During the Third Industrial Revolution, information became digitized. This meant information could be transmitted, copied, and was completely independent of whatever media it was stored on at the moment. The implications have been staggering.
One of the implications is that when we became good enough at working with digitized information, we became capable of virtualizing actual things.
( For more background, see this entry on Wikipedia about Industry 4.0 –
Industry 4.0, Industrie 4.0 or the fourth industrial revolution, is a collective term embracing a number of contemporary automation, data exchange and manufacturing technologies. It had been defined as ‘a collective term for technologies and concepts of value chain organization’ which draws together Cyber-Physical Systems, the Internet of Things and the Internet of Services.
note in particular the Virtualization and Real-time entries in the Design principles section:
- Virtualization: a virtual copy of the Smart Factory which is created by linking sensor data (from monitoring physical processes) with virtual plant models and simulation models
- Real-Time Capability: the capability to collect and analyse data and provide the derived insights immediately )
Consider that I can now take a machine part that was manufactured in 1958, scan it with a 3D scanner, transmit that file halfway around the world, and have someone 3D print a part that can be used in the repair of that particular model of fine classic car. That’s more than information that’s been exchanged digitally – that’s an actual thing that’s been exchanged virtually.
Or, consider these new-fangled self driving cars. How can they possibly process visual information well enough, enough like a human, that they can actually understand what is going on in the traffic around them? Part of that is that they are capable of creating a virtual model of the world around them, and interpret what is going on, all around them, as far as they can see, in 3 dimensions, in real time.
Just like people do, kind of – though, we’ve evolved spatial perceptions that allow us to do it. For the cars – we had to invent software and hardware enough to even allow us to write the code that allows the self-driving car to create a reasonable model of the traffic it is navigating, so that it can make the decisions it need to make to navigate it safely.
One more thought on the emergence of virtualization as a key component of technology’s current advances – the arrival, in the mainstream, of virtual reality goggles. A few months back, the Oculus Rift made headlines as it debuted with a splash. Critics were impressed at first, but the frenzy quickly died, as some pointed out, because there isn’t really any significant content for them outside the gaming world.
It is rumoured that Apple is quietly working on some virtual reality goggles of their own.
From the article:
While video game players have been natural early targets for virtual reality, the technology is being put to use for education, medicine, sports, […] and more.
The digitization of information is pretty much fait accompli. Now, the virtualization of reality is beginning. Like the industrial revolution before this one – this is going to be a lot of fun.