Ian Hughes – Senior Analyst IoT, 451 Research, Sci-fi Author epredator, Doctor of Technology (Hons)

At 451 Research we often cite the view that Augmented Reality (AR) is the user interface for the Internet of Things (IoT). AR is driven by the requirements of a physical view of the world as much as by the digital data it delivers. Instrumented things, like pumps, factory plant, vehicles and even people have a data story to tell in situ. Anything with a dial, a screen or a pulse may have some data that might be better displayed in a mixed or augmented reality mode. Us industry analysts spend a lot of time on the road visiting conferences and having briefings from hundreds of people during the year and it would be really beneficial for my glasses to feed me some extra information about who I was talking to and what we said last time. That may sound lazy, it is a part of the job to understand and remember, but little memory prompts, like when and where we last met would enhance the conversation on both sides. I wanted to look a little further into the future than this relatively simple use case though, it is the new year and predication time after all.

It’s a set-up.

There is a great deal of concern and discussion over the nebulous term fake news which is powered by our two-dimensional interactions with print, radio, TV, social media and the web being gamed by those seeking to alter public opinion. The approach is often subtle, much more nuanced than dropping propaganda leaflets over a population. This gaming of the system requires that enough people are engaged with the medium in order to influence those who are not. What happens when we end up at a full Augmented Reality viewed world?

Can you believe your eyes and ears?

It will not be long before a suitable form factor arrives, just as the smartphone suddenly did over a decade ago, that changes how we see and interact with information. There will not be one single way, just as Apple and Android compete, but a degree of generic function will be in place. Whether we call it Augmented, Mixed, Cross or Blended Reality (AR/MR/XR/BR) we will see and hear (and possible feel, touch and smell) digital altered versions of elements of the world around us. Early AR was based on detecting an image or known marker and using that as a reference point adds digital data. Newer AR does this by detecting the entire 3D space, surfaces, corners etc. and adds data based on this sensing. Mixing the two means that we can computational identify an object in view and use it as a reference point. Not only as an anchor but also gives the ability to completely replace what that object looks like. Whilst this may seem a frivolous example, Modiface’s Virtual Nail Salon lets users try different nail varnish colours by looking at the live video of their hands through their iPhone screen, it detects the fingernails and recolours them in real time. The user’s fingernails are no longer visible to them. MergeVR has a palm sized cube, a complicated multisided AR marker. With its applications the foam cube is replaced in view with digital imagery, such as a full Rubik’s Cube. The foam physical cube is completely out of view and the user is left seeing and holding a Rubik’s Cube that they can rotate and look at each side whilst rotating the held marker cube. A tactile interaction as well as a visual one is very powerful.

Let’s jump a few years forward, you look at anything, a face, a billboard, a street, a piece of text in a book, an old photo what will you actually be looking at? AR can replace anything in view, and you use it all the time. It seems highly likely that view of the world can be gamed by things such as advertising or as we have seen with nation state interference in subtle ways. We know that the quality of image manipulation not just in static images but in video has rapidly become imperceivably to the human eye and the time taken to do that processing is dropping. We can’t believe what we read now, and we can’t believe what we see in an AR powered world? A dystopian hell descends upon us.

It’s not all bad though

When someone like a politician tells you something its often a good idea to go and check with some other sources. Some TV news has started to have near-live fact checking appear between political interviews. Assuming we are not in a fully state controlled Orwellian nightmare our AR devices, like our other feeds of information can come from many different sources. Our tech can provide a kind of truth overwatch, should we choose to use it. Any image, soundbite or experience may well be double or triple checked in real-time to help us validate and have more confidence in what we are dealing with. Think of all those film plots where our hero asks a question of the potential bad guy, who then says he served in a certain regiment during a certain battle, our hero knows that regiment wasn’t at that battle. Education, and cross referencing any data helps us keep the truth in the right place, so bring it on!