Wearables With Augmented Reality Are Mind-Blowing

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Wearables With Augmented Reality Are Mind-Blowing

A panel of industry experts at CES 2014 discusses the ethical quandaries and shared responsibilities with the augmented reality and head-mounted wearables that will change our lives as dramatically as the smartphone.

We all remember the day, before the smartphone, when taking a picture in public felt a bit invasive, an encroachment on public etiquette that could earn you a dirty look at best and a vocal condemnation if you pushed the envelope. Now watching someone squint into a smartphone screen to snap a shot, regardless of when or where, is part of daily life, so much so that nearly everyone has considered its toll on our ability to "live in the moment."

That sort of transition is bound to happen with the next generation of soon-to-be ubiquitous technology: wearables, specifically head-mounted ones like Google Glass that rely on augmented reality (AR) to deliver information. But not before society as a whole grapples with the fresh set of challenges such gadgets will bring to public life, personal privacy, and our relationships with the companies and authority figures that will have access to more real-world data than ever before.

Because it doesn't stop with cameras you can't see. Wearable tech and the AR software that powers it will surface far-reaching issues, all of which will be hitting court rooms, policy discussions, and dinner table conversations regarding what's appropriate to use in public, safe to use while driving, and mentally healthy to engage in day to day.

In a CES 2014 session titled "Augmented Reality: Next Big Thing or Info Overload?" a panel of AR specialists discussed these issues from the perspective of those who -- in the words of panel participant Brian Mullins, CEO and founder of AR software company Daqri -- will be "essentially arming the pubic with the technology" to fundamentally change how society functions.
Moderated by Scientific American Senior Editor Seth Fletcher, the talk meandered from the design and engineering challenges of AR and wearables to more philosophic questions. It found itself looking squarely at the ethical dilemmas posed by having devices overflowing with new and telling data strapped to our faces at all times and changing, literally, how we see the world.

"The social engineering aspects of augmented reality are just as important as the computer engineering aspects," said Neil Trevett, VP of mobile marketing at chipmaker Nvidia, which in the last few years has begun experimenting with AR in gaming. Also on the panel was Thomas Alt, CEO of AR software-maker Metaio, which will help power the "Real Sense" 3D camera that Intel announced at CES on Tuesday.