As children, we’re given a unique ability to use our imagination to create fantastic worlds around us that are invisible to others. In our minds eye, we can sail the high seas in search of gold, battle pirates who attempt to take that very booty. We can confront dragons to get a marshmallow toasted. In a blink of an eye we can be exploring lost worlds and discovering unknown beasts. Our imagination let us be anywhere, anyone at anytime.
Our imagination let us see what we create even if it wasn’t really there. Imagination was our first AR* (Artificial Reality*) generator that let us escape the real world into a world of our own design. It wasn’t real for this world was merely a mental overlay to the real world around us.
We moved from inner imagination to external sourced realities. Realities that took less imagination to conjure. Realities were created for us through television and cinema. Worlds so imaginative that we immersed ourselves for 30 minute intervals. We still had power of these realities. At anytime, we can step away, turn the dial or even turn off and return back to normal reality.
Media required less of our imagination and more of our attention, but some designers took it a step further. The next level of artificial realities would require a bit more of our attention. It would require our physical-self to be immersed into a physical creation. Walt Disney was a pioneer in this type of reality called the theme park. Part entertainment, part esthetic and a dash of escapism, Disney’s theme park was a world onto itself where we could escape to. A place where one could go to become part of a created world different from our daily ones. Each visitor could move about freely within this place as they choose as long as the visitor remained inside the walls of this magical kingdom.
Two Become One
Designers are beginning to shift their thinking away from separated realities to the alteration of normal reality. They seek out technology convergence of digital and physical to create an overlay of the real things around us. To do this, technology would need to provide a portal by which one could see what was not there while still seeing what is. One such innovation through technology is the augmentation of the real world with digital information. This augmentation is called AR (Augmented Reality).
AR allows the viewer to enhance, alter and even distort the real world around them. Information can be overlaid with real-world sight. Images can be interlaced with those things we see. The digital created world could now be interlaced with the real world in real time.
Imagine walking down the street to suddenly see a small mythological creature looking back at you from around the corner of a darken alley gesturing you to enter. Like your childhood imagination, no one else can see what you are seeing. Reacting to this digitally induced overlay can cause quite a distraction for the viewer as well as a bit of humorous confusion for on-lookers. This blending of realities has so much potential and with much caution.
Take this same technology and allow others to share in this digital overlay and now the augmented reality becomes a shared experience. A community is created. A community only accessible through AR. The interaction becomes a hybrid of digital imagery overlay and the physical reality. Technology will offer a way of enhancing the world we know with an alternative world created by technology.
Down the Rabbit Hole Alice…
Once augmentation, digital technology and active real-world mapping becomes so seamless and indistinguishable, then, like Alice, the possibility of slipping deep down the rabbit hole is ever present. A reality where the digital becomes greater than the physical. A reality of the digital hallucination.
As technology and public acceptance grows, AR will undoubtably shift from being a tool or entertainment of an augmented reality to one of common escapism into Artificial Reality. A reality of digital hallucinations of choice. A reality where the real world will be digitally manipulate to alter everything we see, hear and possibly feel. No longer simply augmenting with data of what we see, but generating an alternative world to be mapped over all things real. A world where we will exist 24/7/365.
This would be impossible. People would not desire a digital fake over the real thing, right?
Imagine living, working and playing in a world of your own creation or curation. Maybe a world where magic exists. Dragons fly high above our heads or elves and trolls walk along the same streets we travel. A snap of your finger and shops alter their appearance to match your digital reality. People, walking down the sidewalk, appearances also change to fit your artificial reality, your digital hallucination. People you don’t know or dislike are remapped as strange new characters or their presence digitally deleted from view completely. You now have the choice to live your life in any given place or time or any way you choose by simply plugging in and dropping turning on your digital hallucination.
Yes, this sounds great. Who wouldn’t want to alter or manipulate their world to be more pleasant or appealing than the everyday one they live in. A person could escape from the dirty, noisy city streets to one of golden brick laid streets in some emerald city where the streets are lined with daisies and green grass and the sky is always blue and clear. It’s the digital version of an utopia that we all dream of and desire. Or is it?
Here is the darker spin on this artificial reality, this digital hallucination. We become players, characters in a world of our curation. We no longer need to associate with the real world as it is, now we can redesign it as we want it to be. Sure, the physical world still exist, but only to be a physical reference for the digital mapping.
The most macabre aspect of all this is that our real-world self becomes merely a data point, a physical avatar for our new augmented-self. We become a shape to which our digital self is applied. We transform from a person to just another reference object in the real world.
If that wasn’t a disturbing enough thought, try this on for size. If everyone sees the world through digital-colored AR glasses, then the look of things, people or places doesn’t matter anymore. The hallucination can become anything you want it to be no matter what the real-world condition maybe. In the digital hallucination no one sees the true or physical state. If the true state is no longer important, than why worry about it. The need for beautification is absent. This goes for ourselves as well. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ as they would say.
Sure, you can argue that there will be limits on the use of AR. Companies will ban the use of AR while on the clock. You can even argue that it could be too cost prohibited for the general public and adoption will be slow. All of this maybe true… at first, but most likely we heard the same logic for television, automobiles and even mobile phones. All things get adopted, especially if companies, education and cost make it allowable and obtainable. If the digital hallucination has consumer demand, companies will find a way to make it part of our daily lives.
Look around you into the crowds in cafes and on the sidewalk or in the parks. People are glued to their screens. Software and imagery engineered to grab and hold your attention. Imagine what it will be like when those same screens turn to lenses. Always present. No longer just designed to grab your attention, but designed to capture and hold your sense of reality.
Then There Were Two
Here is the darkest part of this foreshadowing tale. The part when this digital hallucination creates two types of people, the “Augmented” and the “Unaugmented.” The connected and the isolated. The virtual and the physical. And with this distinction of person types comes division, and with division, comes conflict. The conflict of digital versus the analog. The ‘us’ versus ‘them’.
With every advancement of technology, with every ability to control our environment, with every method of defining types, divide happens. It’s human nature.
What’s the conclusion of this dark twisted and foreboding tale of AR?
That, my friend, is up to you.