Augmented Reality: Greater Power, Greater Responsibility
Augmented reality (AR) is technology designed to enhance the physical world by integrating digital images into or on top of it. These composite experiences are often delivered through a heads-up display built into glasses or goggles, or in its current nascent form, via a smartphone camera.
AR differs from VR (virtual reality) in the way it integrates with the physical world. VR is a completely digital experience not tied to reality, like playing an immersive video game. AR, on the other hand, directly modifies a person’s experience of the real world.
This deep integration of the real and the digital has been a long-discussed potential future but to date, the technology has been unable to deliver on the hype. Beyond a few prominent examples like Pokémon Go and Snapchat filters, much of the current AR offerings live on the edges of consumer awareness, a playground for early adopters and tech enthusiasts, with most implementations leaning more toward flashy eye candy than actual useful applications. This will not be the case for long. Over the next five to ten years we will see an inflection point in the quality of AR products and subsequent growth in consumer adoption.
Mainstream adoption of AR will change the face of the digital landscape and, just as the smartphone did before it, will rewrite the way we behave and engage with each other and the world around us. This has interesting potential, but also significant risk.
Despite its sci-fi-like appearance, at its core, AR is just an extension of the web we already use. Today we interface with the network through screens on our desks, in our pockets, or on our wrists. Tomorrow, if the promise of AR holds up, we’ll interface through a persistent digital overlay affixed directly in front of our eyes, forever blurring the lines between the real and the digital and enabling a world of perpetual connection where we never log off.