The future of simulation
The future of simulation

I spent last weekend at the annual gathering of the Association of Professional Futurists, a professional organization of working futurists with almost 300 members from around the world. The theme of the conference was Play: Simulation and Gaming. Here are some highlights:

Simulation is here to stay, and is becoming more valuable. We played with a wide variety of simulation software, designed for the military, police, and fire departments. One example: a simulator designed to help an Incident Commander from a fire department better assess a fire. Ten years ago, when promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, an Incident Commander had seen around 100 live fires. Now, with better fireproofing of materials and fewer fires, a newly promoted Lieutenant has seen an average of three real fires. Hence the importance of being able to learn from virtual experience. The fire simulation software enabled the user to learn the importance of the color of smoke, the location of smoke, and the importance of air flow. It even included an upset homeowner right in your face, as many people don’t understand that the first fireman to reach the blaze is supposed to assess it rather than put it out. Expect more and better simulation software, especially for real world activities that are dangerous and whose actions can result in significant consequences like loss of life or high financial cost. Can you apply simulations to better understand the consequences of decision making?

The tools for simulation are evolving rapidly. The simulators that we saw were expensive, and written for PCs and lots of hardware to mimic things like driving a police car. These simulators are going to become obsolete as open source software and natural user interfaces allow much more intuitive experiences at a much lower cost. After working for three years on Microsoft’s Kinect, traditional PC interfaces feel very clunky and non-intuitive to me. Innovations like Google Glass, VR goggles and hand sensors will make for far more realistic experiences at much lower cost. Don’t invest in clunky traditional PC interfaces; monitor innovations in interfaces and hardware to get better experiences more cost-effectively.


The principles of game design are beginning to be well understood, and are being applied more widely. ‘Gamification‘ has become a buzzword, even if the principles of game design haven’t generally been well applied yet to improving product or service design. But applying these principles properly has the potential to turn industries upside down. Start with education. In a world of lifelong learning, business training and development has the opportunity to reinvent learning models. Why spend time listening to lectures or reading textbooks when you can learn from your own virtual experiences in a gaming environment? Students can work through levels at their own pace, repeating them to consolidate core skills before moving up. Students will be able to get a much more realistic experience of the consequences of actions and decisions, learning virtually before making mistakes in the real world. The principles of gaming can incentivize behavior with your employees, partners and customers. But think beyond that, to making informal and formal learning immersive and fun.

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