Where Will Augmented Reality Take Us Next?

With the massive success of Pokemon Go, expect a slew of new augmented reality games. Like anything capitalizing off of one successful entertainment product, expect many of these games to be cheap knock-offs without good developer support. However, there’s one thing this new movement will bring: a lot of money toward expanding how augmented reality interacts with every other way we use technology.

It’s just around the corner, but if it makes money online, companies will want to find a way to attach it to augmented reality. Remember when Facebook really took off and anyone and everyone tried to develop a social network off of other successful websites? Actually, you might not remember because things like Wal-Mart’s social network The Hub failed so spectacularly that we’ve completely forgotten about their brief existences.

What this means for augmented reality is that we may soon see attempting tie-ins with news coverage (or more accurately news entertainment), social networking, gaming, even shopping. That all sounds terrible, right? Yet as companies push these boundaries and fail, the vacuum that’s created doesn’t remain long. Individuals and unique groups with niche perspectives fill it. Where companies couldn’t fill out the internet with their own overblown sense of social presence, a million humble blogs and tumblrs filled that space instead. These are still supported by companies that make millions, but they’re built around featuring individual perspectives.

In William Gibson’s post-cyberpunk novel “Spook Country,” the characters see the West Coast in a whole new way. Towering sculptures loom out of beaches and you can take a tour of Los Angeles that highlights the most famous celebrity deaths…with the bodies still there. It all happens in a form of augmented reality viewed through headsets similar to Google Glass, and the new virtual reality boom.

Gibson’s novel was partly about the return to a sort of animism that augmented reality can bring (a companion and contrast for the same protagonist’s search for a singular technological deity that took place in Pattern Recognition). Chances are you haven’t read it, but here’s the important part: where technology once erased and set to the side the importance of locations and places, it can now rewrite them so that they’re more important and central to our lives than ever before.

Don’t believe me? Just look at Pokemon Go. It’s an augmented reality game. No longer is the lobby of the mall a place where faceless people you’ll never meet pass by. Now, it’s a Pokemon gym, where you do battle against strangers for which team controls it. Those strangers may soon become friends. A failing business may see a boom because of a Pokemon lure nearby. A hike you may never have taken can reveal a creature that will be your rarest find yet.

Yes, there are reasons to meet people in the mall and frequent a small business and take that hike, but those reasons won’t appeal to everybody. And more important than Pokemon, what happens when writers and artists and creators start mastering augmented reality?

Imagine having access to multiple augmented realities. We’re able to hop back and forth between them as we please, still interacting with reality, but assigning the places in our lives new and different meanings according to those realities. Call up a history app, and you may get to see and hear about battles and other important historical events in places that once seemed droll and uninteresting.

Especially when you combine these with technologies just waiting for better applications, like Google Glass, augmented reality will take off. People will be able to start curating reality like Tumblr or Pinterest, in ways that give our places whole new meanings. There’s a danger to this – just look at the sheer amount of misinformation that’s propagated on social media sites, and how quickly we buy into non-scientific fads and make-believe political hit pieces. There’s a real threat that reality can be shaped in very dangerous ways that don’t marry meaning to what’s real, but instead seek to wholly disconnect us from it.

Yet I have more faith in the artists, the ones who will curate art and stories and meaning in our augmented realities. Pop up one app and you may see paintings in the places they were originally painted, or brand new sculptures larger than buildings. We could walk into the paintings. You may overlay the forest that once spanned an entire city over the honking of cars and the impassiveness of buildings. You may be able to walk through an entire movie as it happens in the world around you. A piece of theater or an act of protest can take place in dozens of town squares at once. A walk in the forest can unveil fairy tales and fables in ways we’ve never imagined.

We will be able to share our dreams in whole new ways, we will be able to transmit the meaning a place holds for each of us to others in new experiential ways. Think of the ways we share our favorite websites, the ways we congregate on them. Now imagine sharing our favorite realities together, and congregating in these. We will be able to share our passions and perspectives in ways we never could before.

Augmented reality could go a number of ways. The internet didn’t become a dream of shared perspectives and greater understanding, but it does offer those opportunities if you look for them. Augmented reality can offer those same opportunities, but with even greater possibilities for sharing the things we love about the world we live in and the worlds we make up to draw closer together. That alone makes it worth the risk.


Where do you think Augmented Reality will go next? Do you welcome its possibilities to help us share perspectives, or fear it threatens to take us further away from each other?




Gabriel Valdez
Gabriel Valdez
Gabriel is a movie critic who's been a campaign manager in Oregon, an investigative reporter in Texas, and a film producer in Massachusetts. His writing was named best North American criticism of 2014 by the Local Media Association. He's assembled a band of writers who focus on social issues in film. They have a home base.