The Augmented Reality Problem

In lieu of our recent talk with Whurley from Chaotic Moon, I think instead of look at just one augmented reality app, I am more interested in examining the market and platform in general. The platform is inherently an interesting idea and could potentially revolutionize several fields. One field that was discussed was medicine and how augmented reality systems can be used as training devices. The platform can be very effective since it adds more layers of data on top of what is already in the world. The layered information is what is key. The extra layers give better depth and understanding to what already exists; they alter the level of accessibility of information and how it is displayed. Changing how things are displayed is a game changer (no pun intended) since suddenly now pertinent information can be displayed in real time in real space and on top of this the information can be rapidly changed with the environment that it is being displayed over. The problem with it, though, is that most interfaces for augmented reality are terrible. They require a camera to view the environment, a transparent display to view the information, and some way to manipulate the data and/or control the interface. Because of these major components (and, of course, things like microprocessors and miniaturized electronics), augmented reality devices are rare and exceedingly clunky. Even though there are obvious benefits to augmented reality, our current technological state (and apparently obsession with trying to break the laws of physics and optics) greatly limits what we would like to do with the technology.

The other hinderance to augmented reality is the market. Sure, one could easily argue the is a market for augmented reality servies; the growing number of smart phone users alone would provide an ample consumer base for the technology. People can usually get over having a crappy interface if they like what the software does. The problem with the market, though, is the fact that many companies behind the hardware and software are too busy trying to sue each other over software and hardware patents (more so software patents). The constant legal battles create a miserable market for someone trying to break into the market, let alone for someone who is already in the market trying to innovate. The level of innovation in the field of augmented reality is horrendously low; Whurley talked about asking leading researchers in the field of augmented reality  about the problems it faces and over the past decade, the answers to those same fundamental questions have been left unfulfilled and unchanged. The market is stifled and needs some kind of injection to get off the third floor (it seems less appropriate to say getting off the ground in this case since there is plenty of AR floating about now). With companies more worried about infringing on other patents, there is less incentive to make something new because everyone is patent-trolling everyone else and original ideas are quashed by filing a piece of paper first rather than making something functional and innovative to the field. Why on Earth is swiping something across the screen to unlock a device patentable? Wait, that is another story.

TL;DR Augmented reality has been slow to come to fruition due to technological constraints and a bunch of assholes in suits fighting over who gets which pennies.



Augmented Reality Questions

1. How does AR affect how we interact with objects? Do we start seeing magazines and such as a simple analog extension of the digital realm or will they just become an out-dated trinket?

2. How would AR enhance education? Would it be benifical if I point my phone at notes and they bring up more information? Or would this simply retard note taking and de-incentivize good note taking skills?

3. How would AR affect those in developing countries that are seing this first without having grown into the internet culture?

Virtual Environments Response

Virtual environments or virtual worlds resemble the real world in several ways. They are governed by a specific sets of rules that we don’t always necessarily have a grasp of. They give users a certain level of autonomy that is constrained by the preset rules and/or the community. They also have a fair amount of risk involved when dealing inside them.

Risk, I think, is what most people overlook when it comes to the virtual world. People think that since the virtual world is on the internet then it must have less risk; people act like the internet removes risk from the equation when it is quite the opposite. One could argue that the internet involves more risk. More information available faster can mean a more volatile market and community.

Sure things like death are less of an issue (and in some cases a non-issue) in virtual worlds, but that does not preclude those worlds from being less risky than the real one. People expect less risk in virtual environments but that is when there is less fun and a lack of options. Replicating the risk of real life gives users the chance to fully explore the human condition and try things that one would not normally be able to.

A good example of this would be a player being a pirate in EVE Online. Normally, people can’t just go around and be a pirate all day as their desk job but virtual environments give people the chance to experience and think about more than life actively can present them. The risk is what makes it worth it because people feel more fulfilled when they complete something risky compared to completing something they know they won’t have a problem doing. Fiero can be a powerful thing.

Virtual Worlds Questions

1. How much does what players learn in virtual worlds carry over to the real world? Are introverted people becoming less introverted through those games?

2. What kinds of effects to complete sandbox games, like EVE Online, have on the cognitive processes and learning skills of players?

3. How much do economic concerns change how players interact with games. Are players who pay monthly fees to pay act better or do they feel “privileged?” Does a kind of pay wall to play affect the general players in the world and therefore skew how they are presented?

Policy & Governance Response

With the explosion in social media, it would seem rather obvious that social media holds the key to elections in the future. Obama was able to leverage social media to get a younger demographic to go vote (mostly for him). This is a great thing of the country, not only trying to get the younger people to vote but also getting people in general out to vote in greater numbers. The problem, as we can see from Weinergate, is that we all are still human and don’t always do the maximally smart thing. In the Weinergate case we know it was actually Anthony Weiner sending those photos and tweets. In many cases, though, it is not clear whether or not the actual person who is supposed to be controlling the account in fact is.

This ambiguity creates an interesting disconnect. If I know that someone else is running the account though the account is supposed to be displaying the interesting person’s thoughts and comments, then I am more likely to be skeptical of what is going to be displayed on the account. Social media is generally less censored than other forms of media. Most of it is publish then filter (which in many cases involves deleting) rather than edit then publish. Aids are going to be careful with what they say on the Twitter feed and are less likely to engage the people responding to the comments because their comments could be construed as as Twitter holder’s words. This stifles meaningful conversation and further strengthens cherry-picking comments and responses which does nothing for conversation or furthering society except through dogma.

But also what about ghost accounts? It is well known that many celebrities have an alternate account that they use that is not their normal, forward-facing Twitter feed. What does this do to their credibility? Especially if you know they have an alternate account, does that affect what you think and read by them? I think so because you look at the mediated feed and wonder what he or she is actually thinking. I am not advocating for a society always says what they are thinking and or always censors itself, but social media presence really makes people either appear more clean and thoughtful in their comments or simply more human and allow us to peer into their minds.

Policy & Governance Questions

1. Is there a happy medium between the complete freedom of the internet and some level of governance? Reddit can be a great site for news but at the same time it can also show the scum of the Internet. I am all for freedom but is there a way to not be afraid of entering a Big Brother scenario? Could there be a system with built-in checks and balances that can also be maleable for if the system becomes too overbearing?

2. Why do we tend to take social news more seriously than syndicated corporate news? Is it the fact social media is more likely to value other opinions and/or allows for a greater discussion without having only one position displayed?

3. Why is there a lack of both sides of the conversation in traditional media? if there is to be a balanced discussion or presentation of events, don’t multiple sides need to be presented?

Privacy Response, Or Fear Mongering for Those Who Care

Privacy is a very sticky situation. We all want it, we all need it but we can’t be completely private individuals in any kind of economy. But the funny thing about economics is that it latches on to something then chooses not to let go of it. Knowledge has always been power. In the Dark Ages the church kept the power since they were of the few who could read and had access to information. Now the new church is Facebook and Twitter and Google and Amazon and all those online retailers that you love and are signed up for their newsletters. These churches have your information and are not going to give it up without a fight. Information has become a commodity that is passed, traded, and sold between companies that you might not even know about.

But why should we care? I have no issue giving my information to Amazon so that they can offer me a selection of books that I would be interested in (and would help Amazon’s bottom line). The real issue here is the minority voice. Once these companies start siding with the government to help surveil the populace, then we take issue. But many people only take issue if it directly affects them in some way. Heck, many people get spooked for a little while but then go right back to what they did before on those websites. Sure they want to protect their privacy but unless there is some direct effect that they see changing how they use the site, then most people will just shrug it off; the benefits outweigh the risks for them. Getting my books a few days earlier is worth me telling Amazon that I enjoy reading zombie novels. But it is not worth Google knowing that I am looking up communist theories since then McCarthy might come get me.

The apathy of the majority helps fuel this information economy which could eventually further depress minorities. Pretty soon Amazon might start telling the NSA who is buying those copies of The Communist Manifesto and those people might start being put on a list. Since we don’t have control of what companies do with our information after we give it to them, we all might be on some list saying we are demon worshipers since we have all bought Harry Potter books. Not until people actually begin to care about their privacy again will how we are private online change. There has to be some kind of monumental shift for people to wake up and realize that those free samples of Kellogg’s cereal you signed up for online are leading to your name showing up on those DirectTV ads.

Ultimately it is up to the user to choose how much privacy online he or she has, but how much do people care? I would say people care about their privacy a fair amount but when you make difficult privacy settings or say the lack of privacy is to safeguard the country, then people are more willing to just give up their privacy. People don’t take issue until it directly starts to hamper their daily routine.