“When parts of the environment are coupled to the brain in the right way, they become parts of the mind”
- Andy Clark.
In the short movie Sight we are presented with a future where people use the sight system, which consists on eyes implants that allow individuals to have different layers of digital data on the physical world. This future is not so far from where we are right know, considering advancements in mobile devices and wearable technology, such as Google Glass. Although none of the devices we have right now have the capabilities shown in Sight, many individuals and institutions are working on creating and making mix and augmented reality possible.
As shown in Sight, this type of technology brings about many questions of privacy, technology dependence, the gamemifications of social life and so forth. It is because of this that I believe that is important to deblackbox it; to understand how it works and the possibilities that mix and augmented (MAR) reality poses to people. The development and advances on mobile devices and smartphones has made it possible for more people, institution and companies to explore and create augmented reality (AR) apps.
Doing a search on Apple’s Appstore in November of 2014 would reveal 500 + AR apps, most of them focusing in games and advertisement. One of the most interesting one is Wikitude, which has different features, including augmenting advertisements and billboards. One of the features that I found most compelling is the one that provides the user layers of geographical information of places near her/him (Here is a video of how it works, however it is not showing the more updated version of the app). The user is presented with different layer options that range from TripAdvisor to Wikipedia. Let’s say we choose to use the Wikipedia layer, this would create a layer on your smartphone with “balloons” that pinpoint the location of places that have been geotagged in Wikipedia entries and articles. This allows the user to move around her/his physical space with more information about it.
Before starting the discussion on AR, how it remediates our world and how it helps us offload parts of our cognitive process, I believe it is necessary to have a definition of what Augmented Reality really is.
As Azuma (1997) notes, AR is part of what is known as virtual environments (VE). AR is situated within a continuum between virtual environment and real environment (see image below). At one end of the spectrum we have virtual reality (VR), which is characterize to immerse the user into a digital world, usually by using a headset (Oculus Rift). In contrast to VR, AR mixes the real environment with digital graphics and data (Azuma, 1997; 2), although AR applications can work with headsets or other types of devices (smartphones). For Azuma (ibid.) there three essential characteristic that define an application as AR. First it has to mix the real with the virtual, it has to be interactive in real time and it is registered in 3D. This definition will give us a framework to work with AR applications and will keep us on track while discussing how it applies in different situations.