This post written by Mike Staton.
In 50 years a novel may not be a novel at all. Instead, it may become an interactive and immersive experience as envisioned by software developer Mike Matas. Reading will no longer involve processing chunks of text. Readers will not only read … they’ll also use an array of tools to explore the novel.
In classrooms in Duplin County and throughout rest of the U.S. teachers gather elementary age kids around them and read books aloud, books like Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham. They’re trying to entice the kids to love reading books so that authors like me can continue to write and sell novels. But if we don’t have readers, we’re in a heap of trouble, right?
Well, it depends on what a typical reader will be like in 2064.
When today’s elementary-age kids become adults, they won’t suddenly become linear readers like their grandparents and great-grandparents before them. They’re digital kids, and they’ll bring with them their passion for Minecraft and for roll-playing computer games with the rich 3D graphics.
Back in 2011 twenty-something Matas demonstrated the first full-length interactive book for the iPad. The software included clever, swipeable video and graphics and some cool data visualizations. The book is Our Choice, Al Gore’s follow-up to his An Inconvenient Truth.
Half a century from now the software for books will have advanced way beyond Matas’s initial interactive book.
A reader could be plugged into AI software that can read the reader’s thoughts. Instead of the reader looking at an e-reader or tablet and reading the words on the display, she’ll hear the AI narrate the novel, perhaps sounding like Clark Gable or Garrison Keillor. If the reader imagines herself as the heroine and chooses her own course of action, one different from how the author originally wrote the scene, the AI will show the reader a different virtual-reality plot thread as she chooses actions based on the plot-tree options the AI offers to her.
The reader could be wearing VR glasses, immersing her in the world of the novel, letting her see through the eyes of the heroine. Nowadays many women find erotic romance novels intoxicating. There’s a reason why the novel Fifty Shades of Gray is being made into a movie. Clad in body suits festooned with sensors, the granddaughters of today’s twenty-something women will truly feel the hero’s lips on their bodies.
Those action scenes in fantasy-genre novels like I write … imagine yourself as the heroine and suddenly the AI puts you in her mind … you and the hero are walking out of the tavern and are jumped by cutthroats eager to snip away your coin purse. You draw your dagger and jab toward the other woman’s belly. She jumps back. You’re in a fight where one of you will end up on the ground, blood soaking the cobblestones.
Authors in 2064 will write the basic novel and then let the AI software map out the infinite possibilities for plot threads based on the reader’s sometimes unpredictable decisions.
Old-timers – you know the ones who were in their twenties back in the second decade of the 21st century – can dispense with all the AI bells and whistles and just have the AI read the book to them or – holy of holies – actually read the words themselves. Remember? That’s what folks did for generation after generation after generation.
I wish I could be around in 2064 to read an immersive novel, but I’ll be 113 so that’s unlikely. But who knows … maybe a medical breakthrough or two will give me the opportunity to live a much longer life than I thought possible. As it is, my fraternal grandmother lived to be 99 and my dad turned 87 in April. I can hope, right?