Augmented Cities and Dreaming Wisely

Technology has amazing potential to help us be more human.  And with virtual worlds, we have the ability to shape our embodiment and create environments that convey a great deal of emotional bandwidth.  There are many challenges in building such worlds, and we need to view these new spaces with a fresh perspective.  But I believe the unique affordances of virtual worlds will make all of our work worth it in the end.

In the future, I see the meeting of augmented reality and virtual worlds as a key intersection.  Once we have the ability to view the world around us through “augmented reality glasses” that combine the physical and virtual in our daily lives, things will get really interesting.

And I have no doubt that such technology will eventually arrive.  It’s just a matter of time.

For a mind-blowing vision of what this future may look like, check out this video called “Augmented City.”

This brilliant video was created by Keiichi Matsuda, a designer and filmmaker who studies the implications of emerging technologies on human perception and the physical environment.  Notice how the guy in the video can shape his environment, combining virtual architecture with the physical world around him.  I love the use of the yellow hashmark lines as a visual cue for “don’t try to walk here!”  A very clever way to safely indicate borders between physical spaces and the virtual.

If you’re wondering why the video looks a little funny, that’s because it was filmed to be viewed in 3d using red/blue anaglyph glasses.  You can pick up a nice pair of them for about 5 bucks on Amazon.

Now, imagine someday being able to go to Amazon and buy a similarly cheap pair of “augmented reality glasses.”  We’re probably about 20 years away from that day, but it will happen.  The first handheld cellphone cost $3,995.  Today, you can get one that fits in your pocket for $7.

Many of us (myself included) are working on the development of virtual worlds, both the underlying technology as well as figuring out innovative ways to use them.  I think the trick for all of us working with virtual worlds right now is to not only focus on building out the technology, but to also carefully think through how they might be integrated into our daily lives.  We still have many lessons to learn on how we can best use them to improve the world and augment our ability to deeply connect with other people.

The lessons we learn today will shape tomorrow.  So we must dream wisely.

What have you learned in your work with virtual worlds?  What are your dreams of the future?

10 thoughts on “Augmented Cities and Dreaming Wisely

  1. While I’m sure we’ll get this sort of technology before too terribly long, I’m concerned what it will do to people who are already terribly distracted. I see people at the office texting each other while they’re walking (well, really stumbling) down the hallways, walking along sidewalks, and driving their cars. What really stuns me is that people seem to be completely blind to the dangers of distraction. One coworker posted on my company’s internal blog about a little girl who had been run over by a driver who was texting; my coworker admitted that she texted and drove all the time and had no idea someone could get hurt while she wasn’t paying attention to what (or who) was in front of her 2,000 lb. car hurtling down the road.

    If we get this technology, people are going to have to be able to prioritize it and put it away when there is a risk to life and limb. I mean that both technologically and culturally. Right now, people are under tremendous pressure to remain connected at all times, and it seems to be without regard to safety. That’s got to change before we start bringing in more potential distractions.

    • Wonderful idea John! I shall try to join you aghtoulh 7pm is 7am Sunday morning for us here in NZ (and 5am in AUs I think!). Perhaps we can have the occasional antipodean friendly meet as I know of others who would love to participate in this. Looking forward to meeting you in JokaydiaGrid sometime soon. Arwenna Stardust from Goodstar, Jokaydia.

  2. Okay, Path, I’ll avoid tweaking you about the glasses.

    Certain augmented-reality applications would be a godsend on our farm. I imagine pulling up the chain-saw’s trouble-shooting tips on my safety goggles when the thing won’t fire up, instead of trudging 300 yards to the house and smearing the pages of a printed manual with grease. I can imagine using my fancy glasses, worn under my beekeeper’s veil, to get advice on the spot for detecting pathogens in our hives while I am doing inspections. Yet it could go too far.

    I could foresee a time when I’d use augmented reality from the seat of my 1952 Ford 8N tractor. I’d call up the weather-radar on my high-tech sunglasses, check the long-term forecast, then adjust the mowing-height of the bush-hog’s blade to compensate for the rainfall we’d expect in the ever-less predictable Central VA summers. Seeing that the tractor’s front right tire is low, I’ll check prices on replacement tubes from a bunch of vendors with replacement parts for antique farm equipment.

    I might even do a voice chat with a customer service rep as I mow, while apologizing for the noise from the old machine as I rev up to climb a hill.

    Provided I don’t drive into the drainage ditch while dickering over shipping costs and kill myself.

    Somehow mowing the field near the orchard, a solitary activity I love, just became less fun for me.

    In other words: time and place to be connected. My poor students never unplug.

    • I think a lot about kids who are growing up in a world where being unplugged is akin to being without electricity or indoor plumbing. Using technology wisely includes knowing when *not* to use it.

      Have you ever read “Feed” by M.T. Anderson? It’s a great piece of young-adult fiction that addresses this very issue. I think it should be required reading for all kids today.

    • Sorry I’m so late to this; thanks for the post! My work is mostly centred around urbanism, but this type of farm AR is really interesting.. for some reason it never occurred to me that people who live in relative solitude may also be adapted for hyper-connectivity.

  3. As you know from VWER last night…great minds 🙂 My class has long been scheduled to read the book. All of Henrico County VA’s high-school students read the book last year, which is how I found out about it and got to meet Anderson. He’s a wonderful writer and a dynamic speaker.

    We begin reading Feed next week, and bigmouth that I am, I’ll share reactions at the blog.

  4. Hmm, salgntery, I managed to get it working again lol — please disregard my previous message about that! It seems that a quick recompile with some extra debug messages and no code changes fixed the authentication… one wonders what the Mono compiler was up to :)HyperGrid is a bit shaky, though…

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