Augmented Reality: Increasing collective intelligence

Search engines like Google have trained us to believe we can find the answer to any question. Now activity streams from Twitter, Facebook, and others are changing our expectations around information yet again. We now demand information in real-time that’s socially and contextually relevant.

The real-time web

Contextual information transforms our interactions within our physical environment. Already there are iPhone and Android apps that overlay useful information like nearby restaurants on a live image through the mobile phone’s camera. In the future, we will have mobile applications that offer real-time commentary to accompany live or televised events, or provide contextual information to help you do your job better.

This area of research is called Augmented Reality, and it spans a wide spectrum of applications ranging from real-time information services to heads-up displays. In his thought-provoking Harvard Business blog post Organized Information is the Next Moonshot, “Near Futurist” John Sviokla shares examples of Augmented Reality that help people make better decisions. He goes further to state that the value of improving our nation’s collective intelligence is worthy of a “moonshot”-level mission to increase our global competitiveness. I would agree.

4 building blocks for Augmented Reality

As Sviokla mentioned in his post, PARC has long worked in understanding and enhancing our collective intelligence. Today PARC researchers are working in a number of areas that will enable future augmented reality applications that extend our individual and collective intelligence. I would summarize the necessary components for Augmented Reality as follows:

  1. Aggregation – collect and analyze information in real-time from a range of sources
  2. Recognition – identify scenes and objects, and understand locations, activities, and user preferences
  3. Delivery – send the right information to the user in real-time
  4. Presentation – provide a simple-to-use user interface that is consistent across devices and use cases

PARC is working in each of these areas, ranging from activity detection and mobile recommendation systems, to image recognition, social data mining, information visualization, and ethnography and user-centered design. We are developing platforms that give us options to pursue different directions as the future unfolds.

Personally, I’m looking forward to the day when I can point my mobile phone at something and get the right mix of facts, annotations, reviews, and commentary that makes me smarter… In today’s age of information overload, we could all use that kind of help.

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