According to Hindu scriptures, God does not create this world. He simply made all creatures aware of it. Awareness leads to discovery. Discovery is creation. 
– Devdutt Pattanaik (myth = mithya)

I find this an interesting thought to entertain. After all what we see is only a perspective and even when we claim to have seen something from different perspectives, those perspectives are after all ours. How do we as a species augment our existence?

We already live in a world of illusions.

We have started experiencing a major part of our lives through little portals we call computers. These portals are available under a variety of different names; laptops, iPads, smartphones, smart watches, smart speakers, etcetera etcetera. Even then, there seems to be a barrier between us and our technology. We cannot physically interact with what’s there on the other side. The idea of augmenting reality brings an interesting promise and could possibly be a fundamental shift in how we interact with our computers.

A common definition of Reality (AR) is of a digital overlay on top of the real world. The digital overlay may consist of 3D graphics, text, video, audio and other multimedia formats.

The above is a 1997 definition of AR and is only it’s first wave. This definition however, seems to be an oversimplification of this fundamental shift in Human Computer Interaction (HCI). It rests on the idea that AR only supplements reality, but what if it becomes one? What if it enables you to switch between multiple realities? The ‘real’ real, the ‘augmented’ real and a ‘parallel/virtual’ real.

We already live in a world of illusions.

AR’s evolution

We have made great strides in image recognition, machine learning, 3D graphics optimization and a whole host of other technical challenges to have the first wave of AR within hands reach. Most of us have seen a 3D architectural model of a building in an AR environment being showcased as the pinnacle of AR’s potential. This is only the beginning.

If the first wave of AR was all about overlaying an accurate representation of digital artifacts in the physical environment, the next wave would be about these digital artifacts being contextually relevant. For example, if I am reading about frog anatomy, then a first wave AR experience would be an accurate representation of the frog and it’s anatomy. An evolved experience would be showing me a representation that is adapted to my persona. For a layman like me, it would show me a simpler model, while for a medical student it could show a much more detailed one. The experience could also show me an engineer’s perspective on the frog anatomy where it uses engineering terminologies to label organs and systems. The system adapts itself to my learning style and maybe uses what I learnt about frogs when teaching me about dinosaurs.

Context would be key in the next wave. Your AR experience would be defined by the information that the system collects/refers to via social media, wearables, sensors, Internet of Things (IOT), physical and internet history. This would enable a deeper sense of immersion with our machines, our environment and other humans.

The world is our target

Early AR experiences were centered around 3D objects being placed on printed patterns known as markers. These were mainly used for motion capture in films. From there we moved to face recognition where our faces became the target (thanks Snapchat!). Microsoft’s Kinect enabled our bodies to become the target. A lot of recent smartphone camera based AR removes the need for a multitude of sensors. A horizontal or vertical surface becomes the target of these AR experiences. In a matter of a few decades, we moved from patterns on paper to the environment as the target for our AR experiences. Soon these environments will become intelligent and the world will be our target.

The other side

The most common ideas around AR have been centered around visual systems in smartphones or smart glasses. They still require us to experience the augmented world through these glass windows. But that’s not how you interact with the real world. In the real world, you can open these windows and touch, hear, smell or even taste what’s on the other side. The next stage of AR evolution would be enhancing and augmenting all our senses or even discovering new ones. We have already begun doing this with voice interfaces thus enabling us to interact with computers much more naturally. Interweaving the physical and digital so seamlessly that it almost feels like magic.

We already live in a world of illusions.

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