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Augmented Reality Business Going Global

WikitudeAs little as a year ago, you’d have been forgiven if you were unfamiliar with augmented reality. Since then, the media has been wondering if AR is the next big thing, and the technology has caught the interest of businesses and technophiles everywhere.

ARE2010 (Augmented Reality Event) is the first global event reflecting the rise of the business of AR. The event is taking place on June 2-3 in Santa Clara, California. Keynote speakers include SF writer and social critic Bruce Sterling and famous game creator Will Wright (Sim City, Spore).

I interviewed Ori Inbar and Tish Shute — two of the main organizers of ARE2010 — via email.

Ori Inbar is the founder of Ogmento, President of the Augmented Reality Consortium, and the host/author of Games Alfresco, a blog that is, as Ori says, “in pursuit of the ultimate augmented reality game” and that has “become a hub for worldwide AR enthusiasts looking for the best of the best in augmented reality.”

Tish Shute is a consultant, writer, anthropologist, technologist, and founder of Ugotrade, a leading blog focused on augmented reality.

h+: This is the first global Augmented Reality event. What does this say about the current state of Augmented Reality?

ORI INBAR: The fact that we were able to gather more than 40 AR companies from all over the world (Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Russia, Holland, Germany, France, Portugal, U.S. and many more) that are willing to spend the travel cost and time associated with a two day event in the Bay Area simply proves that there is business in AR. And it’s the first year that such an event is possible. In the past 10 years, the ISMAR event attracted several hundred AR researchers but almost no commercial businesses.

The other fact is that many members of non-AR companies are registering for the event as potential clients of AR products, eager to learn about the possibilities of AR and the best practices for delivering AR experiences. This shows that AR has broken the glass ceiling of the academic world and is penetrating the mainstream.

TISH SHUTE: As Ori has explained, Augmented Reality Event is set to be a landmark gathering expressing the current state of Augmented Reality, which is an extraordinary, energetic, technology collision.

The emergence of augmented reality into the mainstream is bringing together game developers, GIS and computer vision experts, social network gurus, urbanists, cloud computing people and big data munchers, mobile developers, artists, mobile advertising people, local search entrepreneurs, UX designers, researchers, hardware innovators, and AR start ups galore!

All of the above, and more, will be represented at Augmented Reality Event. Augmented Reality, as keynote speaker Bruce Sterling points out, is a technovisionary dream come true.

Ori mentioned Augmented Reality has already arrived in marketing, and games are certainly next. “The game is about the world now,” says Will Wright, who will also be keynoting at ARE2010, along with Blaise Aguera y Arcas and Jesse Schell. Augmented reality, 3D mapping, and “the rapid advancement of sensor and computing technology are colliding with human psychology,” in what Jesse Schell calls the “Gamepocalypse,” to “turn everything in life into a game.”

The vision of these gurus of game design for augmented reality goes well beyond personal informatics. Game-like motivators have the power to get people to participate in the real world more, and even to help us heal tragic schisms between humanity and the ecosystem, kids and an outmoded education system, our bodies and our selves, citizens and government.

h+: I can remember points in the past when it became unacceptable not to have a fax; not to have an email address; not to have mobile computing, ad infinitum. How soon before it becomes unacceptable not to have an Augmented Reality element to different experiences and products, and in what areas of activity or medias etc. do you think this will happen first (if at all)?

OI: If I had to name a number, I’d say that in less than 10 years everyone will use augmented reality to interact with the world in a totally new way. Every industry, every job, and all ages will be impacted by AR. The book Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge describes such a world in which everyone “wears” (AR enabled contact lenses and clothes that translate your subtle gestures into commands), and as a result, everyone becomes a more powerful human being in anything they do.

I suspect that for many businesses it will become unacceptable not to have an “AR feature” in their products much sooner, probably within three years. It’s already happening in advertising and marketing. Close to 10 new car launches took advantage of AR in their campaigns in the past 18 months. And it’s barely scratching the surface. Next will be games. Games have always been great at pushing the envelope of new technologies, driving new investments, and generating market demand. I believe the education market will follow in its footsteps, as it’s so much easier to learn with AR than by reading a manual (see Deep Green Pool Table.) Oh, and by the way, the government has invested in AR for many years and an AR boom in the public sector is imminent as well.

Image Courtesy of: technologyreview.comTS: I will stand by Ori’s projections for AR adoption in various sectors. Augmented reality will emerge as a natural extension to game dynamics, as already used by proximity-based mobile social networks like Four Square and Gowalla, to connect people to each other and their environments. As Augmented Reality Event speaker Ansel Hook explains it, “We could call ourselves ‘homo signage’ as a species. With augmented reality, now there’s even more space to signal each other with, to advertise and communicate.” Also, on the near horizon are some interesting integrations between AR and visual search when Google Goggles, and perhaps others, open an API.

But, as Ori notes, we are also on the verge of an AR boom in the public sector, and AR will soon become integral to the way cities support, extend, and add/derive value to/from social behavior in many ways. We will have a new relationship to the city we have never seen before, e.g., knowing what is happening to the fish in our waterways not five years after the fact when a study is finally published and the disaster has happened, but now, when timely solutions are still an option.

If you want to contemplate the mother of all use cases for augmented reality in the 2020s, check out Europe’s Plan to Simulate the Entire Planet: The “Living Earth Simulator” will “mine economic, environmental and health data to create a model of the entire planet in real time.” The plan is to have it working by 2022, so we might expect to see some very interesting forms of predictive modeling in a mobile augmented reality view around this time too.

h+: There is this growing emphasis on gaming as a way to make problem solving and necessary work more engaging. Years ago, the visionary Buckminster Fuller developed something called “World Game” that he hoped would lead to the resolution of major problems. It sounds like you’re saying AR could be the so-called “killer app” for this sort of gaming. Do you agree and would you say more about that?

OI: That’s pretty much my life’s purpose…. 😉 There are more recent depictions of such a “world game” by renowned game designers which will blow your mind (they blew mine): Check out Jesse Schell’s Gamepocalypse talk from Dice 2010, and Jane McGonigal’s.

AR can certainly help in getting closer to that vision, but it will take more effort to achieve the complete vision. That is because — in addition to visual recognition of real life objects which AR does — it requires a whole new set of sensors to enable interaction with physical objects. In the short term (this year!), AR games can already free gamers from the couch and usher them back to reality, to play — playing in the real world while interacting with real and virtual objects, real world treasure hunts, as well as opening portals to parallel realities that exist among us but can only be unveiled with AR. The simple achievement of getting kids to interact with real objects (even cards) instead of pushing buttons, or clicking and typing all day is already received with much love by parents.

TS: AR does immediately conjure up all the great themes of Buckminster Fuller because the state of the planet is your AR context. And as Ori points out, in a complete vision, AR requires sensor networks… next generation street view, LIDAR mapping, or ultimately… The Living Earth Simulator, to create the planetary model for the augmented view. There are, of course, some of the mother’s of all computer science problems buried in this vision, as you are actually interacting with the model you are using to manage and communicate your dynamic projection! If you want an idea of how far augmented reality has come with some of these mapping and data modeling challenges, prick up your ears when Blaise Aguera y Arcas gives his talk at Augmented Reality Event!

Fuller’s “omni-Universe-operative, time-energy, kilowatt-hours-per-year, commonwealth accounting system” that enables The World Game “to make the whole world work for all humanity,” like the complete vision of augmented reality, has yet to manifest.

Image Courtesy of: amazon.comNevertheless, the unified hyperlocal view of AR — “the zero click interface” (in the words of Anselm Hook) is already showing potential to establish Fuller’s vision of a World Game that can “actualize the human functioning in the Universe as local information-gatherers and local problem-solvers in support of the eternal regeneration of Universe itself.” (From Critical Path by R. Buckminster Fuller).

But is the Gamepocalypse a recent version of Buckminster Fuller’s World Game? AR, even in its most proto forms, gets us off our couches and back into engagement with the world, as Ori points out. It points toward a world where, as Jesse Schell says, “our kids can get experience points instead of grades.” (If you have a kid in a 5th grade public school in NYC, like me, this has a lot of appeal). But Adam Greenfield looks into the shadows of the Gamepocalypse. In a post titled “Of lucky cats", he compares the Gamepocalypse with something I will call the Foodpocalypse:

“scary, because these motivators work. Just as food designers have figured out how to short-circuit our wetware with precisely calibrated doses of fat, salt and sugar game developers trip the dopamine trigger with internally-consistent, but generally otherwise worthless, symbolic reward systems.”

If we want the Gamepocalyspe to reflect The World Game, not the Foodpocalypse imagined by Greenfield, an architecture of participation is the key. As Anselm Hook points out, a citizen must be able to, “deploy a simulation, copy it, clone, rewind, play with, modify, share… the same remix culture that exists everywhere… the game like quality of modern online game worlds….”

And if you look at ARWave, you will find there some of the aims of a project I am very passionate about.

David Orban kindly invited me to present on ARWave at the 2010 H+ Summit @ Harvard. But as my mother turns 80 that weekend, I will instead be in a Cornish fishing village (ashcloud willing). But I do hope to see some of the Humanity+ community at ARE2010 to discuss ARWave, The World Game, and much more!

You ask whether AI could be the so-called “killer app” for this sort of gaming. Absolutely. It is essential. But, as Will Wright points out, the importance of computers has proved to be in the area of harvesting human intelligence — the hive mind, rather than duplicating human intelligence.

Crowdsourced intelligence and crowdtraining the filter will be how we can build the kind of context we need to create meaningful augmented reality experiences. “Smart things” can actually have a tendency to make us dumber by overriding our instincts (Will Wright). If you can parallel park well, try using the parking HUDs in a new “smart car” and see how you do.

Ishahidi’s SwiftRiver, while not currently implemented in an augmented view, gives you a glimpse of how important crowdsourcing (opening the floodgates) and validation (the filter) are going to be for augmented reality. Swiftriver is “a free and open source software platform that uses algorithms [Natural Language Computation, Machine Learning and Veracity Algorithms] and crowdsourcing to validate and filter news.” It has transformed crisis management recently.

There is already somewhat of a classic Gothic High Tech versus Favela Chic faceoff emerging in the union of AI and AR (see some of Bruce Sterling’s brilliant playing with these terms in this transcription.

The SwiftRiver approach of combining powerful algorithms with crowdsourcing would, I suppose, be at the Favela Chic end of the spectrum, while the recent purchase of Siri by Apple, I guess, is pretty Gothic High Tech. Years in the making, Siri is born out of SRI’s CALO (Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes). It’s the largest artificial intelligence project in U.S. history. Siri deploys classic top-down AI with cooperating cloud data services to bring apps that learn by context accumulation to your AR view.

But we should be ready for some surprises in how the union of AI and AR plays out. As Bruce Sterling points out, “21st century Favela Chic is no mere favela, and Gothic High Tech isn’t just Gothic, it’s also very high tech.”

But, if you are interested in how a merger of AI with Augmented Reality can actually draw us into a deeper engagement with the world, listen up when the visionaries of game design Will Wright and Jesse Schell speak at Augmented Reality Event. As Will Wright explains, the magic of games, and the charm of toys is that, by drawing us into play, they encourage agency. Toys can be the antidote to having instinct block “smart things.”

It points toward a world where, as Jesse Schell says, “our kids can get experience points instead of grades.”

h+: What other upcoming technologies do you see AR converging with, and with what kinds of results?

OI: A bunch of technologies are maturing these days and helping bring AR to consumers. Here are some of them: Mobile devices that pack all the ingredients for AR, social media, location-based services, see-thru video goggles, 3D TV and movies (which will make us all accustomed to wearing glasses for consuming media), critical mass of buildings and entire cities modeled in 3D (which enable mixing real and virtual for AR), as well as the next generation of “Street View” such as LIDAR or Earthmine’s 3D mapping capabilities, and many more….

TS: Well, again I am lucky, in that Ori has gone first and mapped some of this terrain quite clearly. The augmented view is an evolutionary reality emerging for now in the magic lens of smart phones, soon to graduate to AR eyewear, which will include the pervasive vision of technologies like DARPA’s hummingbird nano air vehicles, and sensors everywhere. But again interesting convergences with other technologies will not just be in the data visualization aspects of AR, but in a world game through which we can heal the schisms between… kids and an outmoded education system; our bodies and our selves, citizens and government; humanity and the ecosystem, and realize the vision of Buckminster Fuller to make the whole world work for humanity. Vernor Vinge, Bruce Sterling, William Gibson, Charles Stross, Neal Stephenson, Roger Zelazny, Jane Lindskold, Tad Williams, Larry Niven, Steven Barnes, amongst others, and the great Japanese anime Dennō Coil tell us much about the kinds of results we can expect on this journey.

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