Is Augmented Reality the Next Big Tech Platform

Is Augmented Reality the Next Big Tech Platform

Prompt: Kelly, who was the founding editor of Wired, calls AR the “next big tech platform.” Do you really believe this? Be critical!

Abstract I don't believe AR is the next big tech platform or will be at any point. AR / VR is closer to an interface medium as opposed to a key piece of technology or platform. I believe that AR / VR will become an important medium of human computer interaction but will not become a preferable alternative to the real world in the way that Kelly has described. Even if it were to do so the technological underpinnings that make it possible would be much more critical and significant breakthroughs which Augmented and Virtual Reality techniques will overlay.

Introduction

Kelly describes the mirrorworld as a 1:1 3D model of physical reality in the digital space that behaves exactly like it's real world counterpart in terms of its context, meaning, form and function. Powered by a host of technologies, key among them being Augmented Reality, everything will eventually have a digital twin and in this mirror world we will be able to manipulate those twins and experience them like we do things in the real world. As a result, overtime, we will increasingly prefer the mirrorworld to our reality.

Problem 1 - The mirrorworld would, at best, will be an approximation for our reality (and their corresponding digital twins)

For the mirrorworld to be a virtual replication of our reality our understanding of reality would have to be exhaustive. Failing that, the mirrorworld will not be a replication of our reality but an approximation of it bounded by our own understanding.

To create the kind of mirrorworld that Kelly has described we would need to develop a complete understanding of our current world and create a real-time simulation of that replica. Each object, animate or inanimate, will have its corresponding digital twin with real time synchronisation. Every car on the street. Every person on the planet. Every fish in the sea. Whether known or known.

Here's something to consider. Could we discover new species? Could we explore uncharted areas or territories perhaps underneath the oceans. Would each species or star have it's digital twin perfectly mapped to its real life counterpart?

Not only are there limits to our understanding but there are limits to computation. There's an upper bound on what can be simulated in the mirror world and how closely it'll mirror our reality. Failing to be a complete substitute for reality there'll always be a case for us to exist in the real world more so than the virtual.

Problem 2 - Augmented Reality is less of a technology and more of an interface. Technologies described that underpin it would be much more significant in terms of impact

Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality are more akin to interface techniques as opposed to a key piece of standalone technology. They are based on the idea of a "head-up" display that provides information as annotations over the visual mode of perception. The interface techniques enhance the the visual sense. In that regard AR is closer to a Graphical User Interface than, for example, the internet.

Even if we were to succeed in creating a mirrorworld in the way Kelly has described, the technologies that underpin the creation of the mirrorworld would be much more significant in terms of their importance and impact. The examples highlighted about NASA or General Electric's Digital twins would be just as relevant if we interfaced with them using a screen, for example.

Consider Michael Forzano who works as a programmer at Amazon. His current experience of interacting with his computer has some parallels to the idea of adding an annotation overlay to some of the 5 senses. The computer describes possible modes of interaction using sound. Michael can then interact with the computer using voice commands or his keyboard which has enhanced tactile feedback (braille). His mode of interaction is different from a programmer who can visually see code. They both, however, can code and function as software engineers.

In much the same way, the engineering and innovation required to make data seamless, accessible and actionable for them to be usable in an AR / VR context would also be applicable in other modes of human computer interaction

Problem 3 - Augmented Reality is only accessible over the Visual Sense and further distances us from reality

This also highlights another limitation of Augmented / Virtual Reality. Who would they be accessible to? Michael Forzano can interact with an object. Touch it, feel it and sense it based on texture, temperature, and malleability etc. Would all of those senses, for him and us, be the exact same or would they be lost in translation?

Or would we continue to sacrifice all the tactile richness to interact with an approximation of reality?

Conclusion

In summary, the case laid out for AR being the next big tech platform is overly optimistic. Unlike the other platforms touted such as the internet or even social media, Augmented Reality's limitations include an inability to realistically realise the vision presented by Kelly, its nature as interface technique which limits its own significance as an independent piece of technology and limits accessibility for those. These are only the surface level of problems without even delving into the problems of the zero-sum vision proposed of Augmented Reality and the myriad physiological, privacy and security implications that further weaken the case for Augmented Reality being the next big tech platform.