Last Saturday I had the pleasure of attending a conference on Augmented Reality here at UNC. The conference was run by a library science genius from NC-State University and was relatively poorly attended, even though there was quite a bit of work put into its creation. During the conference I created a ‘layer’ inside the browser that can be applied inside a smartphone application and used to view all of the UNC buildings on north campus. I am going to keep working on the browser layer and add in functionality for the rest of campus, slowly creating a workable campus map with GPS tag-points that can direct anyone to any building. I foresee it becoming very useful.
So what is augmented reality? From the conference and my own random explorations, it can be defined as any tool that allows us to change the landscape of the world and impress new information upon it. Roadsigns are primitive forms of augmented reality. Science-fiction displays from Tony Stark’s Ironman Suit and the Terminators are more complex examples. What we are seeing in the present day is a blend between primitive and futuristic techniques. Everywhere social media engines and mobile devices are creating applications for Smartphones that add information and content into visual displays, turning the phone’s video-camcorder into a virtual Heads-up-Display capable of augmenting the reality that the user sees through its camera lens. We have seen simple implementations in applications like AcrossAir, UrbanSpoon, Yelp, and Layar… but this is just the beginning. Soon there will be powerful augmentation engines capable of changing the nature of reality and advertising in real space, in real time. What this means is that advertising is about to get very personal. Handheld screens will display segments of the real world through augmented lenses, transforming ordinary spaces into virtual clusters of information-rich threshold space that exists somewhere between virtuality and the real world.
This has absolutely profound ramifications for personal, hyper-rich, targeted advertising and digital storytelling. Gone are the days of centralized media. What we will see in the future is an endless barrage of garbage trimmed for our personal pleasures. This seems, at present, inescapable. The money is still in advertising. As far as instantaneous transmission of information is concerned, we will likely see the end of printed media and the beginnings of purely digital experiences. This is worrisome to say the least, but does not necessarily need to become a negative issue. Digital sharing of information means that digital storytelling will be more valuable than ever. We will need to envision new techniques for sharing information faster and faster.
There will be many more choices and many fewer filters. Ergo, the filter-makers will have considerable power.
Want to eat somewhere? Go to the restaurant, guided by your device. Hold up the augmented reality lens to the outside of the building and see the menu, the staff, the history of the space, the fire codes, the occupancy level, the ratings of the restaurant, the online reviews of food items, any book in the world that has ever mentioned it. Go inside, hold up your device to a person and see their Facebook profile, their Twitter feed, their likes and dislikes, their religion, their favorite sport, whether or not they have been to the doctor recently. Order food, hold up your device and see who has regaled your meal in epic poems throughout history, see where the food came from, who manufactured the plate, the tablecloth, the table itself. Learn where the wood came from. Open a Wikipedia article. Remember your waiter? Turns out they were once hospitalized for an allergy to mushrooms. Does your food have mushrooms? Are you allergic? Look into the screen.
This is what we have to look forward to. The question is: how are we going to get anyone to care when all of this information is at our fingertips?