Augmented reality applications are on the cusp of becoming truly mainstream. Within the next decade we are going to see an increasing amount of augmented reality entering our daily lives. This series of posts explores the many different applications of augmented reality, highlight the good, the bad, and the ugly. Last week, we explored some of the positive ways that augmented reality will be used – and today we are going to explore some of the negative, or bad, applications that are on the horizon.
So what do I mean by bad? Well, given the title of this series of posts there has to be a distinction between ‘bad’ and ‘ugly’ – so there will be a lot of negative applications that will be highlighted in next weeks post. What I mean by bad in this context is that they are going to be annoying, or invasive into our lives, yet will not cross over into the arena of dangerous or insidious. We’ll get to the really ugly stuff soon enough, but first a look at some of the bad applications for augmented reality that you can expect to see soon.
Advertising and Marketing
The first category of what I see as bad augmented reality will undoubtedly be the most ubiquitous. All new technologies are used sooner rather than later for marketing purposes, and augmented reality is no different. We are already seeing many such applications, and not many of them are terribly impressive. The worst culprits are the ones that simply use a webcam to project a 3d image onto your screen when you hold up an image to the camera. There really isn’t much point to such exercises, apart from the novelty factor involved which will quickly fade.
But let’s take this even further. Your augmented reality applications are going to be filled with advertising, if you think that there are a lot of billboards and posters around now just wait and see what the marketing departments will do with this! Everything will be turned into a potential advertising space, and unless it is tightly regulated we could quickly see augmented reality chaos. Not to mention the ability to combine advertising with location based data collection. When you entered a store, what did you look at, what did you buy – all of this will be tracked by companies concerned with bottom line profit.
A whole new bureaucratic process will need to be developed just to deal with the logistics of this new form of marketing. What data can you collect? Who can you show it to? Where can you display it? What are the content limits of virtual advertising? There are many questions that need answers, because otherwise we are going to get swamped in a new level of spam that could literally escape our inboxes and follow us around.
Remember in the last post where I spoke about the great benefits of encyclopedic knowledge, and in particular the object recognition examples of augmented reality? Well, augmented reality is also going to bring with it some facial and location recognition technologies. Some see this as a positive, others see it as one of the worst invasions of privacy imaginable. I’m going to look at some of the more insidious examples of how this might be used in the ‘ugly’ post coming up next week, but I wanted to mention it briefly here as well.
We will, for the most part, be able to control how much of this information we put out for public consumption. However, if the social networking boom has shown us anything it is that the majority of users really aren’t well versed enough in securing information and privacy settings.
You could easily be broadcasting information about yourself that you really didn’t want to, just consider the fact that such a situation will often be beneficial to those making profit from any such applications (more users, more content, more money). If we don’t secure our information correctly, there are great deal of concerns from the annoying to the dangerous.
Beyond such concerns, there is something untested here; something unknown which deserves close attention paid to it. Normal channels of human interaction will be circumvented, we will already know quite a bit about an individual before we get close enough to shake their hands.
Of course, each of us will be able to control just what information is displayed – create an augmented reality identity in a similar way that many of us do so on social networking sites (whether consciously or not). But this brings with it even more issues, how do you know that what is being displayed is accurate information? This form of social knowledge will be open to misinformation and create a whole new level of what it means to be ‘fake’.
Not to mention what happens when this technology begins to be used against our will, accessing information about us that we never intended others to see. If you think we’re seeing a huge increase in privacy issues because of the rise of social networks, what is to come is going to dwarf these concerns completely.
Whilst this might not necessarily be a problem with augmented reality applications themselves, it could be a negative outcome of their widespread usage. Some people already lament the popularity of social network sites, asserting that they stop people from meeting up in person as often as they otherwise would have. Although I don’t necessarily agree with this – in fact I don’t really agree with it at all – I think the point is still a worthwhile one to consider.
If we are constantly augmenting physical reality, will that cause us to pay less attention to what lies underneath in the first place? Is there really a social need to augment the way we see things, or is it just an attempt to progress to new expressions of novelty and entertainment?
There are going to be some great advances made through the application of augmented reality, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t always consider whether or not we are giving anything up in the process. I’m going to cover a possible extreme outcome of such detachment in the next post in the series, because like many things what starts out as annoying and unfortunate could in the long-term end up having far more of a negative impact than many would anticipate.
Graffiti, Misinformation and Abuse
Anybody who has ever used the internet for a significant period of time knows that there is one aspect that you cannot avoid – people who just want to argue, bicker, insult, and cause chaos. To many, this is even becoming a sport in itself.
All of the negative aspects of human interaction on the internet will translate to the world of augmented reality. When we can write messages anywhere, what is going to stop many people from being abusive or crass just for the sake of it?
The possibilities for slander and personal attacks will increase exponentially. Surely our current laws on graffiti cannot possibly cover virtually augmented examples of such, or at least they won’t for a considerable period of time until precedent has been set. Even then, it will be difficult if not impossible to police without a great deal of privacy invasion; not to mention the freedom of speech implications.
Sorting out the wheat from the chaff is quite possibly going to be the biggest challenge that any widespread application of augmented reality will face. When all of us have the ability to leave comments, reviews, and information for others just how are we going to be able to filter that information? We could create private networks, and indeed they will be a necessity, where we only see entries from those we wish to – but then that will remove a lot of the utility that becomes available from a more open and communicative society. It seems that the greatest challenge is just going to be our own capacity to irritate, distract and insult others.
Although it might seem like I haven’t put as many solid examples of bad applications into this post as I did the previous one, that is only because I am saving the worst for last. All of the examples I’ve given here are ones that could lead to inconvenience or annoyance, but apart from advertising I do think that many of them will be circumventable with the appropriate amount of knowledge on how to use the technology.
Next time, however, we’re going to be looking at some of the truly ugly applications of augmented reality that could occur. The possibilities for totalitarian and criminal activity are just mind-boggling, not to mention some possible repurcussions for the fabric of human society that we may not even know we are changing until it is too late. So make sure you come back next weekend when I will be concluding this series by looking at the uses of augmented reality that we really do need to be aware of and fight to ensure that they do not overpower our lives.
Part Three: The Ugly is finally up (it only took my over a year!) – come and see it here!