Article

What is augmented reality?

Mar 8, 2019

Imagine a world where you see the price of any item hovering above it or even someone’s personal information in a menu beside their head as you meet for lunch. You would never forget a name or a birthday. These are examples of augmented reality (AR). AR is a new tool that utilizes various forms of artificial intelligence (AI) to capture and process data from a host of cameras to reconstruct our homes, offices, and public spaces in the digital space.

The uses of AR go far beyond games like the popular Pokemon Go, and into the most personal spaces of our lives. Many companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Apple are already working on wearable technology, i.e., AR headsets that are sleek and seek to blend in with everyday life. There are countless startups throughout the world, especially in China and the U.S., who are seeking to be the first to capitalize on this revolution.

The mirrorworld

You probably already have access to AR, also know as a “mirrorworld,” through your smartphone, but soon your glasses might give you a new way to look at the world around you. Mirrorworld is a term popularized by Yale computer scientist David Gelernter to describe a new dimension or layer of the physical world that we are currently building online. The digital world mirrors the physical world that you interact with each day, but it also provides new features and the ability for you to manipulation your surroundings.

The goal of the technology is to usher in a new way of interacting with the world where you have constant access to information without the need to pick up your phone or tablet. The world of the internet merges with the physical world to open up what many are calling a new dimension to reality. Recently, even the behemoth General Electric recast itself as a “digital industrial company,” which it defines as “the merging of the physical and digital world.” This merging is at the heart of AR.

A (new) world

Kevin Kelly, founding editor of WIRED, writes in a cover story for the magazine about this mirrorworld and how AR will fundamentally change how we interact with one another. He describes the web as the first digital platform where the world’s information was digitized, social media as the second where people were digitized, and how AR is the third platform that will complete the digitization of the physical world.

Using some of the new features of your smartphone gives glimpses into this mirrorworld. Amazon and Wayfair incorporated the technology into their apps, allowing you to place an item, such as a piece of furniture or a toy, in your home to see how it would look. You might decide that the rug you liked was too large as you walk around in real-time, so the app will recommend a different version, creating myriad marketing and sales opportunities. Sally Huang, head of visual technologies at Houzz, said, “It's about helping people overcome the imagination gap when it comes to purchasing furniture online."

How does it work?

Simply put, AR technology works by utilizing cameras to recreate the world around us, albeit digitally. We use cameras every day to capture all sorts of video content. AI takes uses this video and image data to analyze and distinguish between objects, such as your living room furniture and your dog. Once this data is processed, a map is created that allows objects to be digitally placed in real time into your home, office, or yard.

This is similar to how self-driving car technology functions, enabling a robot to interact with the surrounding environment. AI drives the ability of these AR devices to be functional for everyday users. As I have written previously, this is yet another way that AI is propelling so much of the technological development in our world today.

What does AR mean for you?

Like any piece of technology, there are tangible benefits for users. Having information at a moment’s notice can allow us to make better decisions. AR is already revolutionizing the way that we work by giving remote workers digital offices with countless screens and allowing them to be more connected. This technology can also be used in manufacturing by virtually showing repair manuals or displaying expert help. It can also be used in medicine to give doctors and nurses additional information in surgery or routine medical care. Access to this data could change the way we interact with one another.

But there will be downsides and abuses of the technology for sinful gain as well. Recently, Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella had to defend his company’s partnership with the Department of Defense to develop AR HoloLens technology for the training and development of soldiers. Many at the company raised concerns about how this technology could be used in weapon systems, saying that they didn’t want to participate in lethal weapon development. AR will soon be incorporated into every area of our lives, whether we are prepared or not.

One of the issues that needs to be talked about more is the ubiquity of pornography and how AR will deepen the lie of temporary sexual fulfillment. This will continue to destroy our real-world relationships. Virtual reality (VR) has already begun to do this; while VR porn transports you to your neighbor’s bedroom to fulfill your fantasies, AR will transport your neighbor into your bedroom, exacerbating the controlling and self-gratifying nature of pornography. In a world already saturated with pornography, AR will combine the effects of AI and VR in ways that we can’t imagine.

The mirrorworld of AR is here and is going to revolutionize the way we interact with the world and one another. As Christians, we must pursue all technological development through the framework of wisdom. Our calling is to prepare well so that we can proclaim that no amount of technology will usher in a utopian future of pure ecstasy, nor will it fundamentally change anything about human nature. If we use this technology wisely, we will be able to love our neighbor better rather exploiting them for personal gain.

Jason Thacker

Jason Thacker serves as creative director and associate research fellow at ERLC. In his role as creative director, he oversees all creative projects including design, video, web, audio, and print media.  His new book, The Age of AI: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity,... Read More