ISMAR 09 Observations and Comments

ISMAR, the International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality was held this past week in Orlando Florida. It was pretty awesome and my expectations for the symposium were exceeded in many ways. I had thought that this year was going to be the break-out year, but I’m beginning to think it was only a precursor to the one next year in Seoul Korea. There is so much “on deck” right now that is going to explode out of the box in the next twelve months, that 2010 is going to be freakishly awesome.

ISMAR 09 was a huge success for me, and very exciting. I have been pretty enthused about augmented reality already, but now I am close to vibrating with energy and optimism about the future of the industry, and I absolutely cannot wait until ISMAR 10 next year. Now that I am home (and dead tired) I wanted to put out some observations, comments, and ideas while things are still fresh on my mind, and after I have had a chance to think about it on the plane home. Grab some coffee and have a seat, this is going to be a long post.

And here we go…

It was my first time attending ISMAR, but definitely not my first time attending an industry conference that was inwardly focused (in contrast to something like E3, where it is designed to highlight commercial releases, media frenzy, press releases, and heavily marketing/sales). I mention this to give some perspective to the rest of my comments in this post.

First and foremost, I want to make it clear that the conference was, overall, damn fantastic. I would almost rate it as the best conference I have attended in the last decade, in terms of people I met, the relationships I was able to grow, the things I learned about the state-of-the-art from academic, research, and commercial sources, and the general quality of the attendees and speakers.

I am relatively new to the Augmented Reality industry. While I have been dabbling in different areas of technology that are complementary to AR, or core elements (like 3D graphics, interactive media, etc.) for most of my career, it was only about two years ago that I jumped in head-first and 100%. Even so, I’ve felt like an outsider observing from a distance, with my voice swirling away in the wind. Part of this is due to the fact that my startup, Neogence Enterprises, has largely been under the radar or very quiet about what exactly we are doing to any degree of detail (purposefully), and the other part is because augmented reality is not exactly a new technology, although I would argue that it is a extremely new industry.

By this I mean that augmented reality has been around in some form or another for the better part of the last three or four decades (longer by some counts) and generally limited to research in Universities, limited military and defense applications, and basement R&D at some large companies. There hasn’t been an industry to “break in to” and there are only a handful of Universities where you can find any real educational tracks and research departments doing this stuff. The ISMAR conference itself is old by some standards, with ISMAR 09 being the tenth annual conference.

During 2009, pandora’s box was opened and there were suddenly startups everywhere looking at doing AR applications, content, tools, and so forth. Even a lot of media campaigns started using low level marker based AR to do their marketing stunts. We all started running around with our dreams, plans, ambitions, and in some cases (I’m looking at you mass market media) completely misunderstanding what exactly AR is and babbling on about things that just served to misinform people. From the academic perspective, they were shoved aside for all the brash new folks, who were suddenly getting a lot of attention, accolades, and credit for “inventing” things that others had been working on and researching for years and years.

And ISMAR, which has been a reputable conference for academics, peer-reviewed papers, research, and heavy on the “science and technology”, kindly expanded their program this year in an experiment to embrace “arts and humanities” (which sort of included everything else, like business, design, and whatever).

This is good, and the timing is perfect. Actually, I think this is a must. There is currently no other real augmented reality conference (as the main point of the conference…ones that have an AR track don’t count), and what has been an area of research has suddenly been propelled, abruptly, into the spotlight as an industry (when it is barely more than a lot of academics and a handful of startups). This new “industry” still doesn’t have standard practices and methodologies, a lexicon, standard business models, a professional association, a well formed and active community, or any of the other things that a industry normally has.

This is a bit problematic. Our industry is unique in many respects, and it can’t always be considered in the same way as some other technology related industry. To complicate things, there is a growing demand for products, applications, content, and new innovations…I can’t tell you how many companies, agencies, and whatever have contacted me in the last six months looking for quotes on producing some sort of application or whatever, to be surprised that what they want has to be built from scratch. The mass market doesn’t realize that the vast majority of Augmented Reality technology right now is barely more than a research project at a university. With few exceptions, there is little that is ready for the market. Heck, we can’t all even agree on what the definition of Augmented Reality actually is or is not right now.

This is an opportunity for us, the industry, and ISMAR. Expanding and extending the scope of ISMAR can provide a fertile ground for the continuing birth of the AR industry, and act as a guiding force to mature the technology into a real industry. By doing so, it will grow in relevance, prestige, and legitimacy. If it does not, some other body or organization will fill in the rapidly growing void and eventually marginalize the Symposium, leaving it to the academics to publish their papers and wonder why the industry that could very well be bigger than the Web is today, has left them behind.

While most of my experiences at ISMAR were unbelievably awesome, I did not get the chance to see or experience as much of it as I liked. This is mostly because I was either speaking at one of the sessions myself, or I was engaged in meetings. I think I only caught about half of the sessions I was really interested in. So, I should note now that my opinion, and some of my gripes, are from this limited perspective. I didn’t see everything, so keep that in mind.

Ok, moving on. First, I picked up on a vibe (at the conference, and for a few months leading up to it) that some of the “old guard” was of the opinion that entrepreneurs and other efforts to commercialize AR were nothing more than riff raff, or uneducated blowhards jumping on the bandwagon for a quick buck, without really understanding anything, and probably not capable of doing anything of real value or innovation. I also picked up on some tangible disdain for “arts and humanities” as something that was incapable of measuring up to scientific standards, or even that including it would diminish the prestige and legitimacy of the conference. While I can understand where this is coming from, these points of view are archaic, close-minded, and disillusioned in the face of reality or what goes on in the world in other industries. The “science and technology” of augmented reality is only one element of several that are critical and necessary for the advancement of technology in general, as well as the emergence of a whole industry.

I should note that this seemed to be extremely limited and is not representative of the symposium at large. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The overall atmosphere was very welcoming, open, engaging, appreciative, and willing to grow and expand. Looking over the proceedings and comments from the Chairs, there is a clear desire to grow the Symposium and embrace the industry. This is part of why I think this year was so important, and why I think that ISMAR is going to be an absolutely critical cornerstone for the growth of the industry at large. I only point out that I picked up on the negative vibe (however minor or marginalized) because I think it is important to recognize that these feelings and perceptions do exist, and they should be addressed, lest they cause problems in the future. For example, I heard some rumors about some “disagreements” occuring behind the scenes on the Wikipedia entry for Augmented Reality. Yes, I realize this has absolutely nothing to do with ISMAR, but it is indicitive of a problem that is percolating amongst academics and the commercial sector. This needs to be dealt with immediately. This is the sort of thing that greatly diminishes the credibility and legitimacy of the whole industry at large, and if we let some rampant egos, holier than thou attitudes, or sniping about who is doing (or has done) what, and whatever else, it will have far reaching negative effects. (Note: I have not confirmed this, nor do I know the context of what the problem is between the editors on the wikipedia entry for augmented reality).

I would also like to mention that the startups and commercial people need to be a little more aware about what they are doing and telling the press. Recognition must be given (and indeed, is quite deserved) to those academics, researchers, and innovators that have invested years of their lives to create the base technologies that we are all beginning to capitalize on, and advance in our own right. There would be no AR industry without the pioneers that have gone before us. Even as they embrace us and welcome us into what has been their domain, we must embrace them as well and collaborate with them to advance the technology and the industry as a whole. Doing otherwise would be folly and disrespectful.

Moving on to another topic: The printed proceedings of the conference (totally worth the cost by the way) weighs in at about 300 pages. Only 61 were related to the “arts and humanities” track. While the papers were quite good, and lived up to the expectations of the symposium, I would have liked to see much more in terms of cognition, psychology, sociology, perception, user interface, iconography, filtering, multi-senses, and so forth. Each of these disciplines have much to offer and should be sought after in the future. Maybe “arts and humanities” needs to be renamed or split into other segments, both for papers and for broader topics covered in panels, workshops, and speaker sessions. Maybe science and technology, arts and entertainment, business and media, and design. I had a number of people ask me about business related topics, wishing there was a source for them to learn about starting a tech company, navigating tech transfer and licensing, the patent process, or even collaborating with the commercial sector to support research programs and projects.

Ok, on to my gripes:

1) I got screwed by the person at Marriott who took my reservations and assured me, several times, that I had a room at the Marriott Downtown. Instead they booked me at the Marriott Courtyard. To add insult to injury, I had to pay for parking, when it would have been free if I was staying at the courtyard. The “manager” of the valet parking guys gave me a hard time about it. Never mind the fact that I was a speaker at the conference, or that I was staying AT A MARRIOTT, he wouldn’t have anything to do with it. Very annoying.

2) I had to pay for the boxed lunch (which was weak) and for the awards banquet. I’m annoyed I had to pay for the boxed lunch, but the banquet dinner was mediocre. They served everyone some sort of fish, with mashed potatoes and vegatables, a small salad, one roll, a thin slice of cheesecake, and a glass of water. If you wanted anything else, like a coke, beer, or wine, you had to buy it yourself. They did offer coffee (after the dinner).

3) The wireless was ludicrous. It was free in the center of the lobby downstairs, but something like $10 a day for wireless in the rest of the hotel. The first day after I paid, I had to wait HALF AN HOUR to get a special access code, and then I got a new one every morning. It was also very slow, with frequent disconnects (for me anyway). Extremely annoying.

4) There was plenty of coffee available, but not much water or soda (without going to the gift shop). I was thirsty almost non-stop.

5) Some of the rooms were hot with little air circulation. I almost dozed off in one of my own presentations because of it.

6) Signage and directions on the first day were inadequate. I was waiting for someone in the lobby on Monday morning, and I directed not less than 27 people upstairs to the registration area, after they had wandered off down the wrong corridor because of a sign pointing out where one of the rooms was.

7) While I get the upside down-reverse printing of the proceedings and the schedule to contrast science/technology and arts/humanities, it was annoying to have this occur several times in the schedule. This made it harder to find anything at a glance and was really irritating.

For the price of the conference, none of these annoyances should have occured. As a speaker, I should not have had to worry about any of it, especially since I paid for my own travel and hotel.

I think there could have been a much better venue, and a better arrangement with the hotel. It would have been nice to be closer to a variety of restaurants as well (walking distance).

Pretty lame gripes, I know. But I’m tired and cranky, and they have all been bugging me for days. I needed to blog about it and get it off my chest.

So, that’s it. Overall the conference was fantastic, and the organizers/chairs were amazing. I felt like I was welcomed into the community with open arms where before I had felt like some guy on the periphary. I met a lot of amazing people with a real and sincere passion for augmented reality, and I witnessed a clear vision for the future of ISMAR. My negative comments are limited to very few people and this was based mostly on some casual observations salted by a couple of rumors. Its almost not worth mentioning.

For next year, I highly recommend you start saving and planning now. It will absolutely be worth going to Seoul Korea to attend, and I very highly suggest that you start thinking now about submitting a paper or two. If you are inexperienced at this or aren’t sure how to create one that will bear up to high academic standards, then put a hand out to friends working at Universities for some help. Get off your butt and learn how to do it. Sure, it might take some extra work, but it will pay off in the long run. Quality breeds quality, and mediocrity breeds mediocrity.

I want to thank ISMAR for providing me with the opportunity to participate as a speaker, presenter, panelist, and reviewer (Arts and Humanities). It was a wonderful experience, and I am in awe of many of the people I had the good fortune to meet and spend time with.

See you next year…

Robert Rice

Augmented Reality: Blue Sky, Green Earth

When I was in Rotterdam last week for emerce’s eDay (wonderful conference by the way), I had a lot of people talking to me afterwards, usually with questions about the technology, how I thought it would impact one industry or another, what the future might hold, or what the business models might be. One thing I noticed though, was that most of these people could be divided into two different camps.

Blue Sky

These people had their eyes opened during my presentation. They had no idea what augmented reality was, or if they did, they did not realize what the state-of-the-art is, or how close we are getting to the really cool stuff in the very near future. One woman gushed about how excited she was and that now she could see the implications of AR for her company. She was quite thankful to have had the chance to be exposed to something she considered off in the distant future. For her, the important thing was getting exposed to the “blue sky” potential of augmented reality and a glimpse of what was coming.

Green Earth

These were the practical people. They are up to speed on everything going on out there, and they are almost tired of hearing the phrase augmented reality. They are still enthused about the potential, but they don’t really care to hear someone like me talk about the cool stuff, what is coming, or how it will change the world. They want to know, right now, when is it going to be here, how is it going to be practical, and how are they going to be able to make money on it. What is the business model? Who are the early adopters? Which industries will glom on to AR first and run with it? One of these people even complained about the first part of my presentation where I explained what AR was. “We get it already, let’s talk about the practical stuff”.

In the middle…

I think that for now, at this stage of the industry and the technology, we have to continue evangelizing the blue sky. Many people are aware of AR now, but there are still loads more that haven’t heard of it, or are just now discovering the GE Smart Grid AR campaign from the beginning of the year, or they stumble across an old demo from an AR company two or three years ago. Heck, even the really savvy people are just now cluing in to Evan Sutherland’s Ultimate Display essay from 1965 that outlines some AR concepts. Yeah. 1965. And we still don’t have flying cars or a moonbase either, to my eternal annoyance.

Anyway, this is important because the AR industry is just getting started, and for the immediate future, the tech isn’t going to be all that fantastic. We have some time to build all the neat stuff and eventually get to the contact lens displays (which are not coming soon, press to the contrary notwithstanding). We need to keep people focused on what is coming, how it will be useful, and how we will get there. This will all directly relate to early user adoption, funding, R&D, etc. We have to keep people engaged, interested, and eager for the future. I’m tired of boring listless people with no sense of hope or childlike amazement and excitement. I want another golden age of hope, invention, and innovation. To get that, we have to inspire.

On the other hand though, the risk of over hyping, unrealistic expectations, marketing saturation, and everything else along those lines is still a big risk factor. Already I’m seeing people on twitter complaining about seeing too much about augmented reality. I’ve certainly been critical of a number of things that I thought were over hyped, or make claims that are easily misunderstood and representated (I’m looking at you, contact lens display guys!). However, instead of trying to shove AR back into Pandora’s Box (and AR is definitely something big enough to suit that phrase), we should instead focus on the here and now. How do we plan on building “it”? How do we execute? How are we going to frame the standards and protocols? How will it make money? What are the business models? What are the technology obstacles or challenges? When can I start using this for my business? How exactly will it benefit me and my business?

We can’t focus all of our attention on the blue sky anymore. We had that last year and during the spring of this year. Now, we have to split between the pretty clouds and butterflies with the trench digging in the ground…pulling out rocks and building walls and buildings.

So, when you talk to people about AR, start with the blue sky, get them caught up to speed, and watch for the twinkle in their eye when the proverbial light bulb goes off, and then take them right to the green earth. Talk about the particulars, the plans, the risks, and the models. Keep it real, don’t overblow it.

There will be 1,000 AR companies out there in the next couple of years. This is a race too early to call, and an industry too young to peg into a niche or particular framework. Keep your minds open, head in the sky, and feet on the ground.

Then get out there and DO it.

Robert

Augmented Reality: Open, Closed, Walled, or What?

Joel Ludwig recently blogged about augmented reality being open, a brief history of the web, and a number of observations and problems. He mentioned on twitter he would be interested in hearing what I thought, as well as a few other bright folks in the industry. Ok, Joe, here are some quick, late at night, after a long day, half brain-dead reply. I’ll probably want to edit this later : )

First, let me preface this all by saying that in general I prefer open systems that are extensible and expandable, which also facilitate the development, creation, design, and deployment of content, applications, and so forth by other people. If you intelligently empower the end-user, you accelerate market penetration and user adoption.

Ok, now the fun stuff:

When I talk about augmented reality, I am usually referring to it with a much wider scope and definition than simply 3D objects on a video feed. Rather, I mean something that is also in the realm of ubiquitious/pervasive computing, mobile internet devices, wearable displays, and all of the other fun stuff. I realize that some of this extends beyond the usual definitions of AR and into other spaces, but for the purposes of this discussion, I’m grouping it all together.

Some comments:

  • Augmented Reality is not a destination.
    • You go to a website, or you go to a virtual world, or you download content from somewhere else. AR is not somewhere you go to…it is everything around you, enhanced, augmented, intelligent, interactive, and dynamic.
  • Augmented Realityis not global, it is local.
    • AR content in Times Square is irrelevant to AR content at the Eiffel Tower.
  • Augmented Reality is not 2D or 3D;
    • AR content has other dimensions and axis…like time, context, and location. Simply taking a photograph or a 3D model and associating it with a GPS coordinate is not enough.
  • Augmented Reality is not an extension of the web;
    • AR is something completely different. Thinking about it in the same way we think about the internet or web pages as far as methods, business models, and interface is a fundamentally wrong approach.
  • The consumer is not anonymous.
    • On the internet, you can be anyone. AR, if implemented properly, is going to be accessed via a mobile device (in most cases), and each mobile device is going to have unique identifiers, and will be personal to the user (like your smart phone)
  • The consumer is not a credit card number.
    • Due to some of the benefits of mobile as the 7th mass media, consumers can no longer be considered as just a credit card number and a shipping address. AR, if done right, will leverage the power of WHO you are, as well as the other things like WHERE you are, WHAT you are doing, WHO is nearby, etc.
  • The browser may be the wrong metaphor or model for AR.

Would you say the internet and the web are open, or restricted to walled/closed platforms? We only have a handful of browsers with any real market share (various versions notwithstanding), one gorilla search engine, three dominant operating systems, etc. The web is not as open as we think it is. We are at the mercy of ICANN for domains (how many millions of domains are wasted and useless because of cash parking?). Mobile phones are restricted to operator networks. E-commerce is ultimately controlled by credit card companies, gouging us on fees and interest. Apple is locked up tighter than (insert something funny here). Windows is bloated and expensive. Spam is so intrusive and overwhelming and has been for so long that we don’t even notice how bad it is anymore.

I think what I’m trying to say here is that everything changes with AR and we can’t assume the old methods and models that work for the internet, the web, or half a dozen other industries will work as well or even be passable for AR. I also don’t think that there will be one singular platform, one mobile device, one browser, etc.

What will likely happen is that we will experience a flurry of competing platforms, browsers, devices, etc. etc. and tons of formats. Eventually some type of protocol that governs how the data is all sorted out will win, and there will be tons of tools, apps, SDKs, and APIs to create content and other apps. All of the access devices (smart phones, sensors, hardware, etc.) will eventually become a commodity, like the PC is today. AR will simultaneously be open and closed at the same time…much like the internet is, or the PC industry is. And that is about where all of the similarities stop. One danger to watch out for is the virtual world model…where you need to download some custom application every time you want to experience new content.

AR is something new and it will be the centerpiece of a convergence of a multitude of other technologies. We need to keep things open while keeping them closed at the same time. Too much of one or the other will spell disaster.

The standards of the internet and the web today, including all of the communications protocols may not be the best solution for the ultimate mobile ubiquitous augmented reality. Square pegs do not always fit in round holes. Sure, some things like HTTP or KML will be useful early on as we experiment, iterate, and grow, but ultimately the inherent nature of the data, experience, and interaction we are talking about for AR will surpass these standards designed for a two dimensional old media link and page driven model.

We have only begun to imagine what is possible and how to get there. To be sure, we, as an industry, are going to make some mistakes along the way, and it will take a lot of baby steps until we can achieve the “big vision”, but we are all hungry for it and anxious to innovate and aspire for something great. Let’s keep the conversation going, and make sure that some 800lb gorilla doesn’t drop some backwards ass bloated user-unfriendly mega-expensive, buggy as hell, augmented reality solution on our heads before we notice it.

I need some sleep. I’m starting to see polygons floating in front of my eyes.

 

Augmented Vision and the Decade of Ubiquity

[Originally posted in March 2009]

There is one  thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose  time has come. - Victor Hugo

“The best way  to predict the future is to invent it. Really smart people with  reasonable funding can do just about anything…” - Alan Kay


The Past

The concept of Augmented Reality has been around for a very  long time, and not just in fiction. I’m not going to spend much time talking about what augmented reality (“AR)” is or should be, you can do that on your own. There are plenty of resources like Ori Inbar’s Games Alfresco out there that will get you up to speed quickly. Start there if you want to know who is who, and who is doing what. I’m not aware of any other resource on the net that is as definitive as this site is.

The Present

Augmented Reality is quickly becoming one of the buzzwords of 2009 mostly due to social networking, blogs, twitter, and early exposure in mass media. Unless you have been living under a rock recently, you should have seen some marketing by GE, Toyota, Lego, and many others. While I think that it is too early for AR to have so much attention in the mass market, and it is already beginning to suffer overexposure in some circles, it is undeniably building momentum and the early experimenters/adopters are diving right in with accessible tools.

For now, AR is mostly about superimposing graphics on a video stream (from a webcam). This requires some type of marker such as a glyph or fidicial with a symbol, or some other type of image such as a picture (like the front of a baseball card). In either case, the software uses the marker for two things…first, to determine registration and tracking (where should the content and media be displayed) and second, what content to display. Some companies advertise the second method as markerless, but what they really mean is that they aren’t using the first method of a symbol or pattern. Let’s call all of this Level 1 AR.

In most of these cases, this type of AR is pretty novelty and fairly useless. Aside from some games like Sony’s Eye of Judgment, Int13’s Kweekies, and even Frank Lasorne’s AR Toys concept, which are all pretty damn cool, you won’t see very many applications worth more than a glance unless you break away from the desktop, take it mobile, and get rid of all types of printed markers. Now, we are talking about Level 2 AR.

Probably the most well known example of level 2 is Mobilizy’s Wikitude-AR for the Android platform. As we move away from the desktop AR toys and start paying attention to where you are and what is around you, things get much more interesting. The mobile device becomes a lens that gives us the sensation of looking through and seeing the world around us layered with information, data, and visualizations. As an industry, we are only beginning to explore the possibilities here. The transformation of mobile phones into mobile internet devices (MIDs) with powerful processors, 3D graphics, and GPS functionality has already changed the way we think, communicate, and interact with media. Some, like MIT’s improperly named “Sixth Sense” have this backwards by trying to project images on to objects instead of augmenting what you see. Others, like Tonchidot’s Sekai Camera has the right idea, but their approach feels incomplete. It is one thing to associate or link media to a general location, but it is much better to link to specific objects and things. SprxMobile’s ATM finder for ING is another example of how early location-based augmented reality can be very useful.

The Future

Level 3 becomes Augmented Vision. This is an important distinction. We must break away from the monitor and display to lightweight transparent wearable displays (in an eyeglasses formfactor). Once AR becomes AV, it is immersive. The whole experience immediately changes into something more relevant, contextual, and personal. This is radical and changes everything. As I have said before, this will be the next evolution in media. Print, Radio, Television, Internet, Augmented Reality (well, Vision).

L3 must also be mobile massively multi-user, persistent, shared, dynamic, and ubiquitous. This requires a full on convergence of a variety of technologies and disciplines, particularly powerful multi-core MIDs, pervasive wireless broadband, semantic search, intelligent pattern and image recognition, intelligent agents, hybrid service oriented and client-server architectures, gesture interfaces, standardized communications protocols and data formats, easy-to-use and intuitive tools for application development and content creation, and many others. Depending on a number of factors and variables, we are two to three years from this being realized commercially, and maybe five to seven from dominating the mass market. Maybe longer.

2010 to 2020 will become The Decade of Ubiquity. Not only will Level 3 become a reality, but the advent of this will spawn entirely new industries, professions, and hundreds of thousands of jobs. The impact of L3 will be equal to or greater than the effect of the Internet and the Web combined. Nearly every industry will change in some way, and L3 technologies will have a dramatic effect on our day to day lives, jobs, education, entertainment, culture, politics, society, and so on. Even newspapers will evolve and reinvent themselves. Today’s web designers and artists will become holoscape designers…developers will create intelligent agents and bots that are capable of seamlessly interacting with the real and digital worlds (think about Star Trek Voyager’s Holographic Doctor). Marketing and advertising will be completely reinvented and will be more interactive and dynamic than the targeted holographic advertising in The Minority Report. The world around you becomes your display and your interface. Any and everything will be tagged, labeled, interpreted, remembered, and filtered, in real-time. Cyberspace, combined with L3 devices, will become something like a hive-mind collective conscience and memory that we can all tap into at will. We don’t quite know how this is going to happen yet, but a lot of thought and effort is going on right now. Ideas are beginning to become reality.

Early on, entertainment, advertising, and social communication will feel the effects the strongest. Massive amounts of revenue will be generated and the technology will begin to explode, disrupting the way we do everything. Next, education will get a huge shock, as will training, medicine, and business. Industry domination will first be focused on the hardware and software that users need. Then it will be controlled by whoever masters what goes on behind the scenes in the cloud of cyberspace.

Imagine…

You only have to see the Yellowbook Ads, HP’s Roku’s Reward, Soryn’s The Future of Education, Bruce Branit’s World Builder, Nokia’s Morph concept phone, and Microsoft’s Future Vision Series to get a glimpse of what is COMING and in some cases is almost already here.

The best examples of L3 AR, at least where we are headed to and what everyone is talking about for the near-future, include Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End and Mitsuo Iso’s Denno Coil. If you don’t bother with anything else, at least pay attention to those two.

The Decade of Ubiquity is defined as the next ten years where every aspect of our lives will be permeated by digital, mobile, media, data, information, augmented, virtual, and so forth. It will be everywhere and accessible almost instantly. Everything will be connected, labled, monitored, tracked, tagged, and interactive to some degree or another. We will break away from the desk, we will throw away our monitors, and our children will laugh at how large our IPhones are. They will struggle with how we ever managed to get work done with “windows” “webpages” and keyboards. They will be unable to fathom the concept of vinyl disks, typewriters, and landlines. But it all starts, and accelerates, during this next decade. Imagine everything that happened in the last decade, and multiply it. You haven’t seen anything yet. The next decade will make the last one pale in comparison.

The Distant Future

Level 4 is a long way off and is where we upgrade to contact lens displays and/or direct interfaces to the optic nerve and the brain. At this point, multiple realities collide, merge, and we end up with the Matrix. Without some amazing breakthroughs in a dozen fields, don’t expect this for another two or three decades. That is, assuming there is aggressive funding and R&D in the right areas. It won’t just happen on its own. There needs to be dedicated effort here. This is where Virtual Reality will finally come into its own and our dreams of pure and total immersion where we forget our bodies will finally be realized. Ok, maybe just Playstation 9.

Back to the Future

VAST Media is Virtual, Augmented and Simulations Technology Media. Virtual Worlds, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, MMORPGs, Simulations, and so on. In other words any media that is usually based on technology and is generally three dimensional. Print, Radio, and Television don’t count (this includes video). VAST Media today is still heavily segregated into individual industries with very little cross-pollination and sharing of theory, methodology, application, and leaders. This is slowly changing, but the fact remains that the technologies used for each are very similar. Until industry-wide convergence begins to occur, there will be little growth or advancement in any of the individual sectors. Virtual Reality went into a coma in the earl-mid 90s. Innovation in Virtual Worlds is barely measurable, with much of today’s state-of-the-art barely different from where it was a decade ago. MMORPGs have actually devolved in nearly every aspect. Some of the leading titles focus more on single-player gameplay, repetitive and static content, or aren’t even real 3D anymore. Augmented Reality, even as it is gaining momentum and excitement, is at risk of over-exposure and hype.

New leaders and thinkers are emerging and the hunger for creative innovation is beginning to gnaw at the bellies of Gen X’ers that miss the good old days of the Internet boom. Rapid advancements in mobile internet devices and tools for open development are fanning the fires. L2 will burst into the mainstream very soon, and the main thing holding L3 back are the wearable display companies that keep making promises but don’t seem to actively and aggressively be pushing the limits of technology. Too much emphasis is on miniature projectors or wearable displays so people can watch IPod/IPhone videos on the plane in privacy.

The world is nearing another dramatic paradigm shift and explosive growth in technology and economics, but we need to wake up. Demand more, better, stronger, faster, smaller. The future is ours to invent. Don’t be satisfied with mediocrity or lazy development.

We still have a long way to go, and there are plenty of obstacles and problems to be sorted out. Hardware has got to keep up this time (remember what happened to VR). This means that mobile devices have to crank it up real soon and compete with the desktop. Wearable display companies have got to quit screwing around, or they will single-handedly snuff out most efforts to push the envelop by years.

The architects of our augmented future need to think outside of the box as well. Forget everything you know about the internet, the web, web 2.0, virtual worlds, interface design, client/server, internet domains, etc. They MUST look at massively multiuser ubiquitious augmented reality with fresh eyes and vision. The paradigm is completly different. You can’t think about website design and development and ubiquitous AR at the same time. It isn’t about pages, servers, websites, or everything we have created over the last two decades. AR is about WHO you are, WHERE you are, WHAT is around you, WHAT you are doing, and WHO is nearby. Even things we take for granted like anonymity on the internet needs to be thrown out and rethought. The user’s identity is absolutely key to building the future. So are other things like privacy, interoperability, context, semantics, interface, and so on. We have to be thinking about these things NOW if we are going to build the future in the next decade.

Even the way we think about media and content is going to be important. Types of media can be categorized as Passive, Active, Interactive, Dynamic, and Meta. Passive media is text, an image, a 3D object, or something else that just is, and is static. Active media does something. It might be animated, it could turn on and off, and it can have multiple states. Interactive media requires input and interaction with a user. Games are a good example of interactive media. Dynamic media has the ability to change or evolve. It can be influenced. Meta media is beyond all other media types and is usually created and driven by other media or data sources. An example of this would be dynamic media, such as a constantly shifting and transforming 3D shape with attributes such as size, color, texture, volume, and morphability determined by live input from some other source such as the stock market or an orchestra.

Think about all of that, but with other attributes and influences that are based on the who, what, where, when, how, and why that become important with mobile multiuser ubiquitous augmented reality and vision. Now, make it intelligent. The rabbit hole is getting very deep, isn’t it? You absolutely cannot create, architect, and develop this stuff while in the mindset of 1.0 or 2.0. You have to think ahead to 9.0, or better yet, throw out the whole “point oh” system to start with. Never mind Shrödinger’s Cat, think about his Dog.

You must change your perspective, if you want to change how we see the world.

One good place to find out what some out of the box thinkers are thinking, is over at Tish Shute’s blog. Check it out, definitely worth your time. Her recent interviews with Mike Kuniavsky, Adam Greenfield, Usman Haque, and Andy Stanford-Clark are very interesting and in-depth.

What is your vision of the future?

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Note to Venture Capitalists: Don’t even THINK about investing in anything remotely associated with Augmented Reality unless you are absolutely familiar (that means having seen or read) with these and others like Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and The Diamond Age, Roger Zelazny’s Donnerjack, Charles Stross’ Halting State, Larry Niven’s Dream Park, and just about anything by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. My apologies to anyone I left out, this isn’t a definitive list by any means. Make sure you watch Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell as well. Beware of the slew of startups that will come out of nowhere in the next few years with no discernable business model or any real understanding of the tech. Everyone and their brother is going to try to jump on this bandwagon once the realization sets in that the next billion dollar world-changing corporations are going to have something to do with L3. Get rich quick is going to be redefined.