iPhony reality

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +5 (from 5 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 10.0/10 (3 votes cast)

By Christian Nielsen

We’re entering a world of augmented reality (AR) which might sound scary to rational-thinking grown-ups but perfectly natural to iPhone-savvy toddlers.

Thursday 17 February 2011

Augmented reality is the place between virtual reality – where you can walk, talk, or act out in alternate worlds, like Avatar – and, well, reality. Reality, to those struggling with the concept, is the place where unpaid electricity bills mean no more computer games, or where kids get up at 6am every Sunday.

While this augmented world might seem a little way out to anyone born in the 1970s or earlier, the millennium generation has no beef with it. They’ve grown up with the sort of hand-held wizardry that their elders only read about in sci-fi books.

Teens and pre-teens nowadays can fire off sweet nothing messages to ‘tweople’, or ‘twits’ if you prefer, just round the corner or on the other side of the world while riding their bike or walking through the mall. Though multitasking mayhem can ensue – watch this twit fall into a fountain while texting. The woman in the video was later quoted as saying, “texting and walking at the same time is dangerous.” She says she could have been walking in front of a bus!

I guess in the augmented world, the tweet or text would go something like … “Bus coming straight for me! LOL” If you don’t want to take her testimony then it’s probably a good idea to become a better multitasker and learn to be tweet smart –sorry about that one!

Of toddlers and birds

Two-year-olds who’ve been allowed to play Angry Bird or other popular apps on their dad’s iPhone or who have become familiar with touch-screen technology now toddle up to the television and start sweeping their sticky little fingers across the screen like the rated G version of Minority Report. When nothing happens they look at you, the Fat Controller, raise their chubby hands and shrug, as if to say “what kind of low-tech rubbish is this?”

Meanwhile, the Facebook generation are signing up – in some cases not, but that’s a potential legal story – to ‘Locate me’ with gusto, like it is perfectly natural that your every move should be documented, that this phenomenal invasion of privacy is kinda cool because you can meet your friends, like, spontaneously.

And this is where AR picks up an existential tinge. How spontaneity could even exist in a world where every utterance and physical expulsion is scrupulously documented by the world’s best documentary maker – you – is beyond me and beyond anyone who still watches TV at night.

The iPhone is ground zero for the growing class of ‘augmented realtors’. According to the fans at iPhoneNess: “Augmented reality is one of the most exciting technologies around. If you have watched some of those modern Hollywood movies, you have probably seen how our world would look 20-30 years from now. Who knows when augmented applications become mainstream but they are already making their way to the iPhone platform. Augmented reality is the future but thanks to these augmented reality apps for iPhone, you can experience the future today.”

These guys offer up a long list of current apps to prove their point. Everything from golf range-finding gadgets and trekking tools to experimental solutions for colour-blindness. And the thing that strikes this old-school technophile is that a lot of these apps and mashups combining, for instance, satellite geo-location technology which pinpoints your exact location and mobile navigation devices, are not (or perhaps should not be) kids stuff. They are practical applications for grown-ups like me who took up golf when real sports got too hard.

But like the first-wave attempt to make a success of e-commerce and the dot-com bomb of the 1990s, the grown-ups today are just not clued-up or interested enough to fully appreciate what’s out there in the AR sphere. But toddlers to teenagers have no preconceptions about technology. It just is what it is, like milk is quite good on cereal.

Every day new apps are created. Some are very innovative and might one day save your life, some like Angry Birds are simple and a bit of fun for young and old. Others, which combine geo-location technology and social networking, tell us a bit about our society and in particular younger people’s willingness or need to commune in the virtual world. And their disregard for privacy and even safety.

But maybe this notion of privacy and identity is what augmented reality is all about. It brings into question age-old beliefs and many a good philosophical theory. Philosophers tell us identity is what ever makes an entity definable and recognisable. It comes from the Latin identitas or ‘sameness’. Leibniz supposed that two things sharing every attribute are not merely similar but must indeed be the same thing.

So if in this augmented world, whether Second Life or just sophisticated apps on iPhones, if we accept this world without question, and represent ourselves as our avatars or other personas, are we losing or gaining identity? Are we similar or the same? Are we cool or another banal member of the commune?

Perhaps it won’t matter in the end. Perhaps these are ponderings of a generation that is trying to hold fast to two-dimensional formats like terrestrial TV. Of course our kids don’t ask the questions and perhaps don’t need to. All they want to know is why they can’t sweep across to Sesame Street from Dora the Explorer on that thing in the corner of the living room.

This article is published here with the author’s permission. ©Christian Nielsen. All rights reserved.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 10.0/10 (3 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +5 (from 5 votes)

Related posts

Smashing different planets

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +3 (from 3 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 8.3/10 (3 votes cast)

By Ray O’Reilly

The Scientists shouted they would get “smashed in a different world”. But do the words of this punk band reveal something profound about human nature?

7 September 2010

Look at it this way: our species is a master at taking what’s available and abusing the hell out it. People get smashed on the brews, opiates, or whatever, that nature offers up. People also cut up our Earth-ball, as my son calls it, in search of nature’s other bounties, from precious stones for adornment and tropical forests for cheap furniture, to coltan for mobile phones.

I’m under no illusions that if we do find other planets to colonise for their wealth, we’d ‘smash’ them as thoroughly as we do ourselves, and our planet. I’ll substantiate with another lazy cultural simile – because life imitates art and all that.

First, you’ve got the avidly fictitious, but rather entertaining Avatar whose indigenous population resists the rapacious multinationals’ hunt for (wait for it) ‘unobtanium’, an unelaborated mineral with the name to match. Around the same time Avatar came out, the BAFTA-winning sci-fi film Moon was released, starring Sam Rockwell in pretty much all roles bar the ‘Sarang’ lunar-base’s affable computer, Gerty,  played by Kevin Spacey.

Rockwell’s character (also Sam) is a contractor employed to extract helium-3 from moon dust – used in the production of fusion energy, according to the movie. Most of this is pure fiction, of course, except that fusion bit, which is a very real science. Actually, the world’s nuclear research community have been pumping billions of euros into the ITER project to develop an experimental fusion reactor which, simply put, unlocks the power of the sun.

“If you haven’t heard about ITER, chances are you will soon,” boasts the ITER website. “The scale and scope of the ITER project rank it among the most ambitious science endeavors of our time… scientists are now poised to begin construction on the buildings that will house the ITER fusion experiments.”

This is a serious research programme backed by the international scientific community from China, India, Russia, Korea, Japan, the US and the EU. There’s been political rows during the formative years of the project – over where to site ITER’s tokamak reactor and, naturally, over who will stump up the billions to pay for it – but the seriousness of the Earth’s energy woes seems to trump all such concerns.

Disturbingly real

So, in many ways, the fact that the film Moon strays so easily into factual territory makes it that much more disturbing when the plot unfolds. The movie delivers what we did wrong as a eulogy delivered at the start, a bit like in Mad Max except more polished, documenting the depletion of fossil fuels and the quest for clean technology.

I don’t want to spoil the film, so I’ll just say Sam learns a lot about the motivations of his employer – the mining company – as he approaches the end of his three-year contract. The spectre of cloning is tackled when his character has an accident and the company needs a replacement to operate the extractor. Trouble is,  Sam 1 doesn’t die. He reappears at the lunar station when Sam 2, his human replica, retrieves him from the wreck of the lunar rover. The two Sam’s don’t get along at first. The movie unfolds as they both discover there is a lot about their work and their so-called contracts that the company has been hiding from them.

These films give us an unusual, half-credible, glimpse of a possible future outcome if we continue to abuse the resources on this planet. And the suggestion is that it’s more than just an environmental problem. You’ve only got to watch the news every now and then to see what socio-political havoc the extraction industries are having on many communities worldwide, from tribes coping with shrinking rainforests to the wars and bloodshed fuelled by diamond and coltan mining in sub-Saharan Africa.

Where it will all lead in reality is anyone’s guess but something tells me that human nature – being the way it is – will find a way to continue smashing this planet and any other planet should these sci-fi plots prove prescient of a real future scenario.

Published here with the author’s permission. © Copyright Ray O’Reilly.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 8.3/10 (3 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +3 (from 3 votes)

Related posts