Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Future of Reality

Reality.  It is something we all encounter, every day.  “In philosophy, reality is the state of things as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear or might be imagined” (Wikipedia Apr. 28, 2012).  I wonder what our definition of reality will be in the future.  I just read iStock_000015885386XSmallan article “the Future of Food” (The Futurist May-June 2012, p.24-28) that talks about the efforts to genetically engineer / modify organisms.  There are scientists experimenting with creating transgenic crops (eg, a potato with a chicken gene), referred to as Frankenfood, interestingly.  They are creating rice with vitamin enhancements, hardy corn crops to grow under harsh conditions, etc.  Some geneticists claim that one day we will select flavors, textures, and colors for our tomatoes with the a few clicks of a mouse.  In the future will our food be real, as we know it?

Another article in the same issue of The Futurist, “Unlimiting Energy’s Growth” (p.29-31) describes work to create superlight smart materials that more flexible than rubber, 100-500 times stronger than steel, and thus cars and airplanes that weigh 1% of current models.  These materials will be self-healing (eg. a scratch in the paint on a surface might repair itself as if the scratch never occurred).  They also may have photovoltaic capabilities such that cars and airplanes may run off solar power.

Google recently put out a video to show case their vision for augmented reality glasses.  Check out the story here and in particular the video below.

Augmented Reality

This would be a pretty cool way to interact with the world.  Some apps on smartphones can do some of this but not nearly as seamlessly as the Google Glasses might.  This sort of innovation will push reality as we know it into a new space.  Until then, you might want to check out Wikitude, which adds location based augmented reality to iPads, iPhones, Androids, and Windows Phones.  “For location-based Augmented Reality the position of objects on the screen of the mobile device is calculated using the user's position (by GPS or Wifi), the direction in which the user is facing (by using the compass) and accelerometer” (Wikipedia April 28, 2012).

How might K-12 students benefit from access to augmented reality tools?  Perhaps they could be creators of the digital enhanced layer of an augmented reality field trip.  Imagine students learning about rock strata and with mobile smart devices, they record observations, geo-referenced of course, and later add further data.  Their work and analysis is uploaded to the school augmented reality channel on some cloud service.  Then when other students go on that particular field trip, their mobile devices will present previous students observations and research as the same ground is covered.  They could connect with the previous students, ask questions, challenge assumptions, etc.  It could be a way of continuous learning, sharing learning, and challenging each successful set of students to add to the body of knowledge.  Or perhaps students research historical information and add it to locations around their school or town with links to reflective blog posts iStock_000010314279Smallthey’ve written about the events and places.  Students could role play within the augmented or virtual reality environments to relive situations or make changes and play out the new versions of reality.  The possibilities are endless.

Augmented reality is likely a key gateway to the merging of reality, as we know it, with virtual reality (VR).  We have students and teachers in one of our schools creating a 3D immersive learning world where reality is as they define it.  They started with a predefined environment and are now creators of their own through the BC Learning Nexus.  VR will cost effectively merge with 3D immersive learning worlds and as students learn they will transcend the constraints of the “real” world.  I previously wrote some fiction about this possible future here and here.

In my opinion if we continue with the current trajectory, the future of reality is in question.  Unless we change course, the lines will increasingly blur between reality and augmented, virtual, artificial versions.  Is this a good thing or a dangerous path to follow?  What do you think?