It is widely agreed that we are headed towards a world where augmented reality (AR) systems will be as common as smart phones are today. In The Conversation alone you can read about how it will revolutionise medicine, entertainment, the lives of disabled persons and of course advertising and shopping.
The big three tech companies are all spending big on technology in the AR domain for this reason. Google will be releasing Google Glass later in the year, Microsoft has been working on its own AR device and Facebook recently bought the Virtual Reality company Oculus Rift.
Through AR in its proposed incarnation as a kind of “smartphone within our glasses”, we will have the ability to control everything entering our optical nerves – and to integrate this visual data with a wealth of external information in order to transform our daily lives.
This could mean offering us information about people as they pop into our field of view, information about objects when we see them or even introducing to our field of view things that don’t exist at all.
The unspoken future
The recent history of technology suggests that it is no stretch to predict the future of AR if we leave it in the hands of these tech giant companies.
There will be apps that extend ever further into the visual domain aiding us in all those things we do, be it building a house, studying at a distance, travelling in a new city and even making love.
The price for access to these new services and of having information at our fingertips however will be surrendering ever more of our personal information. Most critical of all, we will likely need to submit to the potential for advertising everywhere.
We’ve already seen how the preponderance of screens in the world has increased human consumption of advertising – what some refer to as pollution of the mental environment.
By surrendering control over our corneas advertising no longer needs to be limited to a screen or a surface.
AR has the potential to be a truly disruptive technology, but a question being asked now that we find ourselves on the doorstep of this future is: Do we want a world that is a better-functioning, more efficient version of the one we find ourselves in?
Luckily artists have also got their hands upon the technology to provoke our imagination to dream about how instead of merely augmenting reality we could be aiming to transform it.
Consider for example the Artvertiser project, where artists have developed an application that replaces all billboards in your visual field with images of art – instead of subconsciously consuming ads from the bank you could be consuming artworks from Banksy, for example.
This is a deep idea that demonstrates the choice that AR presents to its adopters.
Through detection, replacement and synthesis AR has the potential to either add or subtract entirely from our sensations. Whole environments, buildings and even people could be filtered in or out based on personal preference.
We will, for the first time, be able to exercise control over almost everything entering in through our visual field – if we want to.
AR is different to other technologies. Because it is so closely tied to our senses (and the focus here has been upon vision, yet it needn’t be) we can not only add to our reality, but also subtract from our reality.
This is the first time in human history that this has been possible, and now is the time to start dreaming –how could we use the advent of AR to transform society for a world that each of us wants to live in?