The Revolution Will Be Advertisement

More on augmented reality, from Jeff Bercovici at Forbes:

So far, Google has only scratched the surface of the advertising potential here. That makes sense: How many times in your life are you actually going to point your phone at an ad?
Google glasses could change all that. Now the user doesn’t have to point his phone at an ad to activate the AR [augmented reality] layer — he only has to look at it. Combine that with location data and all the other rich targeting information Google has at its disposal and you’re talking about potentially the most valuable advertising medium ever invented.
Imagine it: You’re walking home from work. You put on your Google Glasses to check your email and notice that the sushi place across the street, where you frequently go for takeout, is highlighted. In the window is a glowing icon that lets you know there’s a discount available. A tiny tilt of your head brings up the offer: 40% off any purchase plus free edamame. With a bit more tilting and nodding, you place your order. By the time you cross the street, it’s ready for you. Would you like to pay via Google Wallet?
You nod.
In unrelated news, Ben Goertzel thinks that corporations “are directly and clearly opposed to the Singularity.”

The Future Gets In Your Eyes

The Interwebs is all atwitter over yesterday’s report in the New York Times that by the end of the year, Google will be selling “a pair of Google-made glasses that will be able to stream information to the wearer’s eyeballs in real time.” And just imagine if all those a-tweets could be beamed right into your eyeballs!Speaking of the future, Nevada has become the first state to legalize and regulate self-driving cars. These are two fronts in the same technological push to fundamentally (or impactfully, as transhumanists say) transform the way we are present in the physical world — a push we can already see underway with the rise of GPS and location-awareness technologies.For interested readers, I meditated on this transformation in an essay for The New Atlantis last year called “GPS and the End of the Road.” Here’s a relevant snippet:

The highest-end smartphones come enabled not only with GPS, but with video cameras, and with sensors that enable the phone to know where it is pointing. Combining these abilities, augmented-reality applications allow you to hold up your smartphone to, say, an unfamiliar city street, of which it will show you a live video feed, with hovering information boxes over points of interest showing you customer reviews, historical data, photographs, coupons, advertisements, and the like. One such augmented-reality app is called Layar because it allows you to see reality “layered” over, either with fanciful images or with helpful bubbles of information telling you what to see and why. Proposals are in the works to display such information on glasses or contact lenses, eliminating even the burden of holding up one’s arm.The great and simple promise of these technologies is to deliver to us the goods of finding things in the world in the most efficient way possible. After Brad Templeton: their feature is to find the most interesting things in the world, and to explain why they are interesting, while eliminating the apparent bug that most of the things we encounter seem pretty boring. Moreover, location awareness and augmented reality, paired with GPS navigation, transmit us to these interesting places with the minimum possible requirement of effort and attention paid to the boring places that intervene. We can get where we’re going, and see what we want to see, without having to look….

Augmented reality image via Google via NYT

On being in the world

Apropos the recent pair of posts here on lifelogging, I might recommend for further reading Christine Rosen’s essay on multitasking from The New Atlantis last year, and Walter Kirn’s 2007 essay on that subject in The Atlantic. From Kirn’s piece:

Productive? Efficient? More like running up and down a beach repairing a row of sand castles as the tide comes rolling in and the rain comes pouring down. Multitasking, a definition: “The attempt by human beings to operate like computers, often done with the assistance of computers.” It begins by giving us more tasks to do, making each task harder to do, and dimming the mental powers required to do them.

Kirn’s essay contains so many asides and parentheticals but builds in such a crescendo that I think he must have intentionally crafted the form of the essay to itself be a sort of meditation on focus. He directs his ire not so much at the technologies of multitasking as at the ways they are used, and at the unquestioned premises behind the tools’ design and promotion — premises that can produce effects quite the opposite of what is promised and intended.
Take e-readers, for example. Let’s put aside the claims that reading is coming to an end and the counter-claims that reading is undergoing a renaissance; instead, let’s focus on the e-reader technology itself. The difference between, say, the Kindle and printed books (playfully explored here by Alan Jacobs on one of our sister blogs) is of course partly a matter of comfort for the eye and the hand. But more importantly, screens are generally part of a series of technologies that immerse us in a vast web of constant connection to other things, people, and ideas — rather than just the things, people, and ideas right in front of us. In another New Atlantis article last year, Christine Rosen described her experience attempting to read Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby on a Kindle:

… I quickly adjusted to the Kindle’s screen and mastered the scroll and page-turn buttons. Nevertheless, my eyes were restless and jumped around as they do when I try to read for a sustained time on the computer. Distractions abounded. I looked up Dickens on Wikipedia, then jumped straight down the Internet rabbit hole following a link about a Dickens short story, “Mugby Junction.” Twenty minutes later I still hadn’t returned to my reading of Nickleby on the Kindle.

Maryanne Wolf wonders about the implications of that kind of distraction for children on the New York Times website:
The child’s imagination and children’s nascent sense of probity and introspection are no match for a medium that creates a sense of urgency to get to the next piece of stimulating information. The attention span of children may be one of the main reasons why an immersion in on-screen reading is so engaging, and it may also be why digital reading may ultimately prove antithetical to the long-in-development, reflective nature of the expert reading brain as we know it….
The habitual reader Aristotle worried about the three lives of the “good society”: the first life is the life of productivity and knowledge gathering; the second, the life of entertainment; and the third, the life of reflection and contemplation….
I have no doubt that the digital immersion of our children will provide a rich life of entertainment and information and knowledge. My concern is that they will not learn, with their passive immersion, the joy and the effort of the third life, of thinking one’s own thoughts and going beyond what is given.
E-readers wouldn’t be nearly as problematic if they didn’t — both explicitly by being Internet-enabled and implicitly through their digital and screeny natures — draw us into the mode of interaction that is characteristic of the digital world. Reading itself may not be going anywhere, but sustained and focused reading might become increasingly difficult.
And of course these concerns about screens and reading apply more broadly to our interactions with people, places, and the world around us in general. Just take a look at the pilots who recently not only overflew their airport by 150 miles but didn’t even respond to frantic hails from airports and other nearby pilots, all because they were distracted by their laptops. Maybe the pilots are lying — maybe they were really asleep — but even then, the fact that they would use laptops as an excuse and that so many of us would find that excuse plausible suggests that we understand the great power that the screen can have over us. One shudders to imagine how our interaction with the world will shift if the medium of information immersion is slapped right onto our eyeballs.
(Hat tip: Justin Henderson)
[Photo credits: Parviz Research Group, University of Washington; Ryon Day via The Austin Map Project]