The term “augmented reality” has come to permeate our everyday, tech-driven lives in the digital age. But what is it, exactly? Augmented reality is what is sounds like–the “heightening” of one’s perception of reality through the use of advanced technologies.
The Guardian explains it thusly: “The idea is straightforward enough: take a real-life scene, or (better) a video of a scene, and add some sort of explanatory data to it so that you can better understand what’s going on, or who the people in the scene are, or how to get to where you want to go.” The practice is already widely seen in sports, where commentators on sports show overlays on video recaps of athletic plays.
AR technology has even moved to smartphones; both the iPhone and the Google Android have the capability to overlay information on top of an image, or a video. That technology could have the ability to let users interact with their surroundings–virtually. CNet predicts that the following could happening no your mobile phone in the near future if you were to stand in front of a historical building:
“Facts and other information about the neighborhood and the people who lived there could be embedded onto the screen. And by clicking on an icon, you could hear audio, see video, or read text about what happened there. Other visitors could leave virtual comments about the tour. Maybe someone would leave a virtual note letting you know of a good pizza place a block away. That pizza joint might also insert an icon offering you a coupon.”
Augmented Reality is, of course, already being experimented with–particularly for advertising purposes. It’s already prevalent in online advertising, where search engines and social networks track your personal data–and your location–to better target ads for you. Recently, Tommy Hilfiger developed an augmented reality app that would allow users to “try on” the brand’s clothes through their phone as they pass by the store. And browsers like Layar and junalo tout themselves as “second eyes” that users can use to unlock hidden secrets about the world.
AR-equipped devices are usually combined with GPS so that the phone’s AR map is “location aware,” though other technologies like digital cameras, radio-frequency identification, and/or optical sensors can be used, as well. As you might imagine, concerns about privacy are often cited in this field. For example, what happens when you can be “geotagged” without your consent? If someone chooses to geotag your home (maybe it’s a really valuable historical artifact, for example) other people, possible intruders, can see personal, secure details of your home quite easily. It’s possible that in the future, augmented reality apps may become so advanced–and mainstream–that it may be possible for someone to point a mobile phone at you and pull up your criminal data, credit score, or other personal details.
As this article in Gigaom points out, “augmented reality” may just be a euphemism for “future invasion of privacy.” The technology is already in rapid development; who knows how much information may be available about you on other people’s phones in five years?