Indio San @ Envisioning
Doubtless, there is a great deal of confusion about the differences between augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). At first glance, they seem indistinguishable. One way to reliably root out conflicts is to place the two identities in the larger context of mixed reality (MR), in which it is possible to 'modulate' a particular application within the range of a reality–virtuality continuum. In this continuous line, VR leans to the side of virtuality, and AR leans to the side of reality. Yet, if this academic approach fails to work, it is far more common to claim that AR is a technology that overlays digital information onto real-world settings.
It all started some years ago when AR applications brought digital and physical worlds closer through face filters and proceeds, today, with a increasingly sophisticated array of headsets, spatial sensors, special gloves and glasses (contact lenses are coming soon). All in all, it is reasonable to assume that such technical assets are causing a stir in marketeer ranks, eager to add engaging value to inventories, and those who saw an opportunity to expand a product's material limits to afford post-purchase experiences or even brain-based models of persuasion. They are entitled to do this. However, there's always a but. When app features are distorted, the anticipation of a dystopian reality is largely unavoidable, like the cautionary tale Hyper-Reality, by Keiichi Matsuda, in which the reality is practically blurred by the AR overlay, a hellish visual pollution that makes information practically impossible to digest.
We have got to put aside retail for while to see what other sectors are making use of AR to stimulate human creativity. Education is certainly one of them. One prominent projects is Augmented Reality Sandbox, created by researchers at UC Davis and designed to study hydrology interactively, enabling students to physically shape topography models with their bare hands. Besides the elegant simplicity of installation and set up, anchored on a Kinect 3D video processing framework, one of its highlights, strikingly absent from consumer-focused products, is tactility. Developers must definitely flesh out features like these, combining AR medium with AI-powered learning platforms and self-initiated education programs. Kids love to touch things because they think with their hands.
And what about rectifying teaching material that has been written by men for men for a long time? It is important not to confuse it with historical revisionism, the act of re-interpretation of past records, mainly to justify authoritarian power and privileges. Lessons in Herstory is a wonderful AR app that superimposes over historical usually ―male― suspects, prevailing in textbooks, rich content about forgotten women in U.S. history. It is AR breaking the silence, so to speak. We must always keep in mind what Rebecca Solnit wrote:
Rebecca Solnit, in The Mother of All Questions.
Rebecca Solnit, in The Mother of All Questions.
Beyond Pokémon Go
Contemporary cultural production can be greatly benefited by incorporating new technologies. After skyrocketing to fame with the popular augmented reality mobile game, Niantic comes on stage of immersive AR theater experiences, partnering with the UK-based production company Punchdrunk. Theater and games are the perfect match. Communion brings us, nostalgically, to the first intermedia experiences of the Fluxus Group, and to the famous Dick Higgins chart that shows concentric and overlapping creative circles that appear to expand and contract in relationship with science, art, and various other expressions.
The play, called Sleep no More, is a production that intends to reinvent storytelling for a 21st century audience, and has been successful among gamers, which is not trivial. Would AR be the missing link between different forms of artistic manifestations?
What Lies Ahead
If there is anything that AR is good at, it is reviving the relevance of operands. In mathematics, they are regarded as easy to manipulate according to the exigency of operators (in the statement 5 + 3, 5 and 3 are operands, while + is an operant). Consider humans as operators and resources as operands. Until now, dominant logic views physical resources as inert and passive. AR reverses it. A great example of future AR technology driving citizen engagement is water management. Viewed no longer as a reactive operand, water comes alive to AR apps, helping people to 'see behind the curtain' of decentralized water reuse systems, like they had x-ray vision about the location and function of assets. By the middle of this century we could reduce the consumption of water from primary resources by 53% ―preferably with the aid of AR, more suited for troubleshooting.
Augmented reality is restricted to vision, right? Wrong. If you look closely, there's more to the story besides smart glasses. Facebook Reality Labs Research is fully focused on smart hearing aids that make it possible to redefine human hearing. If AI-enhanced, it could expand directional hearing and meaningful signals, complying with hearing loss or in-ear noise cancellation. AR audio processing balances, thereby, augmentation and reduction. Google has jumped on the bandwagon of the former and is working on wearable hardware that aims to give people 'superhuman hearing'. There is no reason why AR should not have a multisensory nature.
Computing approach that allows machines to make sense of the real environment, translating concrete spatial data into the digital realm in real-time. By using machine learning-powered sensors, cameras, machine vision, GPS, and other elements, it is possible to digitize objects and spaces that connect via the cloud, allowing sensors and motors to react to one another, accurately representing the real world digitally. These capabilities are then combined with high-fidelity spatial mapping allowing a computer “coordinator” to control and track objects' movements and interactions as humans navigate through the digital or physical world. Spatial computing currently allows for seamless augmented, mixed and virtual experiences and is being used in medicine, mobility, logistics, mining, architecture, design, training, and so forth.