One particular company I’m going to talk about today was absent, because it doesn’t market itself that way. Another company chose to launch its device front and center.
Both – or indeed either – of these companies are going to change the way we interact with the world forever. I’m talking, of course, about Google and their Glass, and Microsoft with their Hololens.
Beginning with the hololens, for the first time I can say we have something which doesn’t just pretend to be something decidedly cyberpunk that might exist – like various goggles, headsets, wearables and other implants we see regularly in the movies – but is something that does exist and will be purchasable off the shelf by anyone with enough cash.
All evidence points to it doing more or less exactly what I expect it to; it lets us in the real world interact with digital information in a relatively natural and organic manner. It overlays information and things from the digital world – including movies, music, information and (in the case of Minecraft) whole worlds – over our vision and lets us view and manipulate those things in real time.
I don’t know how well it will sell, not because it relies mostly upon infrastructure that I’m not sure the majority of people have or are entirely that used to using, but because it demands that we access and consume that data in an entirely new way, a way that doesn’t really have “off” in its lexicon. If they make the barrier to entry low enough, however, then it could jump-start a new phase of interaction not just with our hardware and software, but with each other.
The other side of this mostly two-pronged intrusion into the status quo comes from the gone-but-not-forgotten Google Glass.
Google’s offering was different in approach and in intent to Microsoft’s; where Microsoft wants to bring their technology into our homes and (presumably) workplaces in a very structured and centralized manner, demanding high-bandwidth access to our multimedia data with a very detailed, three-dimensional overlay, Google wants instead to bring the internet’s ability provide metadata and extra functionality nearer to us wherever we are, whatever we’re doing.
Microsoft wants to change the way we work and play, aiming their device squarely at the consumer and prosumer, as it were. Microsoft want to sell these headsets to Alice and Bob at home, as well as to Carol and David in the office. They want us to both work and relax wearing their headsets, getting more work done and having more fun in new ways.
Google, on the other hand, wants in on our every waking moment, hooking us up like first the phone then tablet did, and taking that next step. Google’s device was designed to be worn all the time, with a more practical approach to insinuating itself into our world by offering all the handy things (and more) we currently love via our phones and computers, but in an easily and always accessible fashion right in front of our eyes. Google’s glass was designed to be so basically useful all the time that we would soon not know how to live without it. I know the glass program more or less shut down, but you can bet any amount of money it’s not shuttered completely. It will re-emerge when the time (or some other company’s forays into a similar product) demands it. That time, I fully expect, will be very, very soon. Expect an announcement this year, and a product the next.
The thing is, as soon as you or I put on a pair of these goggles and start using them, we are adding a new sense to our world, and like sight, hearing, touch, taste or smell, I would not be at all surprised to find that removing that sense once accustomed to it would be just as daunting and unpalatable as removing any of the others.
That’s the scary thing, because if augmented reality takes off, it won’t be something that will ever go away, and people without it will be second class citizens. Just ask anyone about the democratizing power of the affordable mobile phone (complete with video camera linked to a global internet for disseminating things the powers that be would rather hide) and you can see why nobody is campaigning to remove them.
Well, nobody sane at least.
The only problem with phones – and this problem will be all the greater with AR – is how much personal data they not only store, but transmit.
Right now, our lives are lived on and through the internet and our phones, even for people in terribly remote, poor an under-developed places. If and when AR goes global – which I dare say will be long before 2020, starting next year – that connected, online, available, marketable life is only going to increase.
We’ve already entered an age where nobody gets lost, where everybody is available to be contacted all day, every day. We’ll soon be entering a new age, where everything we used to think about distance, knowledge and self are going to change utterly. We’ll soon be able to talk to anybody, anywhere, at any time, in any language. We’ll soon have perfect recall, incredible foresight and the heretofor godlike ability to remotely interact with people, objects and places far from us. And it will be normal.
Of course, the whole thing could prove to be a massive flop, google could decide to keep Glass shuttered and no other company could have the forethought to chase that dream, and the whole shebang could be put off another five or ten years.
But after that…