Augmented Reality: A Change in Perception

A look into the Augmented Reality technology that powers Pokemon Go and what the future holds for AR.

Today, augmented reality has permeated and seeped into the mainstream consciousness through the smartphone platform that has become so dear to us. AR aims to seamlessly blend real life and virtual reality, allowing users interact with the latter and easily distinguish between the two. It is not to be confused with virtual reality alone, which aims to isolate the user from the real world through complete audio and visual immersion.

A simple example of augmentation would be in real-time news broadcasting, when newscasters are surrounded by moving text and images that have been laid over the original live footage to provide complimentary information. The difference between simple augmentation like that and augmented reality is that AR allows users to have the ability to interact and manipulate with the information layered over the real world.

Pokémon Go, a prime example, uses a smartphone camera to portray what is naturally seen through the camera’s lens but provides an additional overlay of moving and static interactive data. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality allowing them to see digital data depicted over the physical world.

The pitfalls of AR have been excessively highlighted by the media during the Pokémon Go explosion which drew similar comparisons with stories that came to light in the early days of GPS. Humans putting too much trust into their gadgets is not something new. One incident, shortly following the launch, saw players being into lured into traps by other seemingly innocuous players who turned out to be armed robbers. Other stories of a disturbing kind include child neglect, late night stabbings and shootings which have littered the internet and made people think twice about playing the free app.

The popularity of the game is inarguable however, and unrivalled in recent times. The Pokémon card generation, mostly born in the 90’s, provided a pre-packaged audience for the software development team at Niantic, and the brimming nostalgia lead to thousands taking to the streets of their hometowns in to explore, battle and eventually catch ’em all.

Pokemon Go uses AR in its gameplay
Pokemon Go uses AR in its gameplay

Google glass received the same amount of publicity during its short time in the spotlight as an augmented technology, but in the end the project was abandoned amid worries about the specific function of the device as well as the consumer resistance to looking like a fool. Pokémon Go, however, didn’t suffer the same demise with 20 million active users in the US alone along with an international reach spanning the globe. In the wake of the success Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, has suggested AR will play a big part in his efforts to keep the loyal fan base following reports of a 15% decline in revenue from last year. He described the new phenomenon as incredible and a testament to both developers and innovative apps.

So what does the future hold for AR?

Transhumanism is a theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations through enhancement and creation of new technologies that aid the human condition. AR, being a major technological development that has now broken into the mainstream, could be the seed for serious strides towards a transhuman landscape that is likely to see hunched backs over small rectangles evolve into upright spines and machines controlled naturally by minds. Painters, architects, interior designers and even brain surgeons will benefit profusely from evolution in augmented technology which will see them intera
cting with 3D holograms and pin-up information on the walls of their working environment. The goal is to strive to a point where there is no learning curve required and all controls will be programmed to feel completely natural to the user. Digital information will be placed, grabbed, gifted and dismissed by users merely using simple hand gestures.

Others believe the gradual invasion of technology into people’s everyday lives has become sat
urated and would argue the relationship between humans and technology could easily, and may have already, become out of control. Charlie Brooker, an avid writer on post-modern techno-paranoia has demonstrated
his ideas on the future of technology admirably in his deep and disturbing Black Mirror television series. The exploration into themes of transhumanism cover the ominous topics of social media presen
ce after death, implantable nanotechnology and augmented reality. The Christmas special, appropriately named Black Christmas, features a Google Glass-imitation “z-eye”, in which users are able to block people in real life by replacing their bodies with a silhouette filled with white noise. The critically acclaimed show is set to return on the 21st October with six brand new episodes being released on Netflix.

Augmented reality is now in the mainstream whether it’s welcome or not. It could be the keys to unlock future technology that pushes towards something more natural, more efficient and lessens the gap between older generations who have become marginalised by new technology. Or, there is a chance that augmented reality and other technological developments could take us further away from our natural state and plunge us into a hybrid reality that becomes the norm and blurs
the distinction between reality and the virtual. As Aldous Huxley once said “We mustn’t be caught by surprise by our own advancing technology, this had happened again and again in our history”.

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