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MOUNTAIN VIEW, 4 April — The long time dream of Augmented Reality “heads-up displays” (HUDs) took a step out of the concept lab and toward consumer space today when Google posted “Project Glass” on Google+. Although the post included photos and video of a simulated pair of glasses this was far from a project offering, rather it was an invitation to join in a dialog with the multinational corporation about how this technology should develop and what functionalities it might include.
Of all the new realities: Virtual, Mixed, and Augmented, heading for our cultural shores, Augmented Reality will almost certainly have the most dramatic impact. From artworks, museum installations, and culture hacks, to the prosopagnosia patient’s dream of putting game-like names over everyone in the room, to the absolutists nightmare of seeing a world subtly or entirely different from the one the person standing next to them sees.
The comments on the Project Glass post are in a way disheartening. Far from the invited discussion of the parameters of our coming reality, many commenters limited themselves to “when can I buy it?” or “is this a late April Fool’s joke?” With the sexiness of the app store comes a certain return from the early 21st century user back to the role of the 20th century viewer. If we can’t engage in the deeper aspects of this dialog, we will become but voiceless users of sexy, closed devices. While the time frame for Project Glass is unknown, clearly devices like this are coming. Computing has already moved from mainframe to desktop to laptop to mobile device. It seems unlikely that holding a phone in the air to see the Yelp ratings of the places on the street can be more than a transitory moment on the march to ubiquitous, HUD-based experience. Indeed, years ago Larry Page already said that Google would one day be a brain implant, that you’d think a question, and know the answer.
In a discussion today about mixed-reality WoW videos, Ironyca and I pondered the interfaces of the future: while Google’s video shows a sleek, minimal “Googly” interface, no doubt AR skin design will explode presently and you will be able to skin your corporate board meeting with WoW or Crysis 3 or Farmville graphics.