We wander in a fog of ignorance, blindly staring at people, buildings, and landscapes without receiving the slightest hint of information about what we’re seeing. We are crippled by what we can store only in our brains. This will change. We will cross between the real and virtual worlds more easily than we cross from a sidewalk to a street. We will live in the realm of augmented reality via wireless Internet, and I pity the fools who resist.
Second Life offers one of the best mainstream virtual reality programs with 3D scenery and avatars. But it is clumsy, slow, and primitive. It portrays more “virtual” than virtual + reality. It binds us to desktops or laptops. That is not the future, which demands we bring the virtual with us.
The first step on the way to advanced augmented reality might be snapping a camera phone photo, transmitting it via wireless Internet, and reading information on the screen. GPS location data combined with image recognition software will identify a building, for example, and transmit such data as the building’s name, address, tenants/offices, and historical significance (if any). Text will be supplemented automatically by audio and video files on the phone.
Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), which conducts extensive research in virtual/augmented reality, is working on a relatively confidential Point & Find image recognition business. Today, if you walk along the U.K.’s famous historical Roman site, Hadrian's Wall, you can buy software that automatically triggers video clips based on your phone’s GPS location.
But this is still too primitive for me.
Automatic augmented reality
The next step is automatic augmented reality, which is under development by universities and corporations around the world. In the future, when I again visit the Place de la Bastille in Paris, I want to point my phone at the monument and view the Bastille prison/fortress as it was in the 1700s. I want to see it being stormed during the French Revolution and view and hear the wardens, inmates, aristocrats, and revolutionaries tell their stories.
The seeds of this scenario are being sown, albeit in an extremely modest way. The Georgia Institute of Technology’s Voices of Oakland project enables researchers to walk in Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery and listen to information about the cemetery and people who are buried, based on GPS location. A futuristic application might be to see an image of the deceased person and hear his or her tale.
As a prelude to the future, you must watch D’Fusion’s augmented reality demonstration, in which a building rises from ruins.
Notably, the future will not involve watching augmented reality on a phone, but rather on eyeglass displays, as I've previously written. You will not bump into objects, because the surroundings and incoming data will be viewed through retinal imaging Terminator-style glasses, which already are in development.
Our eyes will be cursors as we navigate the display’s menus via eye movements, a technique that has been researched for years. We might also employ voice commands, but no one will hear us. We will use subvocalizing, which also has been demonstrated.
Although we’ll be able to retrieve a staggering amount of information, the possibilities for mischief -- criminal and otherwise -- also will be staggering. Just as we can take control of phones via Bluetooth ("Bluejacking"), so could our augmented reality be jacked or hacked. Our GPS position could be compromised, or we could be fed false data and videos. We could look at a face, and data displayed about that person could be false.
Virtual reality packages will be fraught with digital rights management issues. Imagine visiting an art museum and viewing information on your glasses about each painting and sculpture, with videos of the artist and prices for his/her work. Now imagine the wireless signals are blocked or the data in your glasses is scrambled because the museum claims the sole right to provide information.
The problems notwithstanding, wireless Internet augmented reality is how most of us will view the world. People who are too poor to afford it will be at a tremendous disadvantage. A minority will have sufficient funds but will live apart, upholding their unaugmented “purity” in communes where they will preach “seeing the world as it truly is.” The rest of us won’t want to imagine how we could have ever lived in such ignorance.
— Alan Reiter, President,
Wireless Internet & Mobile