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Will Augmented Reality Change Life For The Better?

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Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are hot buzzwords these days. Execs can now add the Oculus to their treasure trove of executive toys, right next to their now discarded Google Glass headset. Really luck people can get ahold of the Hololens and Meta headsets to get into those early stages of AR.

But, what gives? What's the future really going to hold? Why does any of it matter?

I had the chance to interview mobile, VR and AR pioneer Kharis O'Connell, CEO of the Wearable and Augmented Reality design shop HUMAN. He has hinted of a new AR solution that his team is working on called SCALE. In the The Modern Futures Podcast he talks a little about the challenges with solutions out there - like Magic leap, Hololens, and Meta - and what his vision is of the future.

AR should be for the many, not for the few

We've seen a lot of hype and so-called demos of Magic Leap's technologies, we are seeing more and more demo reels of Hololens with cool names like 'holoportation', playing Minecraft, and putting virtual cats into the home (I'm not even joking). But, there are problems: accessibility to secretive demos, and price point:

It's incredibly important that this technology (AR) does not just remain in the hands of the few. And, what I mean by that it's so expensive, the barrier to entry is so high, and it's so unproven, that at the current state of speed of things, it's not going to make any dramatic impact on anyone's lives for another couple of years. But we think we've got a better way. So, what we are working on is a way to democratize that. We're trying to bring AR to the masses.

O'Connell is being a little secretive about SCALE however he is promising to bring a lot to the table:

We're going to turn people from being 2 dimensional to 3 dimensional just at a click. And we've got it working. We think that Magic Leap will be the Roll Royce [of AR], we want to be the Toyota Prius. We're going to be the one that's accessible that's still offers a good value, and does it cheaply. We're never going to compete with Magic Leap or Google in R&D investment so we are going to stand on the shoulders of giants. We're going to repackage something that you will not look the same way at it again.

Augmented Reality will take some getting used to

With any new technology it does take some getting used to. With AR technology it will be quite unnerving to train ourselves to be able to integrate it into our lives due to the immersive nature of the experience. O'Connell weighs in on this:

I think the challenge for society is not a technological adoption challenge. The challenge is actually how we're going to perceive the world, and if we can handle it as a human race. Because when you are getting into areas like 'mixed reality', and you think about something like Magic Leap, they're selling themselves on the idea that they're going to put virtual objects into the real world where they are indistinguishable. And, once you get to that level of fidelity, what is being alive and being in this world all about? What is real and not real if you can't touch it?

In addition to the psychological and perceptual aspects of welcoming AR, it's likely that we will will find that the human visual system will take a good while to adapt, and that it may also potentially cause some issues regarding eyestrain and fatigue. It's hard to say to what extent at this point, but there will be physiological hurdles to prolonged usage.

Immersive influence through Augmented Reality will become the norm

Once adoption is under way and we see more people walking around with headsets then life is going to get very strange indeed. O'Connell tells us that people will choose immersion.

Their going to be chasing things and it's going to appear real. Are the people on the bus real, or are they just a part of a dream sequence that you have subscribed to? Can you see what I can see? What is real when you look at the future?

We are already distracted these days and it appears that with immersive gaming that the streets will become a very interesting and playful domain. Not such a bad idea, if you ask me. However, working out where your owned and invited experience ends and where influence from brands is a big question. O'Connell paints an opportunity and a warning for when advertisers get in on the action.

To advertising and world we live in it will pose a moral question because we will now have the ability to influence people on a deep psychological level that we've never been able to do through traditional means, you know the web, mobile, and even hoardings. Now the advertising and marketing world is rubbing its hands together with glee because this is the Holy Grail, this is the Arc of the Covenant. We can now couple brands to people's synaptics. We will not longer have to fight the noise or the friction between what I'm trying to tell you and that delivery mechanism. There will be no delivery mechanism in the future. It will just be there.

Concept artist Keiichi Matsuda has even visually theorised what this may look like in his Augmented (Hyper)reality: Domestic Robocop video.

Augmented Reality will be a global 'acid test'

Once we are well into the adoption curve then things can get a little strange. Today we see many people craning their necks to read articles and social media posts off of devices as they walk down the street, ride the bus, and are out socializing (seriously, stop that last one and have a good time).

O'Connell thinks that the world will start to feel uncomfortable for the users. Reality will be more real but will meld in unreal experiences. We will likely doubt a lot of what we see.

If you imagine how far 'face swapping' has gone, now imagine a world where everybody's identity can be swapped out on the fly...we're talking about Ken kesey's Acid Test with a global impact. It's a revolutionary change that is coming.

All companies developing AR technologies are on the bleeding edge of visual technology, user experience design, and have a huge responsibility to ensure that they set moral and ethical boundaries and will allow us to easily snap back into reality quickly and easily.

The big question is: will we want that reality?

The full interview with Kharis O'Connell can be heard at The Modern Futures Podcast.

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