Why Augmented Reality Is The Media’s Next Frontier: My Long Walk Into The Metaverse
Future News 150
As I dodged cow pats, disgruntled farmers and Jeremy Clarkson fans across the Cotswolds’ rolling and increasingly muddy hills, I kept one eye on the track ahead and another on my phone.
In true Millennial fashion, a group of us had decided to ditch the traditional map and compass (boomer-tech), putting our fate in the hands of Apple, GPS and one of the many hiking apps on the market.
The attraction of collaborative mapping tools like AllTrails is that they give you an approximate target distance for your chosen activity – from hiking, skiing to canoeing – as well as a user-generated rating system. You can pull up a highly recommended hike in seconds, get going and be assured that you will have a lot more accuracy than Google Maps.
They’re less perfect, however, if and when your smartphone or smartwatch loses internet signal or dies. That's when you start questioning whether orienteering lessons might be a wise investment for the future.
Fortunately for us, the sky stayed clear and the devices stayed on, allowing us to complete our hike without any major detours and fulfil a decade-old vision of AllTrails’ founder Russell Cook who wanted his app to be a reliable digital guide. Mission accomplished.
AR Is Here (Almost)
In the next decade, I expect that walk to be subtly yet substantially different as augmented reality (AR) experiences project digital data points into the real world.
If Mark Zuckerberg has his way, I will be roaming around the Cotswolds in 2033 with a pair of Meta glasses. I won’t have to clumsily reach for my phone every five minutes since directions will be overlaid by the wearable device into my eyesight as I plod along during my weekend off.
Apart from rampaging bulls, I may also be distracted by the glasses alerting me to water stations and other points of interest, such as the Cotswolds’ Broadway Tower, where, with one click of a button, I could be provided with more information about the tourist attraction thanks to a data pull from Wikipedia.
“While most U.S. adults have not used AR or VR tech, many are still interested in adopting the technology. Early adopters of AR and VR tech skew younger.” — 2022 Harris Poll.
My morale could also be boosted by fellow hikers who have placed digital post-its on popular parts of the path. “Only five more wretched miles,” Dave, 45, from Swindon, could write.
All the while my blissful countryside-induced mood could be interrupted by an endless torrent of ‘breaking news’ alerts from the BBC. “Dog Bites Man”, I’m told through my glasses. I hope Dave, 45, from Swindon, is OK.
I bring this example up not as an advert for the Cotswolds Tourist Board or a free plug for AllTrails, which, by the way, is very good, but to point out that all the pieces of the AR puzzle are already there, they just have to be put together.
While the likes of Apple, Sony, EpicGames, Meta and major auto-makers try to make that happen, media innovators should be thinking about the inherent advantages and disadvantages of an AR-enabled world.
The Pokémon GO Precedent
Thanks to its 500m downloads and global success, the rise of Nintendo’s Pokémon GO game represents the first real foray into the AR landscape and provides a solid case study to test AR ideas against.
For the uninitiated, from 2016 Pokémon GO has seen players create an avatar and then use their phone to track down hundreds of species of fictional creatures in their bid to “catch ‘em all”.
At the height of its popularity, players sometimes overcrowded Pokéstops, where they could collect items and level-up faster, and even trespassed on properties.
Lawyer Keith Lee went as far as asking whether Pokémon GO was illegal, outlining some important questions everyone who wants to develop AR applications should consider:
Does placing an AR object on a person’s property, without their permission, affect their interest in exclusive possession of property?
Does owning property in “the real world” extend property rights to any geo-locative, intellectual property elements that may be placed on it?
Is placing an AR object on a person’s private property, without their permission, a creation of an attractive nuisance?
Granted, this really takes the fun out of AR, but these problems will crop up time and time again as the technology becomes more common.
Another example would be AR-generated advertisements. Major cities like London have ad space crammed into every nook and cranny, including miniature billboards across the London Underground.
The powers that be at Transport for London will no doubt have to designate particular AR areas, otherwise the experiences will be overwhelming and borderline dangerous. Equally, the AR experience shouldn’t be seen as a one-way experience.
As the US Army continues to explore the technology as part of its Project Convergence, soldiers are continually seen as data collectors, relaying information back to command centres via AR overlays based on Microsoft’s HoloLens.
AR users in the civilian world will be collecting data for platform and app makers, raising further ethical concerns and considerations. Will future journalists effectively be sensors? And will AR users face ‘information overload’ as even more data is presented to them in overlays?
Location, Location, Location
These issues are particularly pronounced in relation to non-location-based/roaming AR. But for location-based AR, the problems are smaller and the advantages are bigger.
Harvard University, for example, has teamed with schools in the United States to create an ‘Alien Contact!’ educational game, using its immersive elements to boost engagement and subsequent learning outcomes.
Media outlets can and should experiment with such a set-up to enhance their own storytelling abilities. Much has been made of the FT’s data prowess or The New York Times’ embrace of multimedia and scroll-down stories, but imagine if large investigations, profile pieces or features could be presented through AR at a location linked to any given story.
Outlets would also be given a bigger canvas for their work, moving away from the six-inch, 16:9 aspect ratio of the smartphone era which we find ourselves in.
As it relates to news-gathering and production, fact-checking could also become quicker and more accurate because a combination of machine-learning and AR would make data visualisation and interrogation easier.
Generative AI could also make world building as simple as making a coffee in the morning, while the combination of digital twinning and AR could transport you into the middle of a major news story (a White House press briefing, as just one example).
The point being here is that although some of the recent hype around AI is justified, the combination of machine-learning and other new(ish) technologies like IoT and AR is a lot more exciting, as I discussed with Professor Charlie Beckett here.
“There won’t be a metaverse that is used by millions of people until it contains experiences that millions of people find worth having, and making those experiences is quite difficult.” — Snow Crash author Neal Stephenson.
But we shouldn’t get carried away with ourselves. The AI and AR maximalists often try to paint a utopian vision of a future world where society’s problems are solved, or at least minimised, thanks to these technologies.
If you look closer at what is being offered, however, it's actually a reframing of the status quo with more bells and whistles.
The end result could (deliberately or accidentally) cover-up serious social issues rather than solve them. If AR went down this route, I would rather take the compass and the map over the fancy glasses — even if my street cred’ takes a dent in the process.
🗳️ Latest Westminster Sentiment Survey
Following the week in which Sir Keir Starmer unveiled Labour’s five election pledges for the 2024 General Election in the UK and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak finalised his Northern Ireland protocol deal with the EU, I have continued to poll a group of political correspondents who report for titles across the political spectrum.
When asked to rate the government and Labour on a scale of one to 10 (10 being great and one being poor) on their communication efforts, Sunak’s administration scored an average of 4 and Labour secured a 4.6.
After being on the offensive during the festive period and January, one reporter noted that Starmer’s party had started to be “quite careful” around what they are talking about. The Lobby is getting hungry.
🥗 Save Our Salad!
Britain is facing a vegetable shortage and that means tomatoes are off the menu at the BBC canteen to the chagrin of English breakfast-loving staffers. Below is last Thursday’s front-page from The Daily Star.
👑 The BBC’s Big Year
As the BBC prepares to cover King Charles’ Coronation in May and help host the Eurovision Song Contest that same month, the latest Tech, Power & Media episode focuses on the corporation. I speak to The Press Gazette’s William Turvill, who recently reported on the apparent ‘low morale’ at the broadcaster amid cuts, reorganisations and ongoing political pressure.
⚖️ CNN Embraces ‘Centrist’ Strategy Ahead of 2024 Election
Warner Bros. Discovery boss David Zaslav told investment analysts last week that CNN, which was absorbed into the new company last year, will be more politically ‘balanced’ going forward:
“On the news side, we are fighting hard and making real progress. CNN stands as a premier global news organization, and we wanted to be the place for fact-based reporting and thoughtful discourse that is broader than politics and sport.
“We are already seeing a more inclusive range of voices and viewpoints, as demonstrated last month, when over 70 Republicans came on our air during their Congressional speaker election process, a first in a very long time, and we intend to continue advancing on this balanced strategy.”
📺 Media and Tech News
Ad giant WPP posted its latest earnings
The Athletic has launched dedicated F1 coverage
The number of Americans using dating apps is flatlining
Britain's voice of football, John Motson, has passed away
Axios took a look at TruthSocial one year on
Politico launched its latest newsletter in the UK
Amid inflation fears, US stocks have been hammered
Operation Southside: Inside the UK media’s plan to reconcile with Labour
How disinformation is forcing a paradigm shift in media theory
🎙️ Podcasts I’m Listening To
Another Podcast: ChatGPT vs. Google
Recode Media: Real life ‘Succession’
BBC Media Show: The coverage of Nicola Bulley
For high-praise, tips or gripes, please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org or via @ianjsilvera. Follow on LinkedIn here.
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