Be warned. There’s a patent on that behaviour
If we’re letting software control our lives through all the hardware we’re wearing, will that mean that one day we’ll experience the consequences of software patents while doing our daily activities?
There’s a patent war going on. Day by day we’re seeing new black and white sketches on our social media timelines revealing inventions for our future world. The general response is often wildly enthusiastic. In the imagination people have the inventions in their hands already, even though the announced products are far from being a consumer product yet and some never make it to being released at all. Companies argue that the patent mechanism is a requirement to operate a bussiness, either selling the product or selling the patents. Companies labeled “patent trolls” focus on dealing fictional patents only, never with the intention to produce an actual product.
It’s a playing field of big bussinesses and it seems to be relevant for those working in the hi-tech world only, but the current stream of patent filings apply to us, humans, and these patents are going to have a profound impact on our the way we live our life because the way AR manifests itself is about to change. Many of the recent patent filings on AR are meant for a future in which we’re wearing augmented reality headsets, not viewing AR through a smartphone screen. AR might move on from being “a gimmick” as it has been called for a decade, but it is going to define the way we see the world and interact with objects and other people.
Devices like Google Glass, the Microsoft HoloLens and the upcoming Apple AR product all connect to the cloud to show us annotations in augmented reality about what we’re seeing and instructions on what to do.
But are these devices also going to tell us what -not- to do? Because either the cloud we’re connected to doesn’t own the related patents or is not willing to pay for them? Human behaviour cannot be patented, but robot behaviour can be . What about the semi-digital beings we’re slowly becoming with the increasing amount of technical devices we’re keeping close to our body? Our smartphones, wearables and smartwatches alerting us when there’s an occasion to put on our AR or VR headsets.
We are the robot of the future. But what about patents applicable to our semi-digital behaviour, steered by instructions appearing in augmented reality? Perhaps our behaviour will not be blocked, but certain features or instructions could be missing from our interfaces. I once looked up the reason why I could not search for an app on the homescreen of my Samsung phone: a patent by Apple. Losing some features is not what the big companies will worry about, and it’s only slightly annoying for us as consumers. But the current series of patents in augmented reality will define the limitations we’ll experience during our interactions in the real world. Some say patents are a sign of innovation and a requirement to operate a bussiness, others say the contrary, arguing that patents are blocking innovation. This might be the case for bussiness, but it might be the case for individuals too. In the age of AR, will it mean that those of us connected to Microsoft cloud will be able to do tasks, and people wearing the Apple AR wearable will be obstructed to do it in the same efficient way?
It’s clear that augmented reality patents are going to have a major influence our life as semi-digital humans. That makes the current craze of filing AR patents relevant not only for the tech community, but for all people wearing a smart device in front of their eyes.
The concept video at the top of this page shows an augmented reality Hololens app informing a user about a (partly fictional) patent. The aim of developing the prototype is to experience and explore such a future scenario, in search of preemptive solutions to these preemptive worries.
Sander Veenhof, januari 2017