Posted by: Nancy | September 23, 2009


“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

— Arthur C. Clarke (Clarke’s 3rd Law)

My head’s been swimming in augmented reality lately. It is magical.

What is it? It’s basically an overlay to the real world, a way of adding information on top of what you see and feel.

I think the most current and common example is the Yelp app on the iPhone — you click the little Monocle icon, and the iPhone camera and GPS relay your location, and voila! The application tells you which restaurants or bars or stores are nearby, and with a click you can see details on any of them, including Yelp ratings.

I wonder how long before the Facebook app is out? Imagine using the camera feature when you look at someone, and immediately see an overlay of their Facebook profile. (Hmm, I think I’ll avoid that guy — he’s a face painter and goes to Chiefs’ games.)

Every database will become fodder for augmenting reality:  there are already European applications for real estate, showing details like price, square feet, descriptions, former owners, school district, etc. Why not add the virtual tour inside? Heck, why not augment everything with the omnipresent video cams?

And how long before the overlay isn’t in a phone, but is embedded in your sunglasses? Or in your retina? Eye movement will send the signals, maybe the info flows directly into your consciousness through an implant?

It’s not just random speculation.

I see this as a technology that will profoundly impact the way we communicate. It will alter how we organize, access and process information. It can alter fundamentals like story-telling, perhaps leading to changes in the human brain and evolution.

It will introduce ramifications to privacy, information sharing, engagement, branding, marketing, news, civil rights, training, education …you get the idea.

How will we harness it for the betterment of our humanity? How will we know?

I don’t have the answers, but I’m ready to keep exploring. The proposed Augmented Reality Markup Language is open source, so they’ll be arriving fast and furious. Here’s a few examples to get familiar with what’s coming:

  • From Total Immersion, an AR specialist with locations in UK, France and LA: see examples of PC and camera based augmented reality in marketing and gaming.
  • Wikitude, the Android-based application that provides mobile AR for travel at key destinations. Other examples include locating tubes in London and the Metro in Paris.
  • A brilliant presentation by Ian Jindal, at Ecoconsultancy in June. He lays out a timeline for the next generation of digital communications, when everything is networked at costs of nearly nothing.
  • A Technology Review report from a conference this week at MIT.

“The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”

— Clarke’s 2nd Law


  1. […] him from his Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, whatever account. (See “Magic” from September […]

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