Mark Warburton (Global) - Passing the Baton - From Virtual to Augmented Reality - Part 2

AR can also be used for complex tasks in the industrial sector - mainly to improve assembly and maintenance processes. Even medical surgery can provide avenues for superimposing imaging data; it can superimpose a MRI scan on the patient's body, or help a surgeon locate a tumor that is to be removed. AR has also been used in navigation, military operations and emergency services. Night visuals of raids as far back as the 80s show the HUD style info on strategic bombing footage. Even some of the less obvious uses of AR will provide significant help. In the studies of hydrology, ecology, and geology, AR can be used to display manipulable analysis of terrain features. The analysis of these topologies via AR provides the user with an almost ‘x-ray eyes' type freedom.

The future of AR (and the danger of ‘Hyper Reality')

It is should be fairly clear by now that AR provides a number of extremely useful applications to the individual and society. However, there is a danger that AR can impoverish our experience of the world if it becomes an all-embracing technology. Cultural forms of representation are already ‘simulated' via television and the Internet. The French theorist, Jean Baudrillard, believed that an increase in the manipulation of reality could lead to an inability for us to distinguish between reality and a mediated reality. With a technology like AR, its augmentation (at least when it is being used as an advertising or cultural-social-orientated tool) has the power to radically distort the primacy of an experience. Of course the biggest concern here is that an unmediated reality (what we see by default) will be demoted as an inferior experience. The emotional and stimulated response that is attached to what we normally see could well be threatened.

Additionally, AR (outside of its purely technical uses) could place more emphasis on team activities or group learning. If a danger of advanced technology is the physical separation of people, then relatively new technologies should emphasize co-operative aspects at the very least. Another factor worth considering is the ‘artificiality' of AR when combining it with artist merit. If AR uses audio manipulation, isn't this another nail in the coffin of authentic artistry? Can enhanced concert and theatre performances with additional loops, artist support, etc. really be called a genuine (receptive) artistic experience or an interactive, (heavily mediated) experience? This aesthetic dilemma has already been touched on in similar debates on whether web and digital art is art.

Regardless of these reservations, the costs of mobile and computer devices are falling (especially wireless ones, iPhones etc.). This means that AR-equipped devices will become more powerful and increasingly widespread. As computing hardware approaches standardization, new opportunities for emergent technologies will look to AR's lead in enriching individuals' experiences of objects and places. Potentially AR could play a part in enhancing education across the curriculum. By exposing students to an experiential, explorative, and authentic model of learning early in their higher education careers, AR could help shift modes of learning from students simply being recipients of content to their taking an active role in gathering and processing information with a relative degree of autonomy.

By Mark Warburton, editorial assistant, IDG Connect



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