Does Augmented Reality Diminish our Humanity?

Google Glass

Augmented reality, still in the nascent stages of technological development but quickly gaining traction, attempts to alter the way we interact with the world as we know it. Ideally, devices and apps that help to “augment” our reality will help us accomplish tasks that we wouldn’t be able to accomplish otherwise. The Google Glass experiment is probably one of the most famously publicized recent attempts at bringing augmented reality to the general population through wearable technology.

According to a recent Venture Beat article, tech adviser Digi-Capital predicts the augmented and virtual reality industries could turn into a combined $120 billion market by 2020. If these predictions are correct, augmented reality is likely to have a big impact on the way we live our lives. How much will designers of these technologies consider the human? And why does it matter?

Augmented reality devices are extensions of ourselves because they enhance our senses, so ideally, the augmented aspect of wearable AR will aspire to better humanity in some way. But when, in augmenting our humanity, are we actually detracting from our human-ness? By adding technological devices to human bodies, when are we improving the human capacity to experience the world and when are we simply letting technology take over? This is something I will explore this semester through my work with the Locative Media research group.

Isabel Pedersen, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Ontario where she runs Decimal Lab, a research lab that focuses on “media that people carry, pocket, wear, implant, and consume in order to understand how this transformation to very personal tech is affecting life, society, culture and the arts.” Much of her work encourages humans to actively engage with the design of wearable interfaces; she believes that humans should be active agents of design from the very beginning, committing to a technology that will empower rather than dehumanize.

In “Are Wearables Really Ready-to-Wear?” Pedersen argues that we are accepting wearable technology with wild, blind enthusiasm, and that we need to take back our confidence in our ability to control our digital lives. Before we adopt these technologies, we need to step back and take a minute to understand them and their impact. It is this kind of deeper understanding that our research group will work towards this semester.

 

Pedersen, Isabel. “Are Wearables Really Ready-to-Wear” IEEE Technology and Society Magazine. Summer 2014.

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