Do You Really Want Google to Comment On Everything You See?

One of the great things about reality is that it doesn't jam itself down your throat.

What I mean by that is if you are on a walk in your neighborhood and you see a tree or a rock, you can just turn away from it. You can decide, "I'm not going to interact with that thing?" And then the thing has no power or influence over you.

The result is that you're free to walk around and be engaged by your own thoughts. There are plenty of involuntary actions going on in your body to make sure that you don't accidentally kill yourself. The human animal is well equipped to survive, and part of that is not giving you, the user, full control.

You can't just stop yourself from breathing, for example, and you can't stop your heart from beating. These things happen regardless of conscious effort, and free from having to regulate those vital functions on a second to second basis, you're allowed to do something marvelous.

You're allowed to dream.

You've probably noticed this happening in your daily life. You drive the same route to work every morning, and you somehow arrive without remembering a single second of being on the road. Or you're on a walk, and even though you navigate around other pedestrians, your mind is elsewhere.

Sometimes your mind is on a beach; sometimes your mind is wandering through Middle-Earth. The point is your mind is free to detach from reality every now and then.

What would happen if every two seconds a little flashing text entered your field of vision to say, "Hey, guess what, that's an oak tree?" Or perhaps something would enter your field of vision that wasn't even there, like a digital character from a video game that you were supposed to collect?

Augmented reality is quickly transforming from a science fiction concept to a real, tangible technology. The question is, how will augmented reality impact our interaction with the world?

What is Augmented Reality?

To put it simply, augmented reality is an interactive enhancement of reality. The user's environment is augmented by digital enhancements. This could be done using any of the senses, but is most often achieved through visual or auditory stimulus.

Most of us already carry telephones which feature a screen that is fully capable of rendering text or images, and a speaker that can broadcast sound. These screens can be used as a "window" to peer into a digitally augmented version of the world.

The concept of augmented reality has been around for a very long time. For example, augmented reality plays a critical role in the original Terminator film from 1984.

Do you remember the Terminator?

There's a scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger, who plays a killer robot from the future, hears a knock on his door. It's the landlord telling him not to be so noisy. At the prompt, a list of responses scrolls past the Terminator's field of vision and he's able to choose a polite response to the landlord's request.

The moment is one of the few instances that's played for laughs in an otherwise brutal movie, which is rather strange when you consider that the Terminator is a film about rouge artificial intelligence attempting to wipe out the whole human race.

Even though the film expresses a concern about Artificial Intelligence, it simultaneously offers a kind of endorsement of augmented reality.

Pokemon Go

The most recent example of augmented reality making a splash in modern society was the Pokemon Go craze of 2016. With Pokemon Go, players downloaded an app onto their phone that allowed them to use their phones as a screen into something of a different reality.

In Pokemon Go, players would track down and collect digital characters that existed in various points of real space. Modern people are already glued to their phones to the point where they walk into lakes and into other people with appalling frequency. Pokemon Go added to this tendency.

There were stories of individuals having accidents while playing Pokemon Go under various unsafe conditions such as:

  • Driving
  • Walking
  • Following the game clues into unsafe areas

Driving

Because of the addictive nature of Pokemon Go, players would drive with their phones on the dashboard looking for Pokemon to collect. The irony of this situation was that the drivers were more likely to respond to artificial digital images that did not exist in the real world than actual people and traffic.

There were stories of people making unsafe turns or cutting off other drivers in order to be the first to arrive at a digital Pokemon collection point.

Walking

Pokemon Go has only emphasized a problem that already existed with smartphones, that is, that people don't know when to put them down. One of the ways augmented reality seeks to improve is to create a superior screen interface.

As it is, cell phone dependency has already increased preventable accidents like pedestrian collisions. Individuals fixated on their phones walk into trees, water, or even traffic.

Using Augmented Reality to Lure People to Danger

One of the concepts of Pokemon Go that made sense from an advertising perspective was that businesses could pay to use their stores as the digital access points for various game characters and items.

The idea was that the business would pay Pokemon Go, and then Pokemon Go would set their store as a destination. People would then arrive at the store to pick up their piece in the digital game and, hopefully, stick around to make a purchase.

Unfortunately, what ended up happening was that unsavory individuals began to notice how the people who played the game were vulnerable and disconnected from the game.

Thieves began to anonymously pay to have destination points in dark alleys or unsavory neighborhoods, and then they'd wait around and rob any players who were stupid enough to show up.

What's Next?

The Pokemon Go phenomenon only lasted about a calendar year, but it's a virtual certainty that the augmented reality craze is only hibernating until the next technological advancement happens.

Whether it be a superior interface or a superior game, another augmented reality sensation is almost certainly on its way.

A Brief History of Augmented Reality

Like most technological things, augmented reality has been around longer than you might think. It's like the old saying, "He was an overnight success, and it only took him ten years to do it."

With augmented reality, it's more like 7 decades. Here's a short list of the names and dates of people who made early contributions to augmented reality:

Augmented reality:

1968-Ivan Sutherland creates a display that is head mounted

1974-Myron Krueger builds the Videoplace

1982-Epcot center launches ImageWorks

1990-Tom Caudell invents the term 'augmented reality'

1992-Louis Rosenberg of the air force creates virtual fixtures

1994-Julie Martin's 'Dancing in Cyberspace'

2013-Release of Google Glass

Ivan Sutherland and the Sword of Damocles

In 1968 Ivan Sutherland working with his student Bob Sproull created a virtual reality head-mounted display called 'The Sword of Damocles.' The graphics were simple wireframe rooms, and the device was fairly awkward.

The unit was also partially see-through, so the user was not completely cut off from reality.

Myron Krueger and the Videoplace

The Videoplace represented a version of artificial reality where the user did not have to wear goggles or gloves. The concept is akin to the Holodeck from 'Star Trek: The Next Generation.'

The effect was created by the use of cameras and video projectors.

Epcot Center and ImageWorks

Epcot center's ImageWorks featured an interactive play area with such things as projected circles of color that guests could use to make sounds. The guests broke the light beam with their hands or feet to create the sound.

Tom Caudell

Tom Caudell was a researcher for Boeing aircraft, and he invented the term 'augmented reality' to describe projections of data over real images in displays on aircraft.

Using augmented reality for digital displays on aircraft represents one of the major ways in which augmented reality can be a powerful tool to create safer vehicles.

Louis Rosenberg and Virtual Fixtures

In the 1990s, computer rendering of 3D images was too slow to be of use in an immersive, virtual reality system. To get around this problem, Louis Rosenberg used a camera that recorded a robot that responded to user commands.

By use of an immersive screen, the user could operate controls and see the robot's arms moving as if they were his own. The concept of virtual fixtures was a breakthrough in virtual reality systems, particularly those that endeavored to use the technology to create a training system.

Julie Martin's 'Dancing in Cyberspace'

'Dancing in Cyberspace' was a show that featured augmented reality enhancements. Dancers moved and interacted with digital and projected images as part of the performance.

Google Glass

Google Glass was a very small headset that looked like a pair of regular eyeglasses. The headset featured a small projector display over one eye. The device responded to voice commands and could be ordered to turn off or on, or take a picture or a video.

The release of Google Glass created something of a sensation, particularly due to some legal trouble. The question quickly arose as to whether it should be legal to operate a motor vehicle while wearing Google Glass.

Distracted driving is already becoming a major problem although Google Glass is different than a cell phone because both hands are free. Furthermore, it was argued that Google Glass was no different than a GPS or increasingly complex dashboard displays.

In 2015, Google announced that it would stop producing the Google Glass prototype, but more developments are forthcoming.

HOW DOES THE BRAIN RESPOND TO AUGMENTED REALITY?

If you grew up in the '70s or '80s, you probably remember your mom saying, "Don't sit so close to the television, it's very bad for your eyes." In fairness, televisions of that bygone era were generally pretty tiny.

These days we don't need to sit close to the television because 40 or 50-inch screens are common. But everyone walks around going cross-eyed with their smartphone pressed against their face.

Recent studies have shown that depression is up in young adults and that is partially attributable to social media and online bullying. But there is another component to the effect that screens have on your mind as they sometimes blur the distinction between fantasy and reality.

Augmented Reality Advertising

Recently, marking professionals have been capitalizing on the fixation people have with their cell phones to create augmented reality marketing.

In augmented reality marketing, the user puts his or her phone in camera mode, and then focuses on an object. The image of the object is then augmented with various displays.

If you were taking a picture of a pair of running shoes, for example, your telephone screen might show a person growing out of the shoes to wave at you. These advertisements create the effect of a private movie as if you've discovered something that nobody else can see.

This belief is absurd, of course, since the augmented reality marketing is visible to anyone with a cell phone, but the effect on the human mind is still powerful.

Augmented Reality Brain Effects

Researchers have been able to identify various ways in which augmented reality affects the human brain. The results are actually quite startling.

To put it simply, the human brain quickly becomes fixated on augmented reality. Whether this is a fundamental component of augmented reality, or it's simply a consequence of new technology is yet to be seen.

What's indisputable is that in its current form, augmented reality has an extreme effect on the human brain. This effect comes in several forms:

A yellow and black caution triangle with a black exclamation mark inside

High Levels of Attention

A yellow lightbulb

Increased Emotional Intensity

A black floppy disk

70% Higher Memory encoding

High Levels of Attention

People, particularly young people, are almost instantly fixated by augmented reality displays. This is not hard to account for when you consider how we are bombarded by advertisements on a daily basis.

When you're out driving, for example, consider how often you look at a highway billboard without even seeing it. We pass hundreds of billboards a day, and we recognize them as meaningless advertisements on a subconscious level. Our minds have been programmed to ignore them.

Imagine, however, if one of those billboards sprang to life, or started sprouting leaves. You would instantly become fixated on the billboard because it would stand out from all the other billboards around it.

This is the case with augmented reality. It represents a new technology, and our minds haven't yet categorized the technology into something that doesn't need our intention

On a primordial level, we are hard-wired to fixate on things we don't understand because they could potentially be something dangerous. So, until our minds become comfortable with augmented reality, we will be vulnerable to augmented reality fixation.

INCREASED EMOTIONAL INTENSITY

A by-product of the increased attention is that an augmented reality display also comes with an increased level of emotional intensity. You're almost instantly drawn into the augmented reality presentation, and your brain is activated.

This means that more of your brain is stimulated by the augmented reality than by regular reality. A stimulated mind is more prone to engaging and memorizing the experience.

70% Higher Memory Encoding

The result of your higher engagement and emotional response is that the experience is quickly encoded into your long term memory. Your experience with augmented reality becomes one of your fundamental memories that endures for decades after the original experience.

It's obvious why advertisers are keen to capitalize on the newness of augmented reality. Brand and log awareness is one of the fundamental objectives of marketing, and if a new technology comes along that can virtually sear brand recognition into the consumer's brains, that's good for the corporation.

However, if the effectiveness of augmented reality is due to its newness, wouldn't it be better to use its limited effectiveness to convey information of more use to the viewer?

For example, wouldn't it be of greater benefit to our society if we used the brief, effective window of augmented reality to transfer the fundamentals of the scientific method to students, rather than get them to memorize the logo for Nabisco?

Perhaps augmented reality could be used to teach the Periodic table of elements and help usher in a whole new generation of highly knowledgeable chemists with an unbreakable foundation of core learning? To waste such a powerful teaching tool on advertising seems irresponsible.

Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality

On one side have Augmented Reality with:

Interaction with real world

Digital overlays

Audio enhancements

User may interact with Digital overlays in real world

On side with Virtual reality put:

Complete immersion into virtual world

virtual world may represent real world

User can interact with virtual display

User may interact with Digital overlays in real world

As the technology for augmented reality continues to evolve, there continue to pop up nuanced designations that describe different manifestations of the technology.

An example was the Virtual Fixtures that was mentioned before which was developed due to the limitations of 3D rendering at the time.

Currently, the two main designations are:

  • Augmented reality (with mixed reality as a subset)
  • Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality represents a completely immersive experience as opposed to augmented reality which only enhances your interactions with the real world.

An example of Virtual reality in popular culture is represented by the film 'Ready Player One' in which individuals put on a helmet and sensory enhancing suit to interact with an artificial world.

Advanced forms of Virtual reality also use multi-directional platforms to recreate the illusion of movement. Obviously, the platforms depicted in the fictitious films are more advanced than what's currently available, but virtual interactive platforms do exist.

A major application of Virtual reality is that the technology can be used to allow pilots to operate machinery in a different location than the pilots themselves. An example is drone technology.

Through Virtual reality, pilots stationed in the US can fly drones anyplace in the world. The result of this is that military operations can be conducted without risking the lives of the pilots.

The disadvantage of Virtual reality is that users experience complete sensory deprivation from the outside world.

The Oculus Rift

In 2016, Facebook Inc. released a virtual reality headset called the Oculus Rift. The device consists of an advanced head-mounted display, that completely blocks off the user's field of vision.

Inside the headset is a digital representation that tricks the mind into thinking it has entered a new reality. The Oculus Rift uses two Pentile OLED displays that have a resolution of 1080 X 2000. Each eye is given its own separate display.

The device is highly advanced and recognizes and adjusts the projected display upon detection of a head turn. Users can interact with the virtual world through the Oculus touch controllers, or with Xbox One controllers.

The technology is so new that it has few applications beyond essentially being a fully immersive screen for video games. However, more developments for Virtual reality home use are currently in development.

Applications of Augmented Reality

In the computerized modern era, it's not hard to conceive of ways in which various forms of augmented reality could be of tremendous benefit. You need not look any further than films and television which have utilized the concept.

  • Star Trek (1988)-Holodeck
  • Disclosure (1994)-Virtual reality digital archive sequence
  • The Matrix (1999)-Dystopian/enslavement application
  • Iron Man (2008)-Tony Stark's interactive flight display
  • Blade Runner 2049 (2017)-Interactive billboards
  • Ready Player One (2018)-World's primary diversion

Most of us have a piece of augmented reality technology that we use on a daily basis. Anyone who has ever used a GPS to navigate a long car trip has used augmented reality.

As the technology evolves, your GPS unit will no longer be a separate, small screen in the middle of your dashboard. Instead, your whole windshield will begin to utilize the technology.

Perhaps we will soon see cars with 'smart screens' that can identify potential dangers to the driver and provide visual and audio alerts. Or perhaps windshield screens will soon be phased out entirely in favor of virtual representative screens similar to what is used to navigate a submarine.

Augmented reality has applications that range from exploring the internet to enhancing surgery by allowing doctors to perform surgery without making massive incisions into the patient. Already many surgeries are performed using Arthroscopic techniques.

Abuse of Augmented Reality

But along with all the positive applications, there is also cause for concern. There is the scene in 'Die Hard 2' where the terrorist organization recalibrates the altitude reading of a landing airplane which results in a catastrophic crash.

Augmented reality is really just another term for sensory enhancement. But along with allowing technology to enhance your own perceptions, you are also allowing those perceptions to be vulnerable to outside influence.

With hacking a constant concern in the computerized age, it's important to pause and consider exactly how much of our dominion over our personal space we're willing to relinquish, even at the promise of superior interaction.

The Future of Augmented Reality

There is little question that augmented reality is here to stay, and will only continue to become more common in our day to day interactions with the world. Google glass is an example of an unobtrusive headset, but augmented reality contact lenses have also already been proposed.

Imagine a digital display that helps you scan a room and find your lost keys? Or one that can instantly identify an object and run a diagnosis to determine where the object might be faulty.

The benefits of augmented reality are indisputable, but what happens when people become too dependent on the technology? Could we rapidly be moving towards a future where people will not be able to perform the most basic tasks without the instruction of a digital voice?

Sure, it is soothing to bake a cake with an ever-present voice feeding you instructions, or to take a drive under the guidance of a GPS system that informs you when to turn left or right. But what happens when the voice isn't there? Will we be unable to navigate? Will we be unable to cook?

In a distant future when human beings are utterly reliant on augmented reality to perform even the most basic tasks, what will happen when the power goes out?

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