NVIDIA recently hosted its big GTC show. If there’s one thing I look forward to every year, it’s NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang’s keynote.
This is because Huang lays out the near future for a bunch of technologies I care about, like artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous electric cars, the metaverse, and computer gaming.
After the keynote this year, I had the honor of chatting with Huang. We talked about the state of avatars and his belief that we’ll shortly have the ability to create photo-realistic avatars that can present believable and accurate facial expressions and gestures based on what the computer sees and hears.
But he went farther and argued that avatars will likely become the new human interface to the internet.
Let’s talk about the coming transformation of the web and why it’s critically important to the future of computing:
The historic problem with computers
Whether we are talking about a hammer or a computer, the problem with tools is that most don’t conform to us, we have to conform to them.
As we’ve added intelligence to the tools, we put more of a burden on the tool’s user to learn how to deal with the additional complexity. Every once in a while, we make things easier, like when we moved to word processing and the graphical user interface (GUI). But then we layered on complexity, so again, we had to re-learn the tool.
Well, that’s about to change dramatically.
The new human interface model
Let’s take the automobile, for instance.
Right now, if you buy a new car, you’ll likely have to spend a day learning where to find and how to use the features in it. Even things like turning on the headlights are often different between car companies and even between cars the same company makes.
But as we introduce autonomy into the vehicles, you’ll also get enhanced voice interfaces tied to conversational AI. Unlike prior efforts to put voice command into cars, which required you to learn the specific commands, conversational AI can understand human language and will infer what you mean, much like a human would.
In addition, over time, not only will the car learn how you like to communicate, what you like to listen to while driving, and even how aggressively you want the car to behave, it will also share that information with the manufacturer, so the next car you get will automatically know what the last car learned. So your new car will already be familiar with what you like. It will create one heck of a lock-in to a specific brand unless, as is eventually likely, the government mandates this information be shared.
So how does that relate to websites?
The next generation of AI-driven websites
Huang argued that the next iteration of the internet, the 3D internet, will have an avatar as the front end to the site.
You will see a talking head that you can simply ask questions of. No tiles or icons to click on, no menus to drill down in, and, assuming you allow your information to be shared, the avatar will be able to anticipate some of what you want and automatically serve it up.
You’ll have a conversation with the site, much as when, a couple of decades ago, you might have spoken to an operator or a receptionist to get the information you want or engage in a service or make a purchase. With regard to the latter, you’ll be able to see the products in context with where you are going to use them and even, like in the case of automobiles, go for virtual test drives.
But the big change that underlies all of this is that from here on, computer systems will increasingly be focused on learning how we want to interact with them, not the other way around. This will shorten training, reduce wasted time searching for things, and provide far deeper connections between buyers and the brands and products they purchase.
Tools, and particularly computers, have historically introduced considerable friction, both because they require training to be used and because the user has to jump through hoops that were optimized for the machine, not for the human.
With AI, avatars, and the metaverse, this is about to effectively reverse. Increasingly, autonomous machines and AI-based websites will learn how best to work with us. This will reduce a substantial amount of friction in every related process, reduce frustration, and create deeper relationships with companies, products, and services. It may be the biggest computer revolution since the mainframe.
This will lead to a massive change in how websites are created, where robots are used, and how we get around. It will change how we buy our clothing, and using applied technology, like photo-realistic avatars, it will allow us to change our appearance, become forever young, or create a virtual representation that is realistic but looks nothing like us.
We are at the forefront of a change so huge that, in a few years, much of what we currently do, see, and touch will be changed. Given the focus on understanding our unique needs, the world should get better. However, given the power of these systems to manipulate us, it could also get worse. Here’s hoping for the former outcome rather than the latter.
In any case, NVIDIA is at the heart of this change, which makes it one of the most important technology companies in our AI-driven metaverse future.