It’s easy to dismiss augmented reality (AR) or its more impressive cousin Mixed Reality (MR) as being a little faddish; just interesting technological toys that will either completely disappear or just take their place next to any number of other mainstream electronic amusements. But what if I told you that AR could become such a fundamental technology we would not recognize the world in which it had achieved its final level of advancement?

AR has the potential to change so many aspects of the way we live our lives that it’s almost impossible to know where to begin. I have an idea.

AR demo

Who Wore it Best?

One of the fundamental developments that has to happen in order for a AR world to become a feasible reality is the rise of wearable technology. Right now most of our main computing devices are ones we carry in our pockets and backs. We hold them in our hands separate from ourselves. Yet it seems that the future of technology is to wear them like clothes and accessories. We are already seeing this with fitness trackers and smartwatches. VR head-mounted devices certainly also count as wearable, but obviously you can’t wear it wherever you go, unless you like tripping over things and wandering into traffic.

We’ve seen primitive AR wearables such as the Google Glass, but what’s needed goes beyond this. Think of something more advanced than a Microsoft Hololens, but the size and shape of a Google Glass. Why stop there? What about AR contact lenses? Perhaps even AR eye implants. All of these technologies are being looked at or actively developed as we speak today. There’s little doubt in my mind that AR/MR technology is going to get much more personal than it is today. The AR world is based on the idea that we’ll spend more of our time with AR switched on than with it switched off.

A Million Little Windows

We live in a world absolutely dominated by screen. Every computer, television, smartphone, or tablet adds another window into the digital world. It’s gone even beyond this now, with electronic signage everywhere. You can’t walk through a mall or a train station without being bombarded by screens at every turn. Everywhere you go you see people staring at some screen or another.

AR has the potential to do away with every physical screen. After all, when the whole world is your digital playground, why go to all the trouble of setting up physical displays? Already, with the tech demos of Microsoft’s Windows Holographic platform, we’ve seen virtual displays that can be summoned and banished easily. Need ten small screens? Just click a button. Need one cinema-sized display? Easy peasy. Any shape, any size – it’s possible. Attach a virtual TV to a real wall if you want or have it float in front of you wherever you go.

AR tower game

A New Aesthetic

How much of what you own only exists to be looked at? Posters, paintings, figures, sculptures, and many other objects that we own and place in our homes and workplaces don’t serve any function other than looking pretty. It doesn’t really matter that they are tangible for them to do their job. So what if you only had physical possessions that performed a tangible function, such as a chair you can sit on or a table you can work on?

For someone not looking at the future world through an AR lens it may seem like a strange and bland place. No marking on the outside of buildings. No signage. No paint. Nothing. If it’s not purely functional there will be no reason to physically produce it.

You’ll have different “skins” for your apartment or house that can be changed whenever you get tired of it. The various people who live in a home don’t even have to use the same skins. Your teenager could have their heavy metal room theme, but all you see is a nice neat room.

Shared Spaces

That brings up another interesting aspect of this new AR world. While we’ll all share the basic physical space, there’s no reason for two people to live in the same “world”. You could reskin the whole world. Make the city look the way you want to. Redesign your neighborhood. No one else has to see the world that fits your personality.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t share certain aspects of your reality or that of others. If you want to watch a movie with someone else you’d share it so that you all can see it. Perhaps other people want to see, reuse, and remix your world skin. If you live with a significant other you might want to design something together. The possibilities will be endless.

New Friends and Old Friends

One of the most exciting things about the AR world is how it will let us relate to other people. Imagine seeing an AR projection of a person who is physically not there. But it could feel as if they are sitting right across from you. More importantly, that other person needn’t have been real in the first place. While AI assistants such as Siri and Alexa live in our phones today, one day they may be AR projections that relate to us as we would with real human beings. It’s a way to give those virtual personalities a sense of solid existence.

We already have such vibrant virtual worlds that we can only glimpse through the little “windows” we call computer screens. Wouldn’t it be grand if the whole world could tap into that creativity and wonder?

The Future of AR, or is an AR world THE Future?

As you can see, AR has the potential to change almost everything about how we relate to the real world. Right now it might seem like a cute technological curiosity, but one day it might be the very fabric of our social order.

Or maybe somewhere in between. Hey, I’ve been wrong before!