The idea hit me as I deleted yet another email from yet another eager publicist desperately seeking an outlet for their analyst client's technology predictions. I'd get a psychic reading. But instead of asking about my personal life, I'd get the download on what technology's going to be hot and what's not in 2016 straight from a "higher source."
I would do this with the Consumer Electronics Show, a mainstay of the Las Vegas hamster wheel of mega-conventions, as my backdrop. So while my colleagues raced around in the unnatural downpour and chill air that's plagued the Nevada desert this past week, fleeing from meeting to press event to meeting throughout various casinos and convention halls, I was on a different mission. I was on a mission into an esoteric realm inhabited by the odd mystic or two and heavily populated by conspicuously advertised fraudsters.
My methods for selecting psychics were twofold: I, in the spirit of, well, spiritualism, would rely on my gut instinct to successfully pick my seers. I'd also rely on Yelp, because, well, it's Yelp and I had access to customer reviews. With no more than a simple Google search of "Vegas best psychics," I'd found a Yelp rundown of the ten best-rated psychics in Sin City and began the culling process. Four hours and two PayPal transactions later, I'd managed to arrange three appointments: two in-person and one over the phone.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I first got Alexis on the line. From my earlier but very brief conversation with her, during which I'd chosen an appointment time, she'd come across as a nice, normal person; I didn't get any bad vibes that'd tip me off to some underlying fraud. If anything, I was mostly concerned with maintaining a skeptical outlook and keeping the conversation focused on tech predictions for 2016.
Before we began, Alexis made it clear that I could record our conversation, explained her method of channeling (automatic writing) and also expressed the right to refuse certain questions if she felt they put her in a moral or ethical gray area. With that preface out of the way, we commenced the 30-minute reading. I asked, quite plainly, for "some insight into what's going on with technology in 2016." Alexis, I could tell, was initially taken off guard. This wasn't going to be a normal reading about love life, finances and whether my dearly departed grandma had a message for me from the other side. Undeterred, she proceeded to consult my "guides," and despite her self-professed unfamiliarity with the tech world, the information flowed forth.
On holographic tech/augmented reality
Perhaps the most surprising revelation of this reading was Alexis' insistence that 2016 would be the year that "holographic tech or holograms" (she wasn't familiar with the term "augmented reality") would be incorporated into mobile phones and televisions. "It's a projector and it's projecting this image and that's why I'm seeing it as holograms," she said, attempting to clarify the vision she was receiving. And she said that, just as with the initial oddity and then ubiquity of cell phones, this mobile phone tech would spread like a commercial virus into everyone's hands.
"It's going to be something that's ... sold to the masses," she divined. "And it's mixed with projectors with TVs or your phone. So it's like a holographic piece that you can project information from your TV or phone."
The most surprising revelation was Alexis' insistence that 2016 would be the year "holographic tech or holograms" would be incorporated into mobile phones and televisions.
On the United States and technology
The most curious and insistent message Alexis continually received from my "guides" during our session was that the United States was consistently behind the rest of the world in tech innovation. More than that, she said that what this country claims as a technological advancement is really just cribbed from some other countries' R&D successes, specifically the Asian countries.
"If you're in the tech industry or you know what's going on in the world, the technology that will be seen in 2016 as 'new' [isn't] actually new. They're done already in the Hong Kong or Asia area."
On health care
Alexis claims that, as far as technology and hospitals are concerned, "this is going to be a huge thing!" She wasn't able to describe exactly how medical institutions would be seeing these advancements other than to say: "I see a lot of getting away from paper." Presumably, she's referring to patient records and medical histories.
On 3D printing
This one's been kicking around for a few years, going from an initial industry buzz to now just a humdrum future prospect. But Alexis claimed that, for the coming year, "3D printing is huge." She continued: "What's important about 2016 is ... not that we're seeing new technology, it's that now we're all going to be able to have these new technological advancements in our homes." Pricey 3D printers, she explained, won't just be a plaything for someone with a lot of cash to burn. This is the year they'll become affordable.
On self-driving/flying cars
Alexis threw me for a loop here. I'd asked her specifically about the advent of self-driving cars in the marketplace. What she wound up focusing on instead was the existence of flying or "hovering" cars and how there were already conversations behind the scenes to introduce these to consumers when the transition from oil-based fuel was complete.
To recalibrate the reading, I'd asked her again about self-driving cars, a question that she said caused my "guides" to laugh. "With the self-driving cars, they're almost like laughing, saying that's not really a big deal because people don't want that yet. People don't want to give up that sense of control." According to Alexis, autonomous cars will eventually be a thing in 2018, but initially only as a "feature" of regular cars.
"What's important about 2016 is ... not that we're seeing new technology, it's that now we're all going to be able to have these new technological advancements in our homes."
Readings by Alexis
On virtual reality
When I'd asked Alexis about virtual reality in 2016, she immediately began conveying images of VR arcades opening for consumers to test out the technology before it enters homes in 2017. More specifically, she said that this would be the year the industry "baby-feeds" the concept of VR to get people comfortable with it.
"You know what I'm seeing, these like virtual ... they look like cafés or bars," she said. "You know how you have gaming stores where you can come in and play the game and things like that? What I'm seeing is like a lounge. But it's a virtual reality lounge like how people have oxygen bars. ... It's kind of like how karaoke bars look."
I asked Alexis if there'd be a clear front-runner in the VR horse race this year, and what she intuited was that there'd be two companies. One had a symbolic logo and a name like "Oracle" that she couldn't quite pronounce. "It's an 'O' company I'm seeing that's going to introduce it to a United States market. ... It's almost like a play on the word," she said, trying her best to convey the unfamiliar logo she was seeing.
According to Alexis, autonomous cars will eventually be a thing in 2018, but initially only as a "feature" of regular cars.
The other company to share the VR crown wouldn't be a pure-play technology company. It'd be a Disney-like corporate entity. "They wanna own the rights of this technology. [The guides are] giving me an example of how Disney took over Star Wars. It's a company that deals with visual stuff. ... It's a company that uses some type of Pixar-style visuals, but they wanna have the rights to it so that they can distribute it."
On Steve Jobs and Apple
From here the reading took an unexpected turn. On a lark, I'd asked Alexis if she could channel Steve Jobs (since she'd mentioned him previously) and find out what he thinks of Apple now, and its smartwatch. Suffice it to say that "Steve" had a lot to get off his spiritual chest. He's allegedly not a fan of the Apple Watch—"It's a joke. Who needs to do that?"—and thinks the next one should include holograms. "Steve" spent the rest of our chat repeating his message for Apple, saying it needs to take its products to "the next level" and avoid doing "the obvious next step." It's sound advice for any tech company, really.
And with that I bid adieu to "Steve" and Alexis.
I'd traveled in an Uber through the Vegas downpour for my next psychic appointment, further away from the cluster of CES I've come to know for four years and into a region of Vegas where only locals dare to go.
There in a strip mall—where else?—my destination awaited, awash in neon purple: Psychic Spa. You'd think you were in for a day of exfoliation, massage, and spiritual guidance. But what lay in wait inside was more of a massage of the truth.
The space was open, tables containing various "New Age-y" wares dotted the conspicuously clean layout. In front of me were what appeared to be two clones, one an aged version of the other. Marie, the younger woman, equally as plump as the other, limply welcomed me while simultaneously ushering me into a claustrophobic back room shrouded by meager purple drapes. Inside was a smallish circular table, again covered in a purple cloth and littered neatly with a mix of tarot cards and business cards. A crystal ball stood conveniently in the middle and was flanked on the left by a melted candle and on the right by an Egyptian bust. Next to me was another tiny table holding a bowl meant for burning sage.
Our tarot session then began.
Though I'd explicitly asked for tech predictions pertaining to the coming year, Marie instead barreled directly into personal territory, placating me with bland platitudes like "You have good energy" and other generally descriptive verbal diarrhea that made each passing second stretch into minutes.
Despite her attempts to shift the conversation back to matters that concerned only me, I once again pressed Marie for information on "what the biggest tech innovations to come in 2016" would be.
"It's a little too soon to assume right now, but I feel a big change coming out."
"Can you be more specific?"
"It's not a product, but very soon within the year."
"Is this the year VR will go mainstream?" I asked, hoping at least for a long-winded sidestep.
"I do feel there's lots of changes coming to you this year. Don't worry about the universe. You need to worry about yourself," she countered.
I asked her about smartwatches and whether they're here to stay. "They already have made a lot of watches and a lot of other products."
And that was to be the end of my time divining the technological future with Marie. She swiftly and abruptly switched the topic to my chakras. They were blocked, but if I were to schedule (and pay for) an extra session with her, she'd use sage to cleanse me. I politely demurred and got the hell out of there and into an Uber, the nighttime lights of Las Vegas winking at me as I sped back to my hotel home.
I was almost late making it to my 8:45 AM appointment with Mona, the most celebrated and professional psychic of my Vegas trio, at an imposing office building far from the Strip. It was Wednesday morning, and peak CES traffic was clogging Vegas' arteries. Luckily, my Uber driver, an unabashed fan of mid- to late-'90s pop (we listened to the Spice Girls, Hanson and 'NSYNC), heeded my request to "get there as fast as possible." And we did.
Mona Van Joseph, or Mystic Mona, as she is called, has an app. She's appeared on TLC's Mormon reality show Sister Wives and other cable network shows as a psychic consultant. She also currently hosts a weekly internet radio show called Psychic View. Mona's moderate fame had me convinced she'd be legit. And after my 30 minutes of spiritual misdirection with Marie the night before, I was looking forward to someone who'd at least try to give me the illusion of a psychic reading.
"I think Las Vegas may do a virtual reality casino where gamers come to compete and they actually put on all the equipment, and they pay to compete in this virtual reality."
Mona did not disappoint. She greeted me warmly with a slight southern drawl I couldn't quite place, her hair a dark brown bouffant that illuminated the white surrounding her light blue-green eyes. Instantly, I liked her—she reminded me of a favorite aunt. That's the energy she gave off.
I was told to draw five cards with my left hand—this would act as my spiritual overview. Next, I moved my hands over a mass of cards to transfer my intent, or the "wish" to focus my reading. Then Mona had me cut the deck "neatly" in half using my left hand. It was with this deck that she began the tarot spread and dove into the reading.
At first, Mona kept picking up on issues pertaining to my personal life and not the predictions for 2016's tech innovations that I'd "wished" for. But as soon as she opened the reading up to questions, I shifted the focus back to tech breakthroughs for the coming year.
"You may be visiting me to write an article about this down the road, which is fine with me, " she admitted, referring to my previous admission that I was a writer and journalist. "But what I'm actually seeing here is what you do this year causes your own breakthrough. So even though you're saying this is not personal, I only really pick up the personal."
"I think we'll see a re-evolution of BlackBerry because BlackBerry used to be the most secure way of people communicating. You will see a company evolve to do those four things: phone, text, email and map. And those are the only four things on the phone."
"Okay," I thought, feeling slightly defeated by my final CES psychic quest. "This is going to be hard. She's not going to play my tech prediction game." And just as soon as my hopes started to deflate, Mona began to deliver the goods. First up on her list of tech trends for 2016? Health care reform. A prediction that oddly dovetailed with Alexis' own.
"If they did an open market for insurance, natural competition would keep the rates down," she said when I asked how specifically technology could ameliorate healthcare. "Focus in on it so that it is easier for people to find care without having to have the government influence of it."
I brought up the topic of virtual reality next, determined to hold a mirror up, category by category, to Alexis' breathless list of predictions. Mona's response was an echo of Alexis': VR lounges. But Mona was more specific in how that arcade-like future would realistically play out.
"I think Las Vegas may do a virtual reality casino where gamers come to compete and they actually put on all the equipment, and they pay to compete in this virtual reality. Kind of like Star Trek: The Next Generation where you actually created this holographic stage for competition. And then ultimately broadcast [it] on TV. So it could be like The World Series of Poker at the whole next level. And I keep getting, 2016 is a preparation year, not a dynamic year [for VR]."
Mona's next insight again struck a familiar chord: She had started talking about mobile phones. Quite specifically, she was describing the impending arrival of mobile phones with holographic projection capabilities.
"Technology is going to be more about handling chaos and keeping people purely focused than it is about the latest gadgets," she stressed to me. "Although the gadgets are gonna be there. The gadgets are gonna happen."
Then she drilled down and mapped out the mobile phone future.
"There's going to be the one that is the entertainment phone," she explained. "Those phones where ... you could set it down and you could see the Star Wars holographic image pop up from the phone. We're going to have the entertainment side of it. But I think there are people out there that are just going to want to use it strictly for business. So there will be the business phone where it's just text, email, phone. That there's not all these apps on it and that a lot of businesses will use because those can be way more secure. It might have a map feature on it, too."
"I actually think that we'll see a re-evolution of BlackBerry or the technology of BlackBerry phones because BlackBerry used to be the most secure way of people communicating. You will see a company evolve to do those four things: phone, text, email and map. And those are the only four things on the phone. Which means the battery life on it will last a lot longer, but that it can be encrypted better. So that the phone is so pure."
The most vivid bit of Mona's mobile phone future involved holograms, Albert Einstein and a game of chess.
"I can see this face, like Einstein's face that comes up out of the phone," she said of this 2016 "entertainment phone." "And you've got a chessboard in front of you. And that ... there would be electronic indicators on the chessboard so Einstein would tell you where he wants to move and then it might light up on the chessboard where he wants to move his knight, for example."
A holographic Brain Age, like the games Nintendo had released a decade ago for its DS gaming handheld ... but for my smartphone? "Consider me sold, Mona," I thought, all the while keenly aware that this prediction uncomfortably carried strains of the Robin Williams–voiced, Einstein-like "Dr. Know" hologram that appears in the Kubrick/Spielberg film A.I. from the early 2000s.
I continued probing for the fate of the smartwatch and that nebulously termed 'internet of things.' It was here that Mona expressed her concern for humanity, saying that "we're getting overloaded on technology." That said, she did intimate that connected devices are here to stay, and hung the success of those particular gadgets on how they meshed with an individual's personal style. To survive, the internet of things would have to become "fashionable."
"I'm telling you that technology is going to be more about handling chaos and keeping people purely focused than it is about the latest gadgets," she stressed to me. "Although the gadgets are gonna be there. The gadgets are gonna happen."