I think we are entering the third age of cyborg technology. In the first, humans (unknowingly or not noticing) became part-machines with improved vision (eyeglasses), digestion (fires that heat and pre-digest food, then tooth fillings), strength (levers) and speed (the wheel). Once we became robots in the first stage (sitting in rolling cars each morning), we then moved on to primary sense — vision and the mind that holds it — and how to augment that. This brings us to today, the second age of cyborgism, with flat panels surrounding us from far away (55-inch Samsungs) to tool level (iPads) to whispered love (cell phones), all backed by augmented memories (books and Google search). This second age is ending as panel design becomes, well, panels, and artificial memories become seamless (hi, Siri).
The third age of cyborgism will be one of true virtual reality, 3-D imagery floating around us, in which humans, tired of augmenting just their body and vision, decide to amplify the entire world. As that takes off, the design fights from Apple and Nokia will leave the tools with QWERTY keys behind to joust over the applications in the air. (Smartphone market-share reports already commonly rank operating systems like iOS and Android, and not the hardware. When you think about it, OS doesn’t really exist.) It’s a bit surreal, to realize that soon we will merge ourselves entirely into virtual worlds that make Second Life look like a 2001 Microsoft tablet computer. Haptic gloves, body sensors, and eyeglasses or contacts that put a fake reality in the air around us will lead to a new form of progress. Apple already has a patent for glasses-less 3-D that picks up ambient shadows in the room to make the stereoscopic images seem completely real. Somehow, I suspect not many people in that new world will still have abs.
From my comment at What Would the Internet Do?
Image by Abraxas3d at Burning Man 2009.