Friday Fave: AR will spark the next big tech platform — Call it Mirrorworld

Last week my selected article introduced the concept of mapping through crowdsourced images and turning them into data to be used in digital mapping for a variety of scenarios – predominantly self-driving cars. This week I’m going to expand that concept into a world that is completely digitised and available to everyone through augmented reality (AR). Welcome to the mirrorworld. A world where everything that exists in the real world has a full-size digital twin. Impossible? Ridiculous? Science fiction only? Stay with me…

The article in Wired was written by Kevin Kelly, Wired’s founding executive editor. He elegantly illustrates how the mirrorworld is already happening, paints scenarios of future possibilities in our daily lives and then connects through to how the technologies will adapt, including of course the ethical concerns of privacy and data.

“The mirrorworld—a term first popularized by Yale computer scientist David Gelernter—will reflect not just what something looks like but its context, meaning, and function. We will interact with it, manipulate it, and experience it like we do the real world.”

Here’s how the mirrorworld is being created – and it’s already well underway as we saw with last week’s example from Mapillary. Remember Pokémon Go? If you played it (or still are playing it), you’ll recall how you viewed sites through your phone and they had information layered over the top? Some art galleries and museums do this now with their virtual tours of exhibitions. The research scientists and engineers are currently building virtual places (in the mirrorworld) with these overlays of information. It’s pointed out in the article that these digital landscapes must feel real – what landscape architects call placeness. It’s early days, Stage 1 perhaps, where examples suggest information that overlays the real world. It could be annotations (think Google map pop-ups) to tags you’d added to favourite locations or people.

But then there are the next stages – they will meld together so quickly we may not notice how we’re using search to “…find me all the places where a park bench faces sunrise along a river…”. Imagine being able to hyperlink physical objects – as we hyperlink words on the internet. We’ll end up with a dual reality – physical meets digital – but in ways we’re only just imagining. However, this is a lot of data and data is the next currency – along with ownership of data, privacy and power.

Aside from gaming (examples such as Pokémon Go), Microsoft HoloLens is already being touted as part of the office furniture. GE has rebranded itself as a “digital industrial company” that merges physical and digital worlds. And other companies, names that may become household names, are building their strategies based on mirrorworld adoption.

There are some examples described that really could be dismissed as the latest sci-fi movie plot, but… doesn’t sci-fi inform real life? To succeed, to become reality, the mirrorworld needs consumers and consumable products – remember, Google Glass? We’ve learnt a lot of lessons since then and Google Glass is still in production, just not as the consumer product that was expected to be widely adopted. The equipment we use will require brilliant design to become as ubiquitous as our smartphones, earbuds and glasses.

There’s a moment in this article that made me stop, re-read, and deeply consider the impact.

“History will be a verb. With the swipe of your hand, you will be able to back in time, in any location, and see what came before.”

Re-constructed realities – which leads me into perspectives, interpretations – well beyond data ownership – and into manipulated realities that influence behaviours. There’s a considered discussion about risks (think #fakenews) but there’s also potential answers with complementary technologies – enter blockchain where data is decentralised and distributed in networks (more on trusted networks in another Friday Fave to come).

Kelly predicts there’s a decade before the mirrorworld is developed enough to become mainstream and several more decades to mature. However, now is the time to consider the risks and implications, while marvelling at the possibilities. This isn’t sci-fi anymore, the mirrorworld is providing us time to reflect on our role in future developments of data-driven realities.

Read (longer read – perhaps 10-15minutes).

This post is part of a weekly Friday Faves series contributed by the team at Ripple Effect Group. Read the entire series and collections from other team members here.