It used to be that people with wild imaginations wrote improbable stories for a sci-fi audience and then later, perhaps even decades later, those imaginings might become reality. For example, Jules Verne, an astonishingly imaginative author, wrote in the mid-19th century about fantastical things that we now take for granted such as electric submarines, newscasts, tasers, skywriting and videoconferencing. As far as videoconferencing is concerned, he may have been dreaming about it in the 19th century, but I for one did not experience a high-quality video conference until the 21st century. In this case, his innovation took over 100 years to materialize.
For those of us who are slow out of the gate, having decades or even a century to turn a great idea into an even better reality meant that you didn’t have to innovate or change too quickly. But those days are long gone. Take augmented reality, for example. It’s moved from arcade video games and TV football games to smartphone apps in a very short period of time.
Married to mobile technology, augmented reality lets us experience the world in a new, more information-rich way. Wikipedia describes augmented reality as
a live, direct or indirect, view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality, in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality.
In other words, it’s real life — but better. It means that we no longer have to experience our surroundings in just a three-dimensional way. Now current technology allows us to layer on top of our physical world information that leads to insight and learning. Kevin Bonsor gives a practical example:
Augmented reality is changing the way we view the world — or at least the way its users see the world. Picture yourself walking or driving down the street. With augmented-reality displays, which will eventually look much like a normal pair of glasses, informative graphics will appear in your field of view, and audio will coincide with whatever you see. These enhancements will be refreshed continually to reflect the movements of your head. Similar devices and applications already exist, particularly on smartphones like the iPhone.
So why does this matter to knowledge management personnel? If the people you serve can take their smartphones or Google glasses and use those to obtain the information they need while on the go, will any of them ever elect to stay tethered to their office just because your knowledge resources are best viewed at a desktop? I didn’t think so. Thus, in one fell swoop, your work product has moved from critically important to nice but highly inconvenient. That’s not an optimal outcome.
To be clear, this is not just about mobility. This is about merging our information with our physical world while we are mobile. It’s also about taking humans out of the information search process. Without an augmented reality app, if you want information about something you see, you’ll have to enter a search query via your smartphone’s web browser. With augmented reality, however, you don’t have to go hunting for information. It simply is presented to you in context as needed.
This is radically different from our current world of information push and pull. It’s a new world of information ubiquity.
For those of you who are thinking about more effective ways to present data in context, augmented reality may provide some answers. In the words of Rick Singer, IBM’s Vice-President for Sports Technology:
This is all about data. It’s about how you take data, aggregate it and make it simpler to use,” says Singer. “This is like having your best friend with you that knows everything about the [US Open] right by your side because you can take all of that data and you can make better decisions.
If your KM planning isn’t headed in this direction, then you will be left behind.
For the skeptics among you who think this is still pretty far-fetched technology, I have one word for you: IKEA. That’s right, IKEA is launching an augmented reality catalog app that lets you experience their inventory with audio and video via your smartphone. If it’s available for shoppers, then it’s hard to deny that this technology has moved from science fiction to practical reality. And, given the current rate of consumerization of technology, how long do you think it will be before the knowledge workers you serve demand similar functionality?
But don’t procrastinate. The future is here. And, before you know it, you’ll need to master the Articulated Naturality Web, which promises “to open a door to a virtual universe in which our mind is the only boundary.”
Remember, you heard it here first.
If you would like to learn more about augmented reality, here are some resources:
- Augmented Reality (video from The Franklin Institute, Philadelphia)
- Common Craft video explanation
- How augmented reality works (How Stuff Works)
- IBM Helps Tennis Fans “See Through Walls” with Augmented Reality
- IKEA 2012 catalog app preview
- Sesame Street augmented reality dolls take AR to the next level
- TED: The thrilling potential of SixthSense technology
- The Future of Augmented Reality
- Top 15 augmented reality apps for iPhone and iPad (PC World)
- Wikipedia article
[Photo Credit: Ian Westcott]