More than Reality; Augmented Reality

Remember when swarms of people were rushing through parks, causing traffic accidents, invading museums in a quest to capture invisible creatures? That was Pokemon Go,  an augmented-reality game that used your mobile phone to superimpose a layer of visible monsters on your smart phone. If you were under 30 it was a fun way to get out side with a bunch of people, if you were over 30 it was an incredible waste of time, and if you were over 60 (hi Mum!) you couldn’t understand it at all. Pokemon Go turned 1 year old last month.

So far Augmented Reality, and it’s big sister Virtual Reality, seem to be technologies looking for a purpose. But what if you could find a good use for them?

Social Issues

The BBC radio programme Click report on the use of Virtual and Augmented reality in the world of art and social conscious raising, it’s worth listening to, although not all that easy to imagine the art under discussion – it’s challenging our knowledge of history, relationships and empathy. They talk about some of the technical challenges of making the experiences work for international audiences.

Clouds over Sidra, is a Virtual reality film that aims to transport you to the experience of a refugee camp, and it was created by the UN to highlight the plight of refugees, now more numerous than ever.

There’s a an old adage that history is written by the victors, as a result the statues of the good and the great tend to be of white men. There are no statues of real women in New York’s central park – but 26 of men, and it’s the same pattern across the world. It will take generations to change this. In the meantime Y&R is bringing women into the landscape in an augmented reality app called “The Whole Story“. It’s a great way to be more aware of who is missing from the landscape, this is focused on the missing women of history, but the same technology could be used for unrecognised men. It could also be used to update the history of those great men who, in current times, aren’t viewed in quite the same light.

Medical Uses of Augmented Reality

(1) Training doctors on anatomy,  Microsoft has worked with their HoloLens product and medical experts to build a 3D interactive anatomically correct model to train students.

(2) Headsets using virtual reality could help visually-impaired people have independence, helping them navigate their way around cities even in low lighting.

(3) Using wearables to train surgeons in remote locations

(4) Performing surgery – remotely – already exists, but it’s only a matter of time before the surgeon’s experience becomes more virtual.

Advertising/Entertainment

There will be lots more  experimentation with advertising and entertainment uses of virtual or augmented reality, my favourite so far is this, from Pepsi. How freaked out would you have been if this had happened at your bus stop.

The equipment for virtual reality is expensive and clunky which keeps it in the realms of specialists for now, but augmented reality via your phone represents a real opportunity beyond catching Charmeleons and Venusaurs.

Externalities

CM2016_10_externalities.pngI did just one university course in economics and learning about externalities was pretty much my favourite thing. Suddenly it explained a bunch of things that are wrong with how consumerism works. I still see externalities behind a number of environmental, business and humanitarian issues. In fact globalisation and our use of digital make things worse rather than better.

A quick definition; an externality is a consequence of an economic activity experienced by someone else. The consequence could be positive or negative.

The most common example of a positive externality is the beekeeper who benefits from the neighbouring orchard. Since both parties need each other this seems closer to a symbiosis in biological terms but for the economists it counts as a positive externality.

A common example of negative externality is rubbish; in the above picture the rubbish has a negative impact on the environment, on any business relying on the environment. However the neither the producer of the containers, the restaurant packaging it’s food, nor the consumer making the purchase and dumping the packaging take responsibility for disposing of the rubbish and the cost of clearing it will probably fall to a government entity.

We, as a society, try to limit externalities by putting rules in place to limit the effect, and by providing services – well placed rubbish bins on a beach for example. All of which is funded by taxpayers. This more or less works on a local level.

Globalisation

On a global level it doesn’t work out so well.

My mobile phone was probably manufactured in China and used components or elements extracted in a dozen other countries. Some research indicates that up to 50% of the pollution from a phone production occurs at the first step. There’s a long and complicated chain of manufacture but I’m pretty sure zero eurocent of the amount I paid for the phone made its way back to the mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo where coltan.  (Oh wait, I paid nothing for my phone.)

Digital World

Our digital world is creating brand new externalities we haven’t thought about.

Yep, the Pokemon craze is laden with externalities, that’s why museums, locations, city councils, traffic controllershealthcare officials and governments are making a fuss.

In the Netherlands one tiny town, Kijkduin, has been somewhat over-run by Pokemon players, they’re trying to get Niantic to change the game to reduce the number of Pokemon in the town, they’ve found the numbers overwhelming, and there’s a risk to a neighbouring nature area. The town has already put up more toilets and rubbish bins to cope with the crowds. The cost of that is an externality. It’s a cost the small town is paying for the consequences of Niantic’s popular game.

If I were organising events in the town with such a large attendance I’d need a permit, there’d be a fee, and I’d be the one paying for security and clean up.

So when globalisation and digital collide the potential externalities grow, and right now we don’t seem to have a good way of handling them.
Image: Pollution 2  |  Kim Etherington  |  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0