I predict a tremendous augmented reality industry is waiting to emerge. This industry will dwarf today’s software and computing industries and become one of the most influential technological shifts yet experienced by our civilization. With this technology in place, users could simply obtain different program modules and plug them into their standard augmented reality hardware systems. Available programs would certainly include:
- Educational: Personal coaches, trainers and teachers enhance the knowledge of users through demonstrations, conversations and enactments.
- Entertainment: Augmented reality systems offer unprecedented opportunities for entertainment. Imagine interactive theatrical presentations, augmented multiplayer gaming, “fly-through” movies, and other similar applications.
- Mental health: Virtual mental health consultants can help users face and overcome challenging situations such as conversations with relatives, public speaking, relationships with the opposite sex and many others.
- Reference: A virtual reference library would allow users to physically explore areas of interest by moving through a projected knowledge set and picking out images, movies, sounds or text.
- Computer / human interfaces: Augmented reality opens up a whole new world of possibilities in computer / human interfaces. There’s much more on this in a later section, but consider the possibility that a computer could potentially be located anywhere in your environment. Your living room wall could be rendered as a giant 2D display, or your back yard could become a giant interlinked Internet search result set that you could explore at will.
- Personal environment enrichment: Don’t like your office environment? Add plants, waterfalls, and hummingbirds to your office with the “sounds of nature” software module. Is your significant other unbearably ugly? Overlay their natural face with any character you want with the “augmented people” module. Want to bring a relative back from the dead and tell them something? Plug in the “reborn relatives” module and chat with them in your living room. The possibilities are endless.
Hopefully, you see the potential for this sort of technology in terms of uplifting humanity. The examples I’ve mentioned here barely scratch the surface.
The dangers of augmented reality
Yet this technology shares something in common with television: TV was originally thought to be a tremendous tool for education and learning, but in reality it became little more than a propaganda machine and a promoter of commercial consumption that ultimately decreased the quality of life for most people (just witness today’s epidemics of obesity and diabetes, largely caused by aggressive soft drink marketing and unbridled consumerism). Augmented reality technology holds the potential to be the darkest, most powerful system for mass control of the population ever invented. If people use augmented reality systems to tune in to experiential broadcasts created by corporations and centralized governments, the result will likely be a system approaching “total mind control.” If advertisers and governments can project anything they want into a person’s immediate environment and make it seem real, there is no limit to the control that could be exercised over the general public.
Infants could be brought up in “augmented reality schools” and literally brainwashed into accepting practically any interpretation of history or current events that the program controllers desired, for example.
Let this be a warning. Like many technologies, augmented reality holds both tremendous creative potential and a truly horrifying potential for abuse. Augmented reality can either enslave the world, or it can set it free.