Will augmented reality be a triumph of information delivery, or a metaphorical millstone around our necks?
In the case of navigation, we typically think of an automotive experience as depicted above, but I've spent a lot of time on foot wandering around strange cities. Let's assume that I've given my augmented reality system the name "Maximillian" and that responds to (only my) spoken commands. I can envisage exiting a hotel in San Francisco, saying something like "Maximillian, show me the way to Fisherman's Wharf," and having a faint dotted line or arrows or whatever be unobtrusively overlaid on the scene in front of me.
When I was a student living in Sheffield, England, all of my friends would be calling each other early in the evening to decide where we would be going that night. This was before the days of cellphones, so once a plan had been made, everyone tended to stick to it (unlike my son and his friends, whose plans seem to undergo a continuous morphing process). Once one was out and about, there was no way to know where everyone else was.
Now consider an augmented reality scenario. Suppose I could see recent virtual tracks (lines or arrows hovering just above the ground) left by my friends. These tracks could be color-coded for each friend, and -- by default -- could fade away over time. Alternatively, as I passed a bar, for example, some form of a visual indication could inform me if anyone I knew was in there. Or perhaps I could call up a bird's eye view of the immediate area to see where all of my friends were currently located. (Note that many of these capabilities are already available as smartphone apps -- I'm simply extrapolating them to an augmented reality delivery system.)
Apropos of nothing at all, have you seen the latest quadcopter drone from Parrot? It's called the Bebop (who can comment first as to why this name has a special significance to me?). Check out this BBC video. It's well worth watching the whole thing, but an especially interesting part starts around the 1'34" mark when the operator uses an Oculus Rift to see the world through the eyes of the drone. Judging by his exclamations this is pretty impressive. I would really like to see what he is seeing. But we digress…
Suppose you were in the market for a new house. It's a Saturday morning and you are walking or driving around a new subdivision. Can you imagine an augmented reality scenario whereby details of the houses that are available for sale appear superimposed over them, including things like price, size, number of rooms, and special features? How about being able to quickly access additional information like the builder's reputation with the better business bureau and the quality of the local schools?
This all sounds quite benign and useful, doesn’t it? But now suppose that by simply looking at the neighboring houses that had already been sold, you could access details about their occupants. How much did they pay for their houses, for example? How many people live there? How many children are there (and what ages)? Does the home owner's association have liens on any of the properties? Where do the occupants work? Have any of them been convicted of any crimes?
I have a terrible head for names and faces. Things get really bad if it's someone I used to work with at a company 20 years ago, or perhaps someone I met at a conference a few years ago. At official functions, people like the Queen of England have assistants who whisper the names of the people she's about to meet into her ear. I would love for my Maximillian augmented reality system to be able to do the same thing.
As I'm walking through the mall, for example, its facial recognition software could identify people with whom I am in some way acquainted and indicate them to me (perhaps using flashing arrows over their heads -- maybe using different colors to indicate different levels of acquaintanceship). As we approached Maximillian could superimpose additional information on the scene (or whisper nuggets of knowledge in my ear) as to the person's name along with the names of their partner and children and so forth. It would be especially useful if Maximillian reminded me that we used to work at Company XYZ 20 years ago. Maybe Maximillian could access LinkedIn to see where my acquaintance works now. Perhaps Maximillian could also check Facebook and Twitter and alert me to any additional information that may be of interest, such as the fact that it's my acquaintance's birthday, or the fact he just got divorced and 30 seconds ago he Tweeted that he's going to beat up on the next person he sees.
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