Feature Image- David Grandmougin on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/@davidgrdm, Some Rights Reserved. Access from: https://www.technologynetworks.com/informatics/news/safeguarding-an-augmented-reality-323273
Technology has transformed the way that we experience and appropriate space blurring the boundaries between public and private domains (Gazzard, 2011). Augmented reality marks the convergence– not collapse– of multiple contexts that otherwise would have remained discrete (Graham et al., 2013). With this suggestion, the material world and the virtual world as it stands can no longer be regarded as separate entities (Graham et al., 2013). As Dourish (as cited in Gazzard, 2011) state:
“The technologically mediated world does not stand apart from the physical world within which it is embedded, it provides new sets of ways for that physical world to be understood,” (p.405).
Augmented reality (AR) is defined by its ability to create and reinterpret the meaning (metadata) of spaces and visible through the use of technological devices (Pesce, 2017). This internet essay will explore:
- The history of augmented reality;
- The key figures involved in its implementation and development as well as;
- The social, political and cultural implications of its adoption.
History and Key Figures in AR
From its genesis, augmented reality has been predicated on the development of mobile technology and locative capabilities. The basis for augmented reality largely derived from maps as an elementary tool to embed meaning into space (Liao & Humphreys, 2015). Liao and Humphreys (2015) argue that maps, “presented narratives of space, ways of moving through the city and sequential orderings of space,” (p.1420).
Keyhole, founded in 2001, by John Hanke brought digital mapping into the mainstream after it was used by media channels such as CNN to visualise the Iraqi landscape during the Iraq War (Goggin, 2017; see also Pesce, 2017). During this time, Keyhole Corp was acquired by Google in 2004 forming the basis for Google Maps (Pesce, 2017). In a statement by Google executive Jonathan Rosenberg (as cited in Goggin, 2017), Keyhole was described as, “a valuable addition to Google’s efforts to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” (p.46). From this point onwards Google has remained a key stakeholder in augmented reality as they increased investment and development into locative capabilities and data collection.
With the adoption of location-based affordances and data capacity into the interface of smartphones, new opportunities arose for mobile gaming. As Goggin (2017) states, “Here the capabilities of the devices were important, because of the importance of the processing power, but also incorporation of sensors, location, multimedia, and other technology” (p.48). Niantic Labs (also founded by John Hanke) has been central to the development of location-based gaming where players could “diverge from everyday mobilities by reframing familiar locations as hybrid digital-physical landscapes,” (Stark as cited in Goggin, 2017, p.49) Ingress gave Google the opportunity to experiment with other product developments in AR such as Google Glass. Significant advances in AR tech derived from the popularity of Pokémon Go– a location-based game launched in July 2015. The potential for augmented reality does not merely lie in its popularity but from its data collection. Through the game, Niantic was able to turn millions of its users into data points establishing a feedback loop where so Niantic could simultaneously improve the gaming experience and build a data pool of its users (Goggin, 2017). As Goggin (2017) highlights in the implementation of Pokémon Go:
“We can detect a far bit of juggling of the various parts of the phenomenon, and the claims these elements represents against particular constituencies, such as game players, businesses with a geo-location stake in the game, affected communities, investors, software developers and so on,” (p.52).
This is underscored by Niantic’s recent announcement of its ‘Planet-Scale AR Alliance’ among multiple companies with varying stakes in technology specific to devices and data capacity.
Excited by the shared vision of the global MNO partners joining the Niantic Planet-Scale AR Alliance announced today. Together, we are working towards a more magically immersive real-world for future devices–and the 5G networks that will power them. https://t.co/av0wgUYeBa
— John Hanke (@johnhanke) September 1, 2020
Pokémon Go, Gieson Cacho, All Rights Reserved. Access from: https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/12/17/niantic-reveals-new-details-about-pokemon-go-buddy-adventure/
The real-time and interactive qualities of augmented reality rely entirely on the surveillance capabilities of devices (Pesce, 2017). This has become the focus for tech companies expanding into the market of augmented reality. Facebook recently introduced Project ARIA, a data gathering tool worn by users as glasses for the purpose of collecting ‘egocentric’ data providing the basis for contextually aware artificial intelligence. Project ARIA comprises of an array of sensors with the most important being its gaze detection and its ability to capture authentic human interest (Pesce, 2017). Project ARIA illustrates the natural progression of augmented reality as tech giants attempt to ‘map the world’ and exercise their influence how individuals behave in and perceive spaces.
Facebook’s Project ARIA, Facebook, All Rights Reserved. Access from: https://tech.fb.com/announcing-project-aria-a-research-project-on-the-future-of-wearable-ar/
The Effects of Augmented Reality
Ownership of ‘Space’
There are two central perspectives for the implications of augmented reality on the ownership of space. They can be set out as the ‘democratic perspective’, premised on the distributive power of AR versus the ‘exploitative perspective,’ where users only have purported control over space in exchange for their data. In order to evaluate these perspectives, it is important to refer to de Certeau’s 1984 theory of spatial practice. Practices of space are outlined as:
- Strategic: Practices employed by authorities such as governments, cities or corporations to, “control, design, create rules, control movement, and shape the organisational norms and discipline of space,” (de Certeau, 1984 as cited in Liao & Humphreys, 2015, p.1423).
- Tactical: Refers to the “specific devices, actions, and procedures in which people create for and move through spaces in subversive ways,” (de Certeau, 1984 as cited in Liao & Humphreys, 2015, p.1423).
Liao and Humphreys’ (2015) study of Layar, an early application of augmented reality, supports the democratic perspective. Liao and Humphreys (2015) found that users took more ‘ownership’ over public spaces becoming more perceptive of opportunities to subvert and reclaim ‘strategic’ places for their own needs. It could be argued however, there is a perception gap between the appeal of user-generated content and the realities of its control. Even if we wanted to accept a democratic view of AR, power is still skewed towards a smaller group of individuals. As Graham, Zook and Boulton (2013) assert:
“The expectation that all viewpoints contribute to the production and reproduction of spatial representations is believed by disproportional power wielded by those with the time, inclination, education, resources and network personalities necessary to make their videos visible,” (p.469).
This is exacerbated by the power of algorithms and respectively, software engineers to construct a digital representation of material places around the economic and political influences of their corporations. Graham, Zook and Boulton assert that, “even as underlying algorithms are social products, (…) Google’s engineers can intervene directly, with or without explanation, to modify search results or to change the rules of the game” (p.470). AR’s potential to reclaim and reproduce spaces is underpinned by the strategic forces it attempts to circumvent, supporting the ‘exploitative’ perspective. Ultimately, AR facilitates the commercialisation and privatisation of public spaces bringing to question initials’ rights to space.
Hyperreality and the Prioritisation of Information
The video, ‘HYPERREALITY’ by Keiichi Matsuda, presents an insight into how augmented reality could be implemented at scale and the type of effects it could have on our sense of place. The main character, Emilio’s perception of space is populated by layers of popups and saturated with information. Parallels could be drawn between the overwhelming nature of ‘hyperreality’ and the increasing role technology took during COVID-19. I personally found it difficult to absorb all the necessary information as my social, work and educational lives took place online. As a result, I relied heavily on the use of services to prioritise and filter my communications. As Pond (2020) states:
“[Digital systems] produce meaning in abstract flows of text and images, GIFS and memes through programmable recommendation and promotion engines and through layered webs of interconnected humans and media. Specifying a focus, locating a dynamic of interest and influence, is essential for making these systems,” (p.194).
The inequalities of power have been highlighted through the prevalence of recommendation features on social media and their ability to shape our behaviour. Through augmented reality, our judgement and perception of material reality will be controlled through the lense of hegemonic forces such as Google and Facebook.
To conclude, tech giants continue to exercise more influence over individuals as they mediate an increasing proportion of our everyday practices. The personal and intimate qualities of augmented reality only emphasise the potential for corporations to understand and control our behaviour behind a shield of improving user-experience. In the future, the style of device through which we can experience AR will play an ongoing role in the degree of power tech corporations can amass. The devices themselves will change the relationship we have to technology as Pesce understands, “the closer you bring technology to the skin, the more power it has over you.”
Gazzard, A. (2011). Location, location, location: Collecting space and place in mobile media. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 14(4) pp.405-417. https://doi.org/10.1177/1354856511414344
Goggin, G. (2017). Locating Mobile Media Audiences in Plain View with Pokémon Go. In Studying digital media audiences perspectives from Australasia. Routledge. https://doi-org.ezproxy2.library.usyd.edu.au/10.4324/9781315402062
Graham, M., Zook, M., & Boulton, A. (2013). Augmented reality in urban places: contested content and the duplicity of code.
Liao, T., & Humphreys, L. (2015). Layar-ed places: Using mobile augmented reality to tactically reengage, reproduce and reappropriate public space. New media & society 17(9), pp.1418-1435. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444814527734
Pesce, M. (2017, December 1). The Last Days of Reality. https://meanjin.com.au/essays/the-last-days-of-reality/
Pond, P. (2020). Complexity, Digital Media and Post Truth Politics: A Theory of Interactive Systems (1st ed. 2020). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-44537-9