SCIOPS 01.24: Illuminated Reality

arkit test by Zach Lieberman

Check out this video .

Ordinarily I don’t watch videos, so I understand if you’re hesitant. But it’s brief – fifty seconds – and astonishing. Using Apple’s new ARKit, a programming language for A ugmented R eality, Lieberman hangs beads of sound upon the thin air and walks back and forth through the recording. Just watch it, really.

This is big. Apple released ARKit in June, and Google just revealed competing Android software called ARCore at the end of August. The next generation of smartphones will be in contact with another plane of reality.

Last year, when Pokemon Go exploded across the globe, I remarked on how strange it was that millions of people, many of them perfectly reasonable adults with jobs and everything, were suddenly exploring their familiar surroundings looking for invisible spirit animals with elemental powers. It was like a Carlos Castenada remix of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them . As any normal person would do, I started haunting the dens of powerful Pokemon, waiting for Trainers to show up so I could reveal my Level 6 Pistol and rob them of their iPhones.

No, actually I just walked around amazed at the invisible world and the strange techno-shamans who could contact it. I’m not used to being a Muggle, to be honest. I’m usually at least a little keyed-in to the liminal realities that surround us. But we’re about to experience a profusion of layers like nothing we’ve ever seen before. Boomers complain that no one reads the same newspapers anymore, that our filter bubbles are robbing us of reality. Millennials, of course, know that reality was always a trick played on us by Noam Chomsky and his consent factory. The text of the news never had a 1-to-1 relationship with the physical world.

But with AR, the amount of realities will multiply exponentially. You and I might go to the beach together, stroll along the Cascadian coast under a gunmetal sky, throw rocks into the frigid surf. Except my rocks will make a splash, and yours won’t. You might be in Honolulu, or Singapore, or Morocco. Your beach might be a mountain lake in the Alps, or a flood control ditch in Texas. We will walk along, lost in conversation, until you find a hole in my logic and produce two 8.5x11” PDFs pirated from a scientific journal and destroy my whole thesis. I, of course, will magnanimously download them for later research, then activate my lightsaber app and slice cleanly through your image, ending the call.

Smartphones won’t be the end of it, of course. As much ridicule as Google Glass got when it was beta-released in 2013, it’s quietly had a revival in business and factory settings . Soon enough we’ll have contact lenses that display AR overlays onto local reality. After all, who wants to get tennis elbow from holding up their phone all the time?

Of course, there’s already some simple VR headsets you can make with your phone – as long as you don’t mind strapping a Happy Meal box to your face . Hands-free so you can stuff your face with greasy cornstarch!

What other kinds of effects will we see? Graffiti and unpainted buildings for those who can’t afford a city-decorating overlay? Ads projected onto every surface? Ransomware viruses that encrypt your vision? Horror of horrors, virtual pets?

Would you wear AR lenses? What if everyone else did, and you couldn’t understand what they were talking about unless you held up your archaic cellular telephone and peered through it like those tiny opera glasses from old-timey flicks? Early adopter, or laggard?

Would you rather have buggy software in your eyes, or live in a drab Muggle world while everyone around you performs magic?

If you’re old enough to remember A-ha, try this take on “Take On Me”: