#ARinAction @ The MIT Media Lab

#ARinAction @ The MIT Media Lab
By Charlie Fink

Over a thousand people gathered in Boston’s wintry rain to ruminate over the future of Augmented Reality (AR) at the MIT Media Lab’s first ARinAction Conference, January 17–18. The conference, organized and well curated by the MIT Media Lab’s John Werner, allowed presenters with different perspectives on the emerging field to share their perspectives with an enthusiastic crowd of professionals midwifing the technology. The atmosphere was optimistic, buoyant, and expectant. Everyone there, as many pointed out, has a stake in the success of AR.

The billion dollar elephant in the VR room: Google’s Pokémon Go. Is it AR? Does it matter?

Pattie Maes of the Media Lab was a spectacular lead off hitter. Well known for her compelling TED talks, she gave a mesmerizing big picture presentation on the state of modern life: living simultaneously, imperfectly and superficially in the real and digital worlds. Multitasking and continually interrupting ourselves by checking our smart phones 100+ times a day. Tech has become a part of us she said, but the form is all wrong. Yet we all know there is no going back. Instead, we need to make our integration with technology more seamless. In the short term, our technology is making us less mindful and attentive, but in the long term it will make us much, much better. Better learners, better workers, better able to reach our potential. We will become augmented. Cyborgs. Many of the Media Lab’s forward thinking projects seek to accomplish this with wearables, biometric scent dispensers, and even tattoos. I always thought VR meditation was utter new age crap, but when Maes showed how we can use brainwaves to levitate and move objects in a 3D digital world, I shed my cynical disbelief.

We are augmenting and evolving ourselves.

Juan Enriquez, self described “optimistic curmudgeon, author, life sciences VC, synthetic bio futurist” amplified some of the themes Maes introduced. He worried that we have replaced natural selection with unnatural selection, but exalted in the possibility that by reordering genomes we can augment and therefore evolve ourselves, without the random interference of nature.

Robert Scoble, dramatic, insightful, and entertaining, dished Apple’s most secret plans for AR.

Lovable futurist, Robert Scoble, looking rumpled after taking the red eye from California (and leaving his laptop on the plane) took the stage wearing his HoloLens (a creative flourish), and presented convincing evidence that Apple will introduce a significant AR product this year, possibly creating an industry changing “big bang”. Tim Merel of Digi-Capital agreed. “It’s all about what the guys at the top of the pyramid do”.

PTC’s demo showed how AR can develop low skilled workers into high skilled ones.

PTC CEO Jim Heppleman then got real. He took a sleepy IT company and turned it into an AR enterprise powerhouse, helping over one thousand companies start to transform their workforce with AR.

Amber Case, a Harvard Fellow and author of “An Illustrated Dictionary of Cyborg Anthropology”, studies the impact of technology on how we live. Reggie Watts called her “one of the greatest people on the planet”. She made a case for minimal disruption. “A good tool is invisible,” she said.

Reggie Watts: Wilson tennis balls are coming to AR. They also taste great.

The demos outside the conference’s three lecture halls were just plain fun. One, in particular, caught my eye, HoloTats, from BaltiVirtual (of Baltimore) makes its dough working on AR marketing promotions for giant ad agencies, but it’s homegrown product for kids, HoloTats, showed the potential AR has to create experiential marketing.

Nothing but good clean fun, right? All HoloTats needs to be the next Kinects is distribution at Toys”R”Us, Walmart, Target and Amazon, and a ten million dollar television ad campaign on Cartoon Network. And maybe Twitch.

I don’t want to shortchange the long speaker’s list, but you get the idea. Instead, I’ll leave you with a few somewhat out of context quotable quotes from the many speakers.

[Tweet ““Google was killer app of Internet. Search for killer app of AR/VR is on.” – @BobMetcalfe”]

[Tweet ““AR will breathe new life into old industries like mining and construction.” – @cperey”]

[Tweet “Ever forgotten a name? That’s the market for consumer facial recognition software” – @chrisgrayson”]

[Tweet ““In the long run, the consumer will be a much bigger business than enterprise.” – @c3croteau”]

[Tweet ““It’s our job to keep the magic alive.” – @suyashcjoshi”]

Charlie Fink is an executive, writer and consultant with over three decades of experience in media, technology and the intersection between them. As an avid storyteller, entrepreneur, and award winning producer, Charlie has built a career building businesses across industries. With his tenure as an executive in companies such as Disney, Virtual World, and AOL, Charlie has honed an extensive knowledge and expertise.