What impact will Augmented Reality and Machine Vision have on our Imagination?

Augmented Reality and Machine Vision are the two technologies that are poised to change how we interact with the world and each other. AR relies on machine vision to be able to place digital pictures, videos, and objects in the real world. We are on the verge of changing our relationships and finally bridging the gap between the digital and physical worlds. So how will these technologies change our interactions?

AR could negatively impact creativity. As a kid I remember reading books and using the words to vividly imagine different characters. As ashamed as I am to admit it I also had imaginary friends that were a component of my imagination based on those same books. With AR we will need to rely less on our imaginations because we will be able to actually see and picture characters and objects the way the original artist imagined. What are we losing in childhood development if that crucial part of imagination and growth is no longer needed? On the flip side we could see an explosion in creativity now that artists will be able to digitally create stunning pieces in 3D (what happens when you vandalize another artists 3D artwork?).

AR will enhance immersion and reduce bias. AR and Machine Vision will make venturing out of the house a more immersive experience. For example, imagine picking up your favorite package and seeing a video of how it was made. Information and real world context will be imbedded into all experiences. While there is a case to be made that this could make the real world more confusing as people aren’t sure what’s real and fake, there is also a case to be made that having the opportunity to be more informed about the things and people around them outweighs that potential negative. For example, in a networking scenario lack of information is what causes us to rely on bias. By providing info about individuals, we would judge people less on their exterior appearance and more on who they are and what they bring to the table (this was the original goal of Magnet and why I became interested in these technologies).

AR will enhance human collaboration. AR will be critical in the fields of medicine and maintenance. Using AR to overlay instructions on a person or object that requires care or maintenance will allow and spread human expertise in a way that we haven’t really seen yet. Machine Vision for example could be used to diagnose or predict disease or injuries and AR could be used to help less educated or people in developing countries learn about treating and caring for the impacted individual.

For AR to take off we need a few critical things to happen. First, we need for batteries to continue to become more energy dense (and computers to become more powerful/smaller) as AR can be computationally intensive. Secondly, we need the coming smart glasses revolution to begin developing user friendly and aesthetically pleasing devices. Finally, and most importantly we need to think about privacy in a world where we can see context in every situation. We are learning on the Machine Vision side that computers can detect some things about people that they may not wish to disclose (i.e. sexuality). Machine Vision combined with AR could usher in a world where there is even less privacy and your past follows you around (literally and visually). Black Mirror and Altered Carbon have both shown some of the negatives around machine vision and AR in terms of information following people around or them losing track of what’s real and what’s fake. But having said that, Machine Vision and AR have the potential to improve our connectedness and understanding but we need to usher this world in with caution. We can do this by thinking and designing to minimize the effects of unintended consequences.