A Short Speculative Essay on the Potential of Augmented Reality
As many of you may already know, virtual reality entertainment is on the rise. The only real challenge is making it affordable so it can be mass produced, while consistently enhancing the graphics and adding more realistic and tangible elements to the experience such as controllers or props. But what of augmented reality, VR's less acknowledged yet more insidious cousin?
Augmented reality, known shortly as AR, became a huge hit when Niantic released Pokémon GO on mobile. Anyone who had caught onto the craze can tell you how enlightening it was to see so many people who otherwise would've been sitting at home or somewhere sedentary on their phones actually outside in the fresh air having fun and socializing. It felt as though a new era of gaming had begun, bringing people together on an unprecedented scale, whereas console gaming seems to be tearing apart the tangibility of cooperative gaming with the dying out of couch co-op games.
However, Pokémon GO isn't the only app out there making waves in the mobile community. Google Translate has developed AR capabilities; Facebook and Snapchat's insatiable filters (especially the dog one) have gained incredible popularity in the last couple of years. Quiver is an AR coloring book; Sky Map (one of the oldest AR apps) uses your phone's camera to mirror an image of a constellation map that accurately depicts the places and names of the stars above you in the night sky.
Even giants such as McDonald's and Nintendo have jumped onto the AR bandwagon, with McPlay's scan-and-play features and the Nintendo 3DS's AR character card system. After examining all of these implementations, it comes as no surprise that, even though most AR experiences today are buggy at best and we obviously have much further to go, the potential of this technology is phenomenal and game-changing.
Please excuse me while I put on my tin foil hat for a moment, but if you haven't heard of David Icke, I suggest that you at least give this video a watch; he goes into great detail about the progression of humanity's relationship with technology, even if it does sound a bit ominous:
Now, before I'm labeled an alarmist or conspiracy theorist, know that as a novice science-fiction writer nothing fascinates me more than the concepts of bionic augmentation, Transhumanism, and the Singularity. If those three things are completely unfamiliar to you, then you really are uninformed of the impending transcendent step in humanity's evolution.
Back to the topic at hand.
What does Augmented Reality stand to change in the lives of humans?
Well, drawing from what we already have on the market, we find that aside from the obvious entertainment aspect, AR has drastically influenced our method of communication and given us ways to change (and even mask) our identities. The social impact of this technology has most likely primarily been felt in developed countries, where people can afford the luxury of a well-established network.
The workforce is also experimenting with VR, particularly the medical field. Aspiring surgeons can now participate in labs that merge the perspective of the operating surgeon with that of the students to give an enhanced, more realistic view. These kinds of leaps in technology are re-shaping the way educators teach, and enhancing the quality of education that students receive, resulting in better-trained doctors.
My only question is, how come we haven't expanded this to other professions?
As someone who is a budding welder in the skilled trades, I see unlimited potential in AR tech. Imagine going on a tour of a construction project as an architect who helped draft and design the building being created, and all you have to do is boot up an augmented virtualization of the building and fit it over the real one to discover any irregularities or mistakes in the process. Imagine again that you are a defense lawyer pleading the case for your client, who you know is innocent. All you have to do is bring up a virtualization of evidence or script of law that wins your case. Now, of course a number of industries are becoming completely automated, ruling out human employees as it is, but perhaps it is a necessary part of human evolution, as Tesla-founder Elon Musk would describe here:
But I digress; what all of this boils down to is choice: to merge, or not to merge?
Although a lot of progress stands between mankind and the perfect machine, one needs to observe not only the potential of what we have to lose, but what there is to gain from our adaptation to technology. If it helps the blind to see, if it helps the crippled to walk, if it helps the deaf to hear, what is there to fear, other than being owned by our own creation? Who's to say it hasn't already happened?