“Today’s computers are so amazing that we don’t notice how terrible they are.” That’s the striking way in which Meron Gribetz starts his Ted talk introducing the concept of digital augmented reality. He paints a picture of a new kind of computer which enhances the world around us rather than interrupts it.
That’s the idea behind Meta 2 – which is arguably the most sophisticated Augmented Reality (AR) tool yet to hit the market. It allows users to literally reach out, grab and move digital content as it’s superimposed on the environment around them. It’s an exciting development which he believes could one day make smartphones and computers in general obsolete.
To explain he uses a story of a time when he was speaking to a friend who was interrupted by a message on his phone. As he read it, the conversation died out. Here was a clear example of a time when technology interrupted the natural flow of day to day life. But in hindsight, he realised, it wasn’t the digital technology per se which was the problem – it was simply the way in which we view it.
Instead we should use a machine which brings computers back into the world, which use the principles of neuroscience to enhance the world rather than disrupt it.
The Meta 2 is a headset which projects a hologram into the physical world. It has plenty of possibilities. An architect, for example, might be able to see plans and move rooms around physically; a doctor might be able to see medical information when they look at their patients.
He believes the world is changing. We’ll be putting a huge amount of digital information onto the real world, and this will change the way in live our lives. This, though, could have two results. It could take a wholly negative direction and effectively gamify our day to day existence – cluttering the world around us with a huge amount of data.
Alternatively, there could be a more positive experience in which this AR technology is used to extend the human experience. In other words, we do what we’ve always done – this simply makes it easier for us to do it.
This technology is still in its early stages. Headsets to date have been extremely bulky and ugly looking – not to mention pretty expensive. The Meta 2 is the first technology to produce a more streamlined and attractive headset design. Even so it is still pretty bulky and it’s hard to imagine people wearing them on a day to day basis.
That’s why the industry is already embarking on a process of miniaturisation. In the future he says, they will look very different – indeed they could be nothing more than small strips of glass. In other words, it would be no more intrusive than wearing a pair of glasses.
This talk and the Meta 2, therefore, are designed to act as a glimpse of what might be in the future. Augmented reality is one of those technologies which has immense promise but is unproven. We have so far only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of what this can and will do. But as it becomes more common the key may not be so much the technology itself, but in how we adapt to it, which shapes the impact – good or bad – it will have on our world.
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