Augmented reality (AR) frightens me. Don’t get me wrong, the prospects are incredible, and readers of the comic will know that I am a huge fan of augmentation. But I have a little part of my brain that conducts killjoy reality checks for me whenever I get excited about something. Right now, this nodule is blaring on full red alert at the thought of AR glasses.
In case you missed it, augmented reality is the concept of enhancing the real world with information from the digital one. Think Terminator vision.
Basically, as you observe your surroundings, the AR system detects objects that had been tagged by another user or content provider and then displays the related content. For example, while walking past a restaurant, you could see daily specials displayed, floating in the air in front of the building. While reading a newspaper article, related video footage could pop up and be available for playing. Currently, this has really only been achieved through smartphone apps, the Nintendo 3DS, and really goofy looking goggles. But enter Google (who else?) who recently unveiled several designs, and it’s sexy as hell. If I didn’t have you at Terminator vision, Google will seal the deal. Dubbed Project Glass, Google’s designs promise a relatively unobtrusive headset coupled with extreme Siri-like online capabilities. The possibilities are endless.
For example, I’m a name amnesiac. Not a medically diagnosed one, I’m just terrible at remembering names. It usually takes a few meetings for me to get it to stick. It’s nothing personal, honest. But the thought of instructing the headset to display the names of acquaintances has me all giddy*.
Until the reality check goes off.
Remember when the internet first came out**? It was going to be a magical place, with information streaming along superhighways. But look at it now. You can’t look at any online publication without it being surrounded by a posse of ugly AdWords boxes (for shame, Google) and one misplaced mouse cursor—not even a click—can trigger a marketing ambush. Sometimes it’s not even provoked. A mere wrong turn down one of the billion alleys that branch off the superhighway can have you assaulted with infinite popups filled with obscene images. Now imagine this right in your face. All the time. I imagine pop-up related deaths will skyrocket as people cross the street with a flashing banner in their face, telling them that they won an XBox. Can you imagine just trying to enjoy a moment in the park and having terrible music start playing because some guy in a Nickelback t-shirt walked by?
I am an oracle of all things gone sour, and this is the future I envision for augmented reality. I hate coming across as a cynical luddite (are there any other kinds?), but you know it to be true. Spammers manage to get into everything and fill it with cialis ads. At least, for now, when I leave my desk, they stay put.
This post was brought to you by Gold (Au). The association is not lost on me, I assure you.
*I realize that this functionality could contribute heavily to Google Brain. Several researchers, including neuroscientist Gary Small and psychologist Betsy Sparrow are studying the effects that Google has on our brain. Sparrow and her team found that when people have information available at their fingertips, they are less likely to memorize it. Think cell phone numbers. I personally haven’t memorized a phone number in years. Meanwhile Small has found that our brain treats Google like any other tool, and reroutes connections in order to facilitate better use of it. This is a fascinating topic I will try to explore another time.
**If not, get off my lawn!