Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Spanner: Now They Call It Augmented Reality

I follow a lot of interesting people on Twitter. One of them just happens to be William Gibson. Sometimes he tweets or retweets something that catches my attention. In this case, he retweeted a post by Chris NakashimaBrown pointing to a Bruce Sterling blog post on augmented reality that NakashimaBrown calls an "awesome riff". Needless to say, I myself had to retweet:
But what does this have to do with my still-neglected webmanga project Spanner?


I was actually introduced to the concept back in 2003 when I discovered WearCam.org, a site run by scientist/inventor Steve Mann. He refers to "augmented reality" under its technical name, "computer-mediated reality" and is in fact a pioneer in the field. His concept, as I saw it, involved something like VR goggles, ultimately miniaturized into eyewear indistinguishable from ordinary eyeglasses or sunglasses. (What more cyberpunk concept can there be than mirrorshades used as a surveillance device, especially against the authorities?)

Fast-forward six years. Now camera-equipped cellphones are extremely common. Some cellphones are more powerful today than top-of-the-line computers were fifteen years ago. Now there's an iPhone app that promises to bring augmented reality functionality to Apple's popular smartphone, though Apple doesn't plan to open the iPhone API for such purposes anytime soon. And, of course, we know that cellphones will be getting ever more powerful, so we're bound to see AR apps proliferate in the years to come.

It could very well turn out that by 2014, when Spanner begins, wearable computers with eye- or sunglasses as their monitors could be not just feasible for everyday use, but all the rage in the fashion world. Eventually — and some science fiction writers have already picked up on this — the computers will be built into our skulls or flesh, and our eyes will be the monitors.

From Gibson's Neuromancer to Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, the whole cyberpunk genre has had cyberspace (a term Gibson coined in Neuromancer) as almost its monomania. Now cyberspace is everywhere; the virtual reality in Snow Crash has even inspired the creation of actual virtual worlds, most famously Second Life. Now that we've brought to life the virtual reality Gibson's cyberspace cowboys jacked into, how about we bring cyberspace to RL? That's what Augmented Reality's all about.

I'm using the idea in my comics. I hope to make it interesting.

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