Augmented Reality: The Next Frontier For Information?

One of the new technologies that I'm most excited about is augmented reality. The New York Times had an article about it this weekend, pondering whether the technology will endure. In case you aren't familiar with augmented reality, it essentially consists of cameras being able to "recognize" objects and then project information about those objects on a screen the user is viewing the image on via the camera. There are other more entertainment-driven uses for augmented reality, but it's the informational aspect that I think could result in the technology one day becoming a major part of our lives.

So what kinds of applications are there? Maybe one day your car will have a windshield on which information pops up about shops, restaurants and landmarks as you drive by. It could put your GPS to shame.

Here's a rather extreme imagination of what you might be about to do with the innovation, from the Times:

Core77, the online design magazine, suggested one amusing possibility earlier this year: fold in facial-recognition technology and you could point your phone at Bob from accounting, whose visage is now "augmented" with the information that he has a gay son and drinks Hoegaarden. More recently, a Swedish company has publicized a prototype app that would in fact augment the image of Bob (or whomever) with information from his social-networking profiles -- and they aren't kidding.

Man -- how great would that have been when you were single on the prowl at a crowded bar! You could just scan the crowd for some common interests and have an instant topic of conversation. There could even be different filters -- you could have it on "Facebook mode" that provides their provided profile information or "Google mode" that figures out who they are and gives you their search results.

But let's take it a step further. Imagine that you didn't need a mobile phone, but if there was a pair of sunglasses that augmented your reality. Or add some more technological advancement and the information screen can possibly move from the surface of those sunglasses to the contact on your right eye. Everything you stare at is instantly analyzed before your eyes -- restaurants, stores, people, etc. It would be an entirely new, fast, dynamic way to view the world and receive information about it.

Admittedly, this is the kind of thing science fiction novels are made of. But I'm not sure such possibilities now sound nearly as outlandish as they once did. Augmented reality serves as the foundation for viewing information about the world around us instantly. Some of these "crazy" ideas could actually happen.

The internet's success clearly shows that people have a strong appetite for information. So I find it hard to believe that a new technology that makes information nearly instantaneous and tailors it to the immediate world around us doesn't have the potential to take hold.