It feels like every five years, we are on the verge of some new and incredible technology that stands to uproot the ways in which we interact with and perceive our world. First, it was the internet, then social media, and now Augmented Reality stands ready to violently shake our perceptions of the world loose.
Augmented Reality, for the uninitiated, is the overlaying of digital information via a graphical user interface (GUI) over footage of our plain-old bland reality. Pokémon Go is a prime example of AR. In the game, players can hold their phones up and “see” the Pokémon in the world around them. As the footage is fed in through what the phone’s camera sees, the user perceives the illusion that the fictional pocket monsters are actually “right there”.
While the above example serves to illustrate the use of the technology within the context of entertainment, the potential for AR is monumental within practical applications. Microsoft’s augmented reality visor – the Hololens – seeks to bridge the gaps between people the world over through holographic telepresence. Should their experiments prove to be a success, individuals will be able to hold interactions with friends, family, and colleagues from thousands of miles away as if they were sitting in the same room. AR technology has the potential to turn the development of human interactions not outwards – but inwards. What good are offices when we can teleport ourselves virtually anywhere around the world?
There is, however, a hidden danger to the wonders of augmented reality. Outside of a digital context, humans have been willingly augmenting their realities for generations on end. Every book read, movie watched, or idea ingested augments our perception of our world – and thus, our reality. Those that stand to gain much by pushing a specific ideology will flock to the realm of Augmented Reality. Suddenly, one can influence a user not only through mere words and images as social media sites have proven to be so effective in, but they can literally change the way people perceive the world around them.
Ideological movements have much to gain from altering the way their followers see the world. The more coherence there is in the way the members perceive others and their surroundings, the easier it is to usher the whole group toward a certain end. We’ve seen the resurgence of populist politics over the course of the last two years, and Augmented Reality technology could become the ubiquitous means by which political platform seek to engage and convert potential constituents.
On a less-dreary note, AR does have the potential to enhance many of the activities that we engage in our daily lives for the better. Imagine a car windshield that has the capacity to display real-time graphics and data to the driver – all without having them take their eyes off the road. The impact of AR tech is heightened further by its implementation in the gear first responders use. By allowing hazmat and emergency workers to access situation-critical information at a moments notice, AR tech could increase their in-field effectiveness tenfold.
The potential is there, and it’s no secret that companies are interested – the expected revenue of the AR industry is poised to topple $120 billion by the year 2020. As we slowly chug our way there, companies have dabbled with wonky goggles and expensive glass capable of rendering digital images, but the real victors may be our trusty phones.
As smartphones become more capable with each subsequent generation, the limit of their potential rises exponentially. We’ve already seen what preliminary AR tech a-la Pokémon GO is capable of, but Niantic’s foray into Augmented Reality gaming is only the tip of the iceberg. Yet-to-be released future phones are likely to campaign on the platform of seamless AR performance through packed-in processors that push clock limits. And if AR marketing takes off the way in which some expect to, you can say goodbye to traditional advertising altogether.
Just imagine, that if instead of turning on the TV, browsing the net, or flipping through full-page advertisements, you could see an ad for the latest episode of your favorite show shimmering across your wall at home. Furthermore, you could interact with said ad to have a wall-size window of your favorite show broadcasting in your home while you go about your business. While it is easy to see the dystopic way this sort of functionality can go, it must be noted that it harbors incredible potential.
Imagine a world where data can be accessed at a whim and super-imposed on any bit of our pre-existing reality. Suddenly, the need for discrete screens that pull us in and detach us from the physical world vanishes, and our connected, digital world becomes an inextricable part of our real, physical world.
There are many potential pitfalls along the way to this new vision of our world – and some are far more vividly gruesome than others. If AR technology were to be allowed to progress unimpeded, corporate and media influence over one’s life would reach the lows of worlds like that of Ghost in the Shell’s or Blade Runner’s – an outcome which we can comfortably say we wish to avoid at all costs. Imagine what your world would look like should there be an increase in the already infinite amount of data and information that we digest daily – it would be enough to drive someone insane.
While a bombardment of advertisements and pop-up chat windows continuously infringing upon our daily worlds is something substantial to worry over, the prospect of just how people will choose to perceive is equally troubling. Using a telephone screen to observe a graphical overlay is one thing – inserting a bionic contact lens into your eye to achieve the same effect albeit continuously is something different altogether.
Like any new and emerging technology, the stumbles along the way will be necessary for uncovering both the benefits and drawbacks of such technology, and AR is undoubtedly the stepping stone toward some yet-unknown technology that could revolutionize the way we interact with our world yet again. And quite frankly, we couldn’t be more excited about the prospect.