Augmented reality (AR) is not new, it’s a concept that has been around for ages and has seen a massive rise in popularity along with the ascendancy of the smartphone. AR allows you to apply an additional layer of information onto the real world to provide useful information that would otherwise not be available. With applications from heads up displays (HUD) through to interactive advertising, augmented reality sounds like a great avenue of future technology, available today.
The key differentiator between augmented reality now and in the future, is the device integration. At the moment you need to use your smartphone to manually access an augmented reality, very soon you will be able to use devices such as Google Glass that allow for more permanent engagement with various levels of augmentation and in the future we could see permanent biological integration of such a system (directly within our retina’s enhancing the visual information sent to our brains). This is a very science fiction sounding concept but essentially very plausible in the near future.
So what you say? We have seen these concepts in sci-fi novels and futuristic movies and not only does it look really cool but it is intrinsically useful to daily life. However, what many of these movies don’t show you is the potential monetisation of these systems, the inherent need of the human race to profit from everything. This is where we face the potential dangers of a fully augmented reality.
Imagine a world where we have a digital device embedded within us that displayed a HUD augmented reality layer to everything that we see. This interface could be customized with widgets such as current temperature or time of day and even record and upload what we see directly to our future social networks. Looking at a book lying on a table would trigger a small window to pop up giving you a summary of the book and the author. Now imagine the potential of a system like that within the advertising world. You would experience at the very least, contextual advertising based on the images you are seeing, for example when looking at that book you would see recommendations for other books and info about the various places that you can buy that book or even purchase a coffee at the same time. You may even be served an audio advertisement for a new video game that shares a similar genre as the book you are looking at.
Physical outdoor advertising would change dramatically with billboards/posters just being blank canvases and the software within your embedded device layering an advert targeted directly to you onto that canvas. Your world would be custom designed with advertising targeting you. This means that each individual person would see a different reality based on their age, income, interests and purchase history. Essentially what would happen is that the advanced targeting that we are starting to become accustomed to within the online space, will start to become a tangible part of real life. Invasion of privacy would be taken to a new level, one in which advertisers are able to intrude into your life at any time or place utlising the advanced information gathered from your own sensory inputs.
Technology companies continue to explore deeper integration and develop new devices in order to move closer to this goal of a fully augmented reality. While AR is an amazing piece of technology and without a doubt a key concept for the future, it is important to be aware of the potential danger of allowing companies to physically intertwine their services into our lives.