Friday, November 19, 2010

The next step in computer interfaces

Have you heard of Augmented Reality? AR is very simply the addition of a layer of computer-generated information on top of the real world. And while this idea sounds simple I'm theory, in practice it's currently very hard to achieve a seamless integration of digital information on top of what our eyes see, our ears hear and our other senses, well, sense.

But why is AR important, why do we want it? Well, there are some important aspects of our society that are quickly evolving, along with technology itself which is now getting ever-powerful, ever-smaller. Computers are now getting so small, screens and keyboards are the breaking point, the bottleneck in miniaturization. It's all good to have a computer the size of a matchbox, how do you control it, how do you interact with it? AR is one possible solution.

The current implementations that have been put forward, some of which are currently on the market, include smart phones with GPS and accelerometer hardware (like the iPhone) as well as more complex solutions including bulky headsets with cameras, screen and earphones. Both of these solutions cannot possibly last very long, as walking around in public waving a cellphone around or boasting a 10kg helmet is neither sexy nor fashionable.

But what could possibly be better, you ask? The answer will scare some, please others and horrify a few: implants and cybernetics. That's right folks, the next evolution of computers will most likely involve surgery, melding machine and human, creating what some may call freaks but I consider the next natural step.

If you think that hijacking your senses is far away in the future, it's time to review that 20th-century frame of mind. Cochlear (audio) implants have been around for years giving back hearing to the deaf, even some born with no hearing at all, introducing them (back) to the world of music, nature and civilization. More recently great progress is being made in video implants, giving back the gift of sight to the blind. And while the technology, which involves plugging into the eye, nerve, is still at it's infancy, it has permitted at least one man to gain back enough vision to recognize different bills of money, know where his fork and spoon are on the table, and notice an error in his name written in tape on the table in 10" letters.

If the idea of a surgeon digging into your head and plugging into your nervous system makes you nervous (ha!), imagine a world where you don't ever need to pull out your phone from your pocket to answer a call, read your email, lookup the best restaurants in your area. Imagine needing directions and seeing a wide yellow line drawing itself in the street for you to follow. Imagine going to a meeting with new clients and seeing their name, title and contact info over their head. Going shopping and filtering price tags with a quick search. Never going in circles to find a parking spot downtown. Being able to sleep at night by turning OFF the external inputs to be in complete silence an darkness. And for the gamers out there... Do I even need to say anything about what REAL immersion is?

Are you wondering how this would come into life in the mass market, why people would want to do this? Well, one word for you unbelievers: porn. That says it all, I think.

I do believe that this will become a reality during my lifetime.


  1. Good post Eric... Some cool device placed in my head where I can see through my wifes clothes like Superman can would be cool. Ty!

  2. Thanks Phil! I think actual devices would probably not be in your head but would still be somewhat external and communicate through something like bluetooth. But unfortunately for you, there's not much you can do to see your wife (or anyone else) naked with today's technology. You could just wing it and create a 3D simulation, but that just wouldn't be the same now, would it? :)

  3. how bout just undressing her guys?

  4. That is ALWAYS a possibility, sweetheart. :)