The Next Evolution of the Digital World

Fast-developing communications, computing, and robotics technologies will do more than bring about digital transformation—they will bring about the evolution of a digital society.

Make a right turn at the top of the grand staircase that leads into Washington University’s beautiful collegiate Gothic campus and walk a few hundred feet to the entrance of Rudolph Hall. Once inside, head to the basement, to the Fossett Laboratory for Virtual Planetary Exploration—a relatively featureless gray room. Until the HoloLens units get turned on, that is.

Those see-through mixed-reality headsets project an image in front of the eyes of a user and turn the Fossett Lab into a field of interesting terrain, a collection of mineral specimens, or even the surface of Mars. In the lab, Washington University students use this augmented reality environment to study topography to get an intimate, three-dimensional view of the fabric of our Earth and the crystals that make up its minerals. One of their teachers, Professor Ray Arvidson, uses the technology for a slightly more far-out reason—exploring the surface of Mars to help plot the course of the Curiosity Rover.1

One of the most physical of sciences, geology, has been transformed into a digital world. The work of Professor Arvidson takes that digital transformation a step further—using a digital model to test out physical actions. But while very few will pilot an interplanetary vehicle, many will be living in a digitally transformed world.

1 “Fossett Laboratory for Virtual Planetary Exploration.” Fossett Laboratory for Virtual Planetary Exploration, Washington University in St. Louis,
2 “Number of Smartphone Users Worldwide 2014–2020.” Statista,
3 Handy, Jim. “How Many Transistors Have Ever Shipped?” Forbes, 26 May 2014,
4 Edelstein, Stephen. “Volkswagen Uses Quantum Computing to Fight Beijing Traffic.” The Drive, 30 March 2017,
5 “Embattled German Industrials Pursue the Factory of the Future.” IndustryWeek, Bloomberg, 11 Apr. 2018,