It’s a crisp February morning in 2031 and you are awoken by the sounds of your favorite track. Despite simulated full daylight and sleep analysis, getting up has not become easier than it used to be. Thanks to your new year’s resolution you have committed to do 15 minutes of yoga every morning, so you activate your virtual trainer through voice command for a one-on-one coaching session. With a quick 3D mapping of the room, the program is able to adjust the light and add virtual objects to make it look like your favorite yoga studio downtown.

While you brush your teeth, your smart fridge informs you that there are vegetables available in the communal vertical farm in your building. A mushroom and soy sprout vegan omelette is what your health assistant recommends based on the sensors in your bed and toilet. “Would you like your smart kitchen top to prepare this or would you rather do it yourself? Cooking has been proven to reduce stress and, well, your heart rate suggests that you could use some stress reduction,” your health assistant says.

Are you wondering if this scene is a product of the imagination or if it is actually going to happen? If you feel like these kinds of scenarios belong to a Black Mirror episode rather than real life, you are certainly not alone. No one today knows for certain what life in 2031 will be like, but the emerging technology of today – AR filters, VR games, the Internet of Things, AI, voice interaction (such as Google Assistant) and 5G  are paving the way for a future in which this 2031 scenario might be a full-fledged reality.

Illustration of women reading, meditating, cooking.

At North Kingdom we may be a little biased, being surrounded by the latest technology and having worked remotely with our teammates and clients for many years. We bet you can see some of these signals as well. We call this future scenario the Interspace – a digital reality that is screenless, indexed and searchable and with Internet connectivity that will be everywhere, in everything and always contextually relevant.

The Interspace is a broad framework that we use to describe future possibilities already rooted in today’s technology. It will likely impact all aspects of our lives and we can imagine that it will open new ways for humans to explore, communicate and interact with our world. To take a closer look without getting lost, let’s examine this idea of Interspace through its two main protagonists­– humans and products and the interactions occurring between them.

By doing this, we will open up reflections and consideration with an interesting potential for us as professionals and for the world we live in.

Human to human interactivity – constant connectivity

Starting with ourselves at North Kingdom, we’ve long appreciated and valued the importance of collaboration in our work and have formed professional relationships with the support of digital tools. Already today we cannot imagine our working lives without the support of video calls, cloud services and, for now, screens.

Looking outside of our professional lives, we observe how our relations with other humans are characterized by a state of constant connectivity. We meet some of the humans in physical form and other exclusively online. The Internet has put us in touch with a lot more people and created an incredible amount of information, so much so that digital detox has been born. Trust has evolved and we now allow strangers to live in our houses (AirBnB) and to drive us places (Uber). But this is just the beginning and already, advancements in spatial computing, brain-computer interfaces and anticipatory design promise a whole new wave of change.

illustration of people wearing virtual reality headsets interacting in VR environments

How will we work once screens disappear from our offices and what will it mean to experience something together in the era of spatial computing and haptic suits? How will our relationships be affected if we are able to see what the other person is thinking or feeling? In essence, what will it mean to be human in the age of the Interspace? This brings us to the next point.

People to product interaction – being human

Most products we are surrounded by are born when a human need is met by a commercial idea. In the simplest of cases, if enough people in a certain area are hungry, a restaurant can open and be profitable. A delivery service bringing food from that restaurant to a bigger pool of eaters can also be profitable, and so on. It’s the basic economics of offer and demand.

When there is human need, but not enough profit to entice private markets, the public sector steps in to answer that need. What we are increasingly observing, though, is that business needs have taken a front seat to human needs, in the name of power and profit. As a result, products are either screaming at us to get our (short) span of attention or sneaking up on us, using dark design patterns to lock us into longer usage. People say that when done right, technology is indistinguishable from magic. But if we regard technology as magic, we will also be less aware of the tactics and patterns used to stimulate in us a certain kind of behavior.

The opportunity for companies in the future is to focus on uniqueness, the diversity of the human needs, and to go beyond the status quo to imagine a desirable future that we would want to be part of.

How can we design products for the Interspace that will help us and enhance our lives, rather than lock us into a vicious circle? And connected to this question, how can we start measuring values and impact other than economic growth?

Our hope is that, by becoming invisible and even more embedded in our everyday routines, technology will impact our lived experience in a more positive way. For example, by making us feel present, even when we are located away from each other, by letting us talk more naturally rather than hiding behind screens and by anticipating problems, rather than solving them.

Product to product interaction – autonomy and trust

In recent times, the possibility of products (tools, machines or systems) replacing humans and our work has become a probability, if not the truth. Products will interact with other products, without the human presence being needed. Already today, products talk to each other through APIs and plug-ins, but humans are still included in the equation as creators, users or receivers of information. We can take this even further and imagine that at some point in time, likely beyond our 2031 scenario, products themselves will be able to invent new products, from conception to creation and launch.

You can imagine the ethical dilemmas raised by autonomous products with little or no human intervention­­–for example, self-driving vehicles programmed to choose the lesser of two evils when a car accident is inevitable. Will we trust our products to have our best interests in mind even when they will be interacting among themselves? How will the design discipline change when users will not only be “personas”, but also other advanced products? Will automation and AI free up time for us or make us feel like we are losing control and lacking in purpose?

image of two hands touching fingertips, one is made of grass, the other is mechanical

What does this all mean?

The point of this article is not to start a debate of what will and will not be, but to open up questions allowing each of us to start forming our own multiple versions of different possible futures. Futures which we still have the possibility and the responsibility to imagine, create, design and change. This responsibility is not only towards ourselves as humans, but also for entities that cannot manifest their needs, like animals and of course our planet.

Today we are already laying the foundation of the Interspace. We know that when it comes to the Internet and legislation our governments are behind on the work, and that the world is changing at a pace where bureaucracy and heavy processes cannot keep up. As a result, it is up to us and the private companies we work for to take responsibility for what we are and will design.

The possibilities are endless and, to paraphrase Brian David Johnson, they seem to be constricted only by the limits of what we can imagine and invent. What will the Interspace be? Let’s create it responsibly together.