The Hidden Ninja – Augmented Reality

By Martin Sandtrøen

Augmented reality is everywhere. Not just in glasses produced by Google. Computers have it. Televisions have it. So do mobile phones. Yet we do not notice it. Follow me on an augmented journey and learn why this phenomenon is important.

What is augmented reality?

What we see exist. At least, that is what we think. However, our mind is not always able to discern between what is real and what is not. That is the reason illusions trick us, making us believe what is not there. Augmented reality is real. Partly. It is the combination of what is real and what is artificial. However, what does that actually mean? It means that we look at a picture of the “real” world,
but with slightly modified “colors”. Instead of just seeing a normal and gray building, we see new colors and vibrant elements added, with perhaps some text describing its inhabitants for extra flavor. A map drawn by human hands that change in accord with our position, with a voice telling us how to interpret the many lines written down on it. This is augmented reality. Augmented reality might seem innocent. Sure enough, only slightly “enhancing” reality is not necessarily bad. Imagine your dreams coming to life. Extinct animals roaming freely through the nature when viewed with your mobile phone’s camera. Catching Pokémon that are flying in the air, playing in the sand box or running across the road.

Not only a sweet story

Augmented reality is not only innocent. It gives new life in places it does not belong. Imagine seeing the extinct animals and Pokémon replaced by your ancestors. These ancestors would not just roam around, but discuss with you, trying to influence your opinions. Imagine these ancestors not limited by a mobile phone camera, but right there next to you. They would be so close that you can almost touch them. Does that sound unlikely? Well, it is already happening. In 2012, Tupac performed live at Coachella. The thing is: Tupac died in 1996. The version of Tupac performing was only computer-generated imagery projected onto the stage. While it was obvious that the projection was not Tupac, it does pose valid questions.

What will we do when we cannot tell reality from the augmented one? In the 1970s, brilliant engineers developed a display capable of immersion. It was the first system capable of augmented reality. This headset could only show simple structures such as boxes, circles and lines. Thus, its effect would hardly pass as realistic. During the 1990s, augmented reality became increasingly common and blended more easily into our everyday life. What was hardly realistic before suddenly became evidence taken at face value. You might have noticed the weather report on television. The person in a suit pointing to a background picture dominated by suns, clouds, rain and wind. Names following the football players around the eld making it easy to interpret who is doing what. Times and dates printed directly on videos. Breaking news-bars when something important has happened in the world. We believe in the authenticity of these augmentations. We believe that this is “real”. However, it is just pixels on a screen. These pixels have made us dependent on the information they provide. We would not go to the beach without checking the weather forecast; we would not question the breaking news on TV; we would not drive without our trustworthy GPS. Augmented reality is not necessarily only in screens either. Tupac’s projection show that augmented reality can escape the boundaries of a screen and blend further into our reality. The graphics have evolved from the headset in the 70’s and into highly advanced standards. Augmented reality is not simple projections onto the world anymore, but highly sophisticated concepts able to trick people. What if it was Tupac performing live? What if it was our ancestors talking to us? If we were unable to separate between the reality and the augmented, how would we know what to trust?

The future will undoubtedly bring more augmented reality into our lives. The question is how we should deal with it. We are transitioning into a society where the difference between the real and the artificial are increasingly blurred. We are getting more dependent on augmented reality. But what if the information presented through augmented reality was lying? Are we being too dependent on the information it provides? What if augmented reality is like a hidden Ninja, secretly waiting until we are at our most vulnerable?