Byte-Sized Futurism #7

The Endless Session

Ever since I started working in futures design, I have been repeatedly asked the same question over and over again: “What will be the next pinch-to-zoom moment in Human-Machine Interaction?” I believe it won’t be a singular gesture, app or device—but rather a shift in a way we interface with computers—a shift I dubbed The Endless Session.

Some of the earliest computing machines were purpose-built. The programming was in the hardware, and if the user wanted to change the purpose of the device, they’d have to build a new one.

When programmable computers came around, at first they required humans to learn their language of electrical signals. The information would be input using binary code (ones and zeroes), by setting sequences of switches, or feeding the machine punch cards or strings of punched tape.

Punched Tape
Photo of Mylar Punched Tape by Wtshymanski / Wikimedia

With the introduction of keyboards, we were able to switch from binary to alphanumeric – but still had to learn programming languages. From machine code of Assembly to modern languages that are easier to understand – in order to get machines to do their bidding, humans still needed specialized set of skills.

Things improved vastly since these days. With mice and touch input, graphical user interfaces and natural language processing, today’s computers are able to perform a variety of tasks for users with little to no training.

Throughout the decades, one aspect of our dealings with computers remained constant, however, and that is a transactional nature of our interactions. We ask something and get an answer. Computer asks a question and we provide feedback.

We rarely, if ever, interact with our devices without an immediate goal in mind (and a hit of dopamine from scrolling TikTok is a goal, indeed)

This is all about to change.

For years, tech giants collected our data. Either with or without our explicit consent, there now exist petabytes of information on our habits, likes, dislikes, friends, kinks, health, pets, education, wealth, etc.

As end users we see little benefit from it. Our data is usually weaponized against us to tailor feeds and ads and keep us glued to our screens (generally in anger). Recently, the general awareness of how much information we’ve given away and how little we gain from it has become a widely discussed topic. New protections have been introduced, and we are often afforded opportunities to opt out of some of the schemes.

All that comes at the moment, when perhaps for the very first time we may have a good reason to have that data stored somewhere up in the cloud.

That reason, as you might have guessed – is AI.

Circuit Board
Image by QubaXR / MidJourney

In the near future, the way we interact with devices and services will change from short transactional sessions, into a single, endless one. Resembling the way humans interact with one another, users will be able to directly talk to their AIs, often not expecting an immediate answer.

We will point out things, make casual observations, share our thoughts. In return, the AI will act more like a partner than a service – learning from us and developing better understanding of how to best assist us.

A casual mention of a topic in March will affect our Christmas shopping recommendations. Complaining about the heat in Summer will result in different holiday trip ideas presented to us next year.

Instead of a stream of questions and answers, we will talk, take photos, record sounds and 3D scan objects and locations, and the AI will help us sort, store all these bits of information, as well as discover unique links between them.

AI Pin by
Photo of AI Pin by

First signs of this shift can already be observed when interacting with large language models like GPT-4. Although still presented in a query-answer format, conversations can already evolve over time through follow-ups, multimodality and even multilingual input.

A couple of years ago we had no idea we would be having long conversations with an AI (and probably thought NFTs were going to change the art world). Just think what another two years will bring.

As we stand on the brink of this transformative era, where interaction with AI shifts from transactional to relational, we must ponder the broader implications. Will this endless, evolving conversation with AI enrich our lives, or will it blur the lines between human intuition and machine intelligence?

Imagine a world where your casual remarks today shape your digital experience tomorrow, crafting a personalized, intuitive journey through technology. This is not just a leap in convenience; it’s a fundamental change in how we perceive and interact with the digital world. As we navigate this uncharted territory, it’s crucial to consider not only the technological advancements but also the ethical and societal impacts they bring.

In two years, when we look back at the evolution of human-machine interaction, what will we see? A harmonious integration of AI into our daily lives, or a complex web of challenges we are yet to understand? The answers lie in the choices we make today, shaping a future where technology serves humanity in ways we are only beginning to imagine.

Buckle up, for the journey into The Endless Session promises to redefine our world.