the trend has been to create digital analogs of what exist in the real world — files, desktops, and it's a new step to take the digital and place it within the real world.
O'Reilly then brought out DAQRI founder and CEO. DAQRI makes an augmented reality helmet used in factories and oil refineries.
"We believe augmented is the UI for the internet of things," he said.
DAQRI's Smart Helmet can do things like recognize machine parts, read gauges, and he said what that amounts to is a new type of cognitive literacy as AR could change the way workers process information and connect the dot to get work done.
Finally, O'Reilly talked with Lynda Chin, director for the Institute for Health Transformation about their work using IBM Watson to create something called Oncologist Expert Adviser, which has the aim of connecting generalists with the expertise of specialists in oncology in order to better diagnose and treat cancer. It's a hybrid — Oncologist Expert Adviser has the ability to read medical charts for a patients and make recommendations. Real experts then critique them.
Chin hopes this is a tool that could be widely deployed in five or so years.
And once they nail down the process of sharing expertise, that could lead to innovation in rethinking how healthcare works. For example, think of how Amazon changed shopping — bringing it to anyone anywhere, but applying a model like that to people so they have the healthcare they need wherever, whenever, without having to go to a hospital or doctor's office.
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Erin Carson has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.