In this article I want to share a few thoughts about virtual worlds and augmented reality. Having embarked on a journey to build the next generation of tools for creating these virtual worlds, and the means for anchoring them so firmly in the physical world that they indeed become an augmentation of our shared reality, we at Auki Labs have spent many late nights pondering the inevitable coming of the next great human movement. But where are we now?
The Handheld Era
Apps like the massively successful Pokemon GO demonstrate our willingness to manifest virtual worlds in our reality, if not the technology to make the experience convincing. Month after month, and year after year, articles listing the greatest augmented reality applications must surely leave you wondering when the bright future of AR is coming?
Humanity has only one foot in the doorway. Even with all its limitations, augmented reality has captured our imagination. In this handheld era, AR is accessed through a digital looking glass offering us a narrow window into the augmented realm. We are limited in our ability to interact with both the Real and the Virtual, having only hand free for either.
In the handheld era of augmented reality, we are on the outside looking in, seeing the world through a narrow peephole with one hand always tied behind our back.
Our handheld devices have only a rough sense of their position in either world, and shared AR experiences are warped by the dissonant perception of each participant, and actual effort required to join them.
And yet we dream. The market is already estimated to have grown to well over 20 billion dollars annually.
The Wearable Era
In the next great era of augmented reality we will have opened the doors of perception and planted both feet firmly on the other side. With both hands free to interact with the real world, the barrier to entering virtual worlds is drastically lowered.
Primitive gesture tracking and simple single user applications gradually give way to more immersive and interactive experiences that can be shared with friends.
Networks of devices and people orient themselves in the virtual world together, and parts of the virtual world is starting to become persistently anchored in the real world. It is starting to become more meaningful to describe the technology as an actual augmentation of reality.
As people spend more time in the augmented world, we start adding the virtual to our identity. A market will spring up virtual fashion items and tattoos, for virtual neighbourhoods where our personal tastes for art and graffiti are sated, and tools to display the information about ourselves and others that we wish to form the basis of our identity.
Increasingly, how we are seen in these semi-virtual worlds becomes a reflection of how we see and express ourselves fully. Already today, in this social media era of humanity, our trans-human identities often include the body of media we have created, the followers we have, and the blue checkmarks next to our names.
The market for AR is estimated to reach 340 billion USD by the year 2028, and this year Microsoft signed a 22 billion dollar deal with the US Army, effectively doubling the current market size over night. The wearable era is not yet upon us, but we can already feel its rising tide rumbling under our feet.
The Integrated Era
Ultimately we will spend more time in the augmented world than we do in the information sparse desert we once felt comfortable calling reality.
Objects in the world are much more than just tactile and visual in the integrated era of augmented reality. New depths and dimensions of information and human emotion is projected onto the canvas of the augmented world.
Many virtual worlds are layered on top of each other and are firmly anchored and persistent, and people choose which layer of the world they wish to inhabit. Vast worlds of virtual real estate are bought and sold, creating a market bigger than that for physical space.
In a world where some small business owners make more on rendering virtual worlds and advertising in their physical space than from the product that they actually serve to their own customers, the question of who has the right to render what and where becomes one of the fundamental questions of morality, law and governance of this era.
Governments will surely rally to restrict the projection of virtual worlds in places where they pose risk of harm. What responsible government, after all, would allow for unregulated augmented reality to be rendered on our highways? Vast and complex protocols for shared absolute positioning and rendering will become necessary, and enormous amounts of hardware devices for the internet of things and the anchoring of the virtual will be deployed across the globe.
Owning the rendering rights for your physical body and for your property becomes a pressing a matter of human rights, and of class, echoing the old question of data ownership in our era.
In the integrated era of augmented reality, our own identity and how we view those around us is inextricably linked with the personas we have crafted for ourselves.
We have reshaped our civilization and have collectively embarked on a journey towards a new destiny for our species.
The word “market” no longer meaningfully captures the immense impact that augmented reality has on humanity.
Laying the foundations
I want to argue that the future of augmented reality is not speculative, but inevitable. We need not ask ourselves if this vision of humanity will come to pass, but rather what part we will play in its inception.
One day we will build and inhabit all the castles of the imagination, as once foretold by the American ethnobotanist and psychedelic visionary Terrence McKenna, and Auki is on a mission to lay their foundation.
We are building the protocols for this vision of the future by enabling instant, asynchronous joining of AR experiences and a persistent 3D positioning system with consensus protocols. Follow us here for more information.