While marketing tries to figure out what to do with AR, AR seems desperate to dive down a hole of irrelevance. It seems to want to be gimmicky, antisocial and creepy. That won’t necessarily stop it making money, but it could be so much bigger than this.
Because its real potential isn’t in adding sparkle to the real world. The big leap will be when it moves Artificial Intelligence (where Alexa and pals show off how clever they are) towards Augmented Intelligence (where the device actually makes you cleverer).
Elon Musk’s already talking about attaching AI directly to the brain. But even he admits that turning us into cyborgs will still take a decade or two. In the meantime, it’s not much of a tech leap to input AI directly into our eyes, ears and skin, through glasses equipped with ear buds and pressure pads – as well as a range of micro-sensors: cameras, thermometer, even radar.
Then watch us get better at pretty much anything – and still be able to take the things off when we just want to be normal.
Play sport with them and they’ll tell you where to pass the ball. Play pool and they’ll calculate the angles for you. (Play poker and… oh, probably get your knees broken.)
Get prompts when you’re doing a phone interview. Get recipe tips when you open a can. Directions without looking at a map. An alert when you drive off from the airport on the wrong side of the road. And a health warning when you’re about to buy some lie-labelled sugar-laden junk.
Look at your sick kid and they’ll point you to Calpol, write you a prescription or call you an ambulance. Watch a politician and they’ll tell you when he’s lying. Look at a stock chart and they’ll tell you the trends and suggest strategies. Get into a cab and they’ll tell you if the driver’s a sex offender.
The tech’s on its way. The problem? The geekwear glasses. So far, designs seem to be driven by the wrong sort of science fiction movies. Considering how badly Google Glass and Snapchat Spectacles have done, AR innovators like MagicLeap and Rokid, chugging down billions of dollars in investment, just can’t afford the kind of naffness they’re displaying at the moment.
Time for marketing to save the day. Firstly with some intelligent design from the people who know about these things. (Don’t add a battery, build it into the frame. Build the sensors into the hinges. And don’t put your own logo on it, get the brands in on the act (starting with cult eyewear brands like Mykita and Eyevan, not Microsoft and Rayban). Secondly, downplay creepy and upweight living safer and smarter.
The crazy thing is that industry’s just getting on with this stuff. It’s just us who’re being left out of the revolution.