ANAI9155. October 11, 2019.
The twenty-first century has seen progress of technology like no other, from accessing virtual worlds on compact personal computers to gaming on borderless touch screen smartphones that mix realities ‘just for fun’. However, as Žižek very poetically states “Ideology is the original augmented reality”; the origin of this kind of technology leads back to the early nineteenth century with a device as modest as a piece of wood with holes in it that trick your eyes into believing two separate 2D images as one three-dimensional image instead (Wolinsky, 2018). More interestingly though, is how over the last two hundred years, as augmented reality (AR) technology advanced, the purpose of the products itself varied from entertainment to government level functionality. From giving you an experience of riding a motorcycle in a virtual version of New York city, to testing out dangerous military related scenarios.
As of today, we still see inconsistencies in the purpose of AR technology but there is an additional debate with regards to the ethics behind the idea and the tools. The industry is set to grow by more than US$140billion by 2023, and as we explore who benefits from advancing AR technology in social and cultural terms, there is no doubt that what is in the best interest of the public is exploring who benefits from this politically and economically (Statista, 2019). According to an infographic shared by ValueWalk, the expected number of AR devices to be in use by 2022 are 3.5billion, and with nearly half the world’s population giving away sensitive information to access these tools, ethical considerations need to be made (Woinsky, 2018).
What is Augmented Reality?
It is relatively difficult to categorise the various artificial experiences that have been established recently into the terms that were developed a few decades ago. However, to best describe augmented reality, we could look at the term ‘augmented’, which in simple terms is the interaction of the real world (physical objects) and computer simulated graphics (Liberati, 2016). Another version of aritificially created reality that is often misrepresented as the same thing is virtual reality (VR), but this is quite distinguishable from AR as VR creates an alternate version of reality where computer generated information can act separate to the real world with absolutely zero relation. Contrastingly, AR tries to merge the computer-generated information into our world without duplication and instead just have one representation of reality with the two forms of objects, both physical and digital (Liberati, 2016).
Marker-based, Markerless, Projection based, and Superimposition based are the four types of augmented reality. What all these have in common is their ability to add computer generated information or visuals onto your device’s screen by using the camera lens as a canvas. They all have different purposes such as the Marker-based AR’s ability to make a poster or magazine come to life (Dakić, 2019).
Augmented Reality through the years
Although ideas regarding augmented reality might have existed prior to 1968, the year marked the first ever wearable piece of AR and VR technology. Ivan Sutherland was responsible for the piece of technology, but it could be seen as nothing more than a conceptual design since the computing technology was not advanced enough at the time. After the advancements in general computing technology, 1992 saw the introduction of the term “augmented reality”, coined by Tom Caudell and David Mizell (Arth et al., 2015).
“overlaying computer-presented material on top of the real world” – Tom Caudell and David Mizell defining the term ‘Augmented Reality’
After 1992, the industry saw minor changes over the years which ultimately led to AR dedicated devices ready for the general consumer. Several companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and Motorola (eventually acquired by Google) integrated AR technologies into their already existing product lines (Arth et al., 2015). Smart watches and the Google Glass were part of the newly featured products that would appeal to a general consumer base, with hopes to introduce the public to the world of alternate realities. The industry began to thrive after 2012, where major acquisitions occurred such as Facebook purchasing Oculus (the largest virtual reality company) for $2 billion and HTC’s consumer grade headset known as ‘Vive’ being released in limited quantities (Arth et al., 2015). The industry eventually grew into what it is today through the shift in integrating AR and VR technology into smartphones.
There are now numerous applications for AR with a variety of developers working on the technology. The technology has become so advanced, the military rely on integrating augmented reality headsets into their load-outs. The military relies on AR’s ability to enhance situational awareness of soldiers by providing greater levels of immersion. The technology is also being used to simulate battlefield scenarios to better prepare soldiers. According to a Visiongains report, the Military AR market had an estimated spending of $1.4 billion in 2018 (Visiongain, 2018).
Sourced from: YouTube, 2017.
However, the technology is not limited to just functionality, it provides entertainment and social cohesiveness through shared interests.
Pokémon GO as a case study
One popular application that takes advantages of AR features is Pokémon GO. The application transformed the way individuals interact with their smartphones through a game that rewards you for going on a stroll. A game that recreates several individual’s imaginations as children and turns it into a reality, to some degree at least. This application is the perfect candidate for any study that attempts to analyse how AR technology would act as a mass market product in a technologically driven society. Although the main focus here is a video game that capitalises on AR enabled smartphones, the software itself gives us insight into the economic benefits that the technology could provide. Developed and published by US based software developers, Niantic, the smartphone-based game was released to the public in 2016 with over a billion users, generating more than US$3billion in revenue (Superdata, 2019).
This capital gain occurred through several methods of in-game digital marketing. Businesses formed strategic partnerships with Niantic that would generate user activity at their stores in return for an actual space in the real world that acts as a virtual zone which enhances the user experience in the game. An example of this is how around three thousand stores across Japan, owned by McDonald’s, were designated gym’s that Pokémon users could visit and interact with. Furthermore, monetary rewards such as free coupons and discounts were rewarded to users when they would visit these “Pokégyms”. (Wu & Stilwell, 2018). However, the debate on the ethics of this scheme comes in play when the truth about how Niantic actually measures all of this data in order to ensure the right people are being paid. Niantic tracks the user’s individual location data in order to find out whether or not they have visited the sponsored stores (Morrison, 2016). This is a major invasion of privacy and businesses are exploiting the excitement and uniqueness that augmented reality brings to a user in order to get a pay-out that speaks for itself.
It was also reported that there were several other privacy issues with regards to the application. According to a news story by the Independent, players are required to allow the developers unlimited access to the user’s google account which is necessary to play the game. The user-agreement included access to all sorts of irrelevant data such as their mail (Griffin, 2016). This applied for location data tracking as well, which means, you either agree to sell your data, or you will not receive your $5 discount at McDonald’s.
Aside from the economic success of the handheld game, the title had a significant cultural impact, creating a community out of something so unique and nostalgic. Despite large corporations benefiting from Niantic’s business model, local businesses such as pizzerias and cafes were a place where numerous gamers would stop by for in game activities that connected a virtual world with reality (Mosendz & Kawa, 2016). The AR experience truly connected individuals with common interests, while bringing in legitimate revenue to local businesses all through an application that combines gaming culture with other aspects of society. At the small price of selling your location data, augmented reality does contribute to making society a little more cultured than it already is.
It is without a doubt impressive what has come of technology over the last century, in fact over the last decade. There is however a blurred line separating economic and social benefits; Whether the incentive to advance AR technology was for capital gain, military power or purely for the sake of making society a little more exciting than it already is.
With the AR industry set to be worth over US$100 billion, we must take into account the positives it has provided society, from improving the state of our military, getting individuals to actually take a walk, improving local businesses, and overall bringing something truly unique and exciting at the cost of nothing out of the ordinary.
Arth, C., Grasset, R., Gruber, L., Langlotz, T., Mulloni, A., & Wagner, D. (2015). The history of mobile augmented reality. Ithaca: Cornell University Library, arXiv.org. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.library.usyd.edu.au/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy1.library.usyd.edu.au/docview/2083790907?accountid=14757
Dakić, M. (2019). Powerful Augmented Reality in Mobile. Retrieved 11 October 2019, from https://medium.com/datadriveninvestor/augmented-reality-in-mobile-59a7398f30df
Griffin, A. (2016). If you’ve played Pokemon Go, your emails are probably public. Retrieved from: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/gaming/pokemon-go-privacy-security-gmail-email-messages-safe-read-login-signup-a7131756.html
Liberati, N. (2016). Augmented reality and ubiquitous computing: The hidden potentialities of augmented reality. AI & Society, 31(1), 17-28. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy1.library.usyd.edu.au/10.1007/s00146-014-0543-x
Ltd, V. (2018). ‘Global Military Augmented Reality (MAR) Market Worth $1.40 Billion in 2018’ Says Visiongain Report. Retrieved from: https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2018/10/25/1626968/0/en/Global-Military-Augmented-Reality-MAR-Market-Worth-1-40-Billion-in-2018-Says-Visiongain-Report.html
Morrison, C. (2016). How Pokemon Go Is Already Making Millions Daily. Retrieved from: https://medium.com/playbook-by-chartboost/how-pokemon-go-is-already-making-millions-daily-135cbbe27b61
Mosendz, P., & Kawa, L. (2016). Bloomberg – Are you a robot?. Retrieved from: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-07-11/pok-mon-go-brings-real-money-to-random-bars-and-pizzerias
Statista. (2019). Global augmented/virtual reality market size 2016-2023 | Statista. [online] Retrieved from: https://www.statista.com/statistics/591181/global-augmented-virtual-reality-market-size/
SuperData Research | Games data and market research » Market Brief — 2018 Digital Games & Interactive Entertainment Industry Year In Review. (2018). Retrieved 11 October 2019, from https://www.superdataresearch.com/market-data/market-brief-year-in-review/
Wolinsky, J. (2018). Trick The Eye – The History Of Augmented And Virtual Reality Devices. Retrieved from: https://www.valuewalk.com/2018/09/trick-the-eye-vr/
Wu, L., & Stilwell, M. A. (2018). Exploring the marketing potential of location-based mobile games: An international journal. Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing, 12(1), 22-44. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy1.library.usyd.edu.au/10.1108/JRIM-06-2017-0041
Žižek, S. (2017). Ideology Is the Original Augmented Reality. Retrieved from: http://nautil.us/issue/54/the-unspoken/ideology-is-the-original-augmented-reality