CEBIT: Microtrend analyst says '4.0' era is upon us

A microtrend analyst says move over 3.0, here comes the 4.0 era.

A future where "technology and human become one" is fast arriving, according to Nils Muller, CEO of TrendOne, a German microtrend analysis firm.

Passive entertainment such as standard television embodied the 1.0 era, Muller said Tuesday during a panel discussion at the Cebit show, going on this week in Hanover, Germany. Web 2.0 saw a rise in audience-generated content like blogs and podcasts. The ongoing 3.0 period represents a deeper level of engagement, where users "jump into" media such as virtual worlds, he added.

But evidence of the '4.0' era -- an "always-on" world where humans can "self-upgrade" through technology extensions -- is already nigh and being driven by the youngest generation, according to Muller.

"Our kids will talk to the Web like they talk to a friend," he said as a video presentation showed a user entering a series of natural-language queries such as "how far away is the moon" into the AskWiki search engine, now in beta.

While to adults virtual worlds such as Second Life were novelties, today's children are growing up virtually, he argued. As evidence, Muller pointed to Barbie Girls, a virtual world launched last year. Some three million young fans of the doll signed up for the service within 60 days of its launch, according to one report.

Outside of computers, three-dimensional technologies will find widespread applications, Muller said. 3-D printers, now expensive devices often used for design and prototyping, will cost US$760 "and everyone can have one at home," he predicted.

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