Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
NOVA ScienceNOW

A Look at Augmented Reality

  • Posted 11.14.12
  • NOVA scienceNOW

Today, engineers are developing devices that can project convincing three-dimensional virtual images. What innovations remain before the Star Trek “Holodeck” becomes a reality? And what will further digital immersion mean for us as people? Experts like Sherry Turkle, Rodney Brooks, and Clifford Nass share their unique perspectives on how augmented reality could change how we act and interact with each other. For better… and for worse.

Close
Launch Video Running Time: 10:57

Transcript

What Will the Future Be Like?

PBS Airdate: November 14, 2012

DAVID POGUE: Our world is rapidly changing.

Let's say I'm in an unfamiliar neighborhood, and I get lost. Just a few years ago I would have spent hours wandering around. Today, all I have to do is pick up my smartphone. An app like New York Subway shows me if there are stations nearby and even shows me which way to walk to get there.

If I need something translated, no problem, Word Lens replaces the text in my view with my own language! And in the future, will it be possible for us to do this? Get information about anyone in an instant?

A paradigm shift is taking place right before our eyes. The real world and the virtual are merging. It's called augmented reality. And you can experience it with the help of hundreds of apps on your smart phone. But one day soon, companies like Google, the internet search giant, think all this information will be delivered in revolutionary new ways.

BABAK PARVIZ (Google, Inc.): This is Glass, a very different type of computing and communication device.

DAVID POGUE: Think of Google Glass as a wearable smart phone…

Can I try it?

BABAK PARVIZ: Yeah, you can put it on if you like.

DAVID POGUE: …but lighter and quicker to access.

Oh, wow.

Right now Glass is a work in progress.

I can just flick my eyes into this corner, and I see a very crisp screen.

The little square you see glowing here is actually a tiny computer screen.

Google hopes that in the not too distant future it will bring us our email, show us our text messages and provide access to the internet. And the tiny camera here will be a new way to share your experiences with friends.

So, this is wild! So, I'm seeing a beautiful path through a woods. As I turn my head, I'm actually looking around the scene. Oh, I can even look down, up. Wow, those are beautiful.

But Google Glass is just the tip of the iceberg. Researchers, like Henry Fuchs at the University of North Carolina, are developing technologies that blend the virtual and physical worlds, augmenting our reality with the stuff of sci-fi movies.

HENRY FUCHS: So, this is one of the labs, David, that we have set up to work on augmented reality and telepresence.

DAVID POGUE: So, as I understand it, this is like in Star Wars, when Princess Leia gets beam out of R2-D2's head.

Remember that famous scene where Princess Leia records a hologram of herself and sends it to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

CARRIE FISHER (As Princess Leia in Star Wars/Filmclip): Help me Obi-wan Kenobi. You're my only hope.

HENRY FUCHS: That was all special effects. What we hope to develop here is the real thing.

DAVID POGUE: And that's as hard as it looks.

First, I put on these stylish shades.

TECHNICIAN: Is that too tight?

DAVID POGUE: Nope.

Once we're set up, we're ready to roll. We pretend Henry's on vacation, in his beach house in Hawaii, while I'm stuck in my office here in New York. And suddenly...

Wow! If my goggles don't deceive me, that's you sitting across the table from me.

HENRY FUCHS: Wonderful! That's just the effect that we would like.

DAVID POGUE: Wow, so that's crazy. You look, you look the right height, size, shape and angle, as though you were actually sitting right in front of me.

I have to admit, it's the closest I've ever come to having a conversation with a hologram, although the image is far from perfect.

So, this is the Model T we're wearing right now.

HENRY FUCHS: Oh, we're not even Model T.

DAVID POGUE: Not even Model T?

HENRY FUCHS: Oh, no, no. This is like, you know, 20 years before the Model T.

DAVID POGUE: But the technology needed to create this illusion is anything but 20th century. In order for Henry and me to see each other, he's rigged our rooms with a bunch of 3D cameras. They are, in fact, Xbox Kinects. With the help of some sophisticated software, they transport his virtual image into my stunning handcrafted headset. And these little silver balls that make us look like aliens are part of a complex tracking system that pinpoints where we are in space.

There's one serious problem with the video though.

HENRY FUCHS: Yes?

DAVID POGUE: It looks like you're wearing a hideous, obnoxious Hawaiian shirt of some kind.

HENRY FUCHS: Ha ha ha.

DAVID POGUE: In the future, telepresence systems like this one could come in handy. And wearable smartphones, like Google Glass, may give us a new way to access the virtual world.

The question is: will technologies like these, that aim to immerse us even more into a digital world, improve the quality of our lives?

A lot of experts are wary. They say our immersion in technology is already a problem.

Look at kids today: they're listening to music, while texting a friend, having a conversation on Facebook and doing their homework, in other words, multitasking. Can their brains keep up with all this connectivity?

Stanford Professor Clifford Nass thinks they can't, that doing so many things at once is making it harder for them to focus.

And he's devised a test to prove it.

CLIFF NASS (Stanford University): What we're going to ask you to do is to simply focus on a couple of red rectangles and to ignore blue rectangles. This sounds like a pretty easy thing to do.

DAVID POGUE: Yeah, I'm down with this.

CLIFF NASS: And we'll see how you do.

DAVID POGUE: As I start the test, two images containing red and blue rectangles flash on the screen. If the red rectangles move from one image to the next, I press one button, but if they don't move, I press another.

Simple right?

Ah, that changed.

Well it is, at first.

Jeez, there's like 1,500 of them.

But as more and more rectangles appear on the screen, it becomes harder and harder to focus on the red ones and ignore the blue.

Come on.

Criminy.

You completed the filtering task study. You made some careless mistakes. You feel like an idiot.

But, before I can find out how much of an idiot I was, Nass gives the same test to 16-year-old Jordan Ford. Jordan is a proud multitasker and doesn't think it affects his ability to focus at all.

CLIFF NASS: All right, well, let's see how you guys did.

JORDAN FORD (Multitasking Test Subject): All right.

DAVID POGUE: Give it to me straight, Doc. How long have I got?

CLIFF NASS: Well, I'm going to keep you in some suspense. Let's look at Jordan first. So, what we see on this graph is a pretty precipitous downward slide. The more rectangles there were, the worse you did. This is a very, very common pattern we see among teenagers who multitask frequently, because their brains are constantly looking all over the place and trying to process multiple things at once, even when they know they shouldn't.

Now, let's see, David, how you did, and that's this blue line here.

DAVID POGUE: Oh.

I am impressed.

Smoked! Sorry, pal.

CLIFF NASS: Even though you're a heavy technology guy. When you use technology, you do one thing at a time, you really focus on what you're doing. And what we see here is a pretty predominant difference.

So what we worry about here is, Jordan, when you really need to focus attention on something, it's going to be harder and harder.

DAVID POGUE: Parents have been saying, "Quit using X technology, you'll rot your brain" since my grandparents' time. You know, like the cave men were probably, "Quit making fire with sticks. You'll rot your brain," right? It's a chronic thing to be suspicious of new technology, to worry about the effects. So, should we really worry yet?

CLIFF NASS: Well it's silly to say to a child, "Stop using the computer."

DAVID POGUE: Right.

CLIFF NASS: You know, just as it's silly to say, "Stop using fire." But, you know, you shouldn't play with fire when there's dry brush around.

With any new technology, we should be both excited and we should worry 'cause it often brings some negative things, as well. So the question is, how do we balance the two. That's really the critical issue.

SHERRY TURKLE: It's pushing us against a moral imperative, you know? Not every advance is progress. Not every new thing you can do with this incredible technology is better for us humanly.

DAVID POGUE: So where is all this technology leading us? If digital information is becoming even more available to us, and even more immersive and distracting, are we headed to a future where we don't actually learn things anymore? Are we headed for a world, like in the movie WALL-E, where humans are such passive consumers of technology we become dumb and helpless? Is this what the future will be like? Will the Pogues of tomorrow turn into lazy, couch potatoes?

At Maker Faires like this, in the heart of America, folks are determined not to let that happen. Instead of becoming passive consumers of technology, these people are learning to master it. Usually, it's not about building something with commercial value, but using it to express themselves in the most creative ways possible: like Mickey Miller, a high school sophomore from Toledo, Ohio, who recycled scraps from his garage to create a unique form of transportation;…

So what do you call this thing?

MICKEY MILLER (Maker Faire Particpant): Recyclobot.

DAVID POGUE: Recyclobot?

…and kids like these, who join robotics clubs to develop the skills they'll need to invent a better future.

GIRL: When you work a lot with technology, you try to challenge technology, to make it better, to make yourself better.

BOY: After doing this, I felt like I could build whatever I want and decided to take the initiative and build my own computer.

DAVID POGUE: But this is more than just a fun hobby; it's becoming a movement that may reshape our world.

RODNEY BROOKS: I think the maker movement is great, this is the new form of hobbyist, and actually they've got some pretty interesting tools. The makers have taken the best of microprocessors and 3D printers and building it in a way that ordinary people can control them and can do stuff with them.

DALE DOUGHERTY (MAKE Magazine): We're showing them, at a really basic level, that they can control technology, that they can do something with it themselves, rather than just be users, that they can create something and make it do something that they want it to do.

DAVID POGUE: And that's why people are here, taking control over technology instead of being controlled by it, creating a better future from the ground up, a future of their own making.

So maybe there's hope.

RODNEY BROOKS: There's a lot of hope.

DAVID POGUE: Excellent.

How hard is it to predict
the future of technology?
Over a century ago,
Thomas Alva Edison
perfected the lightbulb…
…and predicted a bright future driven by electricity.
He also predicted we'd figure out
how to transform iron into gold.
We'd ride around in golden taxis.
Our houses and furnishings would be gold, too.
(If it were too soft…
…we would opt for steel.)
Bright future, indeed.

Credits

What Will the Future Be Like?

HOST
David Pogue
WRITTEN BY
Terri Randall & Steven Reich
PRODUCED and DIRECTED BY
Terri Randall

Mind-Reading Machines

WRITTEN AND PRODUCED BY
William Lattanzi
DIRECTED BY
Chris Schmidt

Adrien Treuille Profile

WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Joshua Seftel
PRODUCED BY
Joshua Seftel and Tobey List

NOVA scienceNOW

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
Julia Cort
PRODUCTION MANAGER
Stephanie Mills
BUSINESS MANAGER
Elizabeth Benjes
INTERSTITIALS PRODUCED BY
Brian Edgerton
ORIGINAL MUSIC BY
Christopher Rife
SENIOR RESEARCHER
Kate Becker
WHAT WILL THE FUTURE BE LIKE?
EDITED BY
Jedd Ehrmann
William Lattanzi
Jean Dunoyer
PROFILE
EDITED BY
Dan Madden
ASSOCIATE PRODUCERS
Jake Hubbard
Karinna Sjo-Gaber
PROFILE PRODUCTION SUPERVISOR
Jill Landaker Grunes
PROFILE ASSOCIATE PRODUCER
Catherine Bright
ARCHIVAL RESEARCH
Minna Kane
Adam Talaid
CAMERA
Joseph Friedman
Jason Longo
Vicente Franco
Dan Krauss
Sid Lubitsch
SOUND RECORDISTS
Jim Choi
Michael McQueen
Charlie Macarone
Ray Day
Mark Adelsheim
Steve Clack
Jay Maurer
ADDITIONAL MUSIC
Scorekeeper's Music
ANIMATION
David Margolies
Hero4Hire Creative
ONLINE EDITOR and COLORIST
Evan Anthony
AUDIO MIX
Bill Cavanaugh
ADDITIONAL EDITING
Rob Chapman
ADDITIONAL CAMERA
Jake Hubbard
Dan Madden
MEDIA MANAGER
Marshall Potter
ASSISTANT EDITOR
Steve Benjamin
POST PRODUCTION ASSISTANT
Olaf Steel
MAKE-UP
Jason Allen
PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS
David Mondin
AJ Marson
Ian Clarkson
ARCHIVAL MATERIAL
American Honda Motor Co., Inc.
AP Archive
Atomazul / Pond5
Ceemedia / Pond5
DARPA
Dea/Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana/Art Resource, NY
Image Bank Film/Getty Images
Image Bank Film: Signature/Getty Images
iStockfootage/Getty Images
iStockphoto/ affetucuncu
Library of Congress
Lukasz Król / Shutterstock
New Tang Dynasty Television
RIKEN RTC
Stone/Getty Images
Universal Images Group/Getty Images
SPECIAL THANKS
Atlas Café
Jeremy Bailenson
Pamela Bjorkman
Carnegie Mellon University
Taryn Carpenter
Steven M. Castellotti
Nate Dierk
Jeremiah G. Howell
Coleman Knabe
Katherine Kuchenbecker
Jaron Lanier
Jeehyung Lee
Evan Lerner
Lumos Labs
-------
Alex Limpaecher
Steven Mackay
Andrew Maimone
Massachusetts General Hospital
Beverly Millson
Jay Nancarrow
Ridge Reef Partners
John Russell
Dave Scheinman
Matthew Stanton
Stanford University
20th St. Associates
-----
UCSF Chimera - Molecular Graphics
Xubo Yang
Yuan Zheng
ADVISORS
Richard Lifton
Sangeeta Bhatia
Rudy Tanzi
Charles Jennings
Neil Shubin
NOVA SERIES GRAPHICS
yU + co.
NOVA THEME MUSIC
Walter Werzowa
John Luker
Musikvergnuegen, Inc.
ADDITIONAL NOVA THEME MUSIC
Ray Loring
Rob Morsberger
POST PRODUCTION ONLINE EDITOR
Spencer Gentry
CLOSED CAPTIONING
The Caption Center
MARKETING AND PUBLICITY
Karen Laverty
PUBLICITY
Eileen Campion
Victoria Louie
NOVA ADMINISTRATOR
Kristen Sommerhalter
PRODUCTION COORDINATOR
Linda Callahan
PARALEGAL
Sarah Erlandson
TALENT RELATIONS
Scott Kardel, Esq. Janice Flood
LEGAL COUNSEL
Susan Rosen
DIRECTOR OF EDUCATION
Rachel Connolly
DIGITAL PROJECTS MANAGER
Kristine Allington
DIRECTOR OF NEW MEDIA
Lauren Aguirre
ASSOCIATE PRODUCER
POST PRODUCTION
Patrick Carey
POST PRODUCTION EDITOR
Rebecca Nieto
POST PRODUCTION MANAGER
Nathan Gunner
COMPLIANCE MANAGER
Linzy Emery
DEVELOPMENT PRODUCER
David Condon
PROJECT DIRECTOR
Pamela Rosenstein
COORDINATING PRODUCER
Laurie Cahalane
SENIOR SCIENCE EDITOR
Evan Hadingham
SENIOR PRODUCER
Chris Schmidt
SENIOR SERIES PRODUCER
Melanie Wallace
MANAGING DIRECTOR
Alan Ritsko
SENIOR EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
Paula S. Apsell

NOVA scienceNOW is a trademark of the WGBH Educational Foundation

NOVA scienceNOW is produced for WGBH/Boston

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0917517. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

© 2012 WGBH Educational Foundation

All rights reserved

Image

(David Pogue)
© WGBH Educational Foundation

Participants

Rodeny Brooks
Rethink Robotics
Dale Dougherty
Make Magazine
Henry Fuchs
University of North Carolina
Cliff Nass
Stanford University
Babak Parviz
Google
Sherry Turkle
MIT

Related Links

  • What Will the Future Be Like?

    Meet the people building tomorrow's robots, 3-D virtual environments, mind-reading machines, and more.

  • Engineering Extra Senses

    Cyberneticist Kevin Warwick is developing new ways for us to experience the world with more than just our five senses.

  • Augmented Reality and Touch

    The science of Haptics lets us to "touch" objects in a virtual world, from remote operating rooms to Internet shopping.

  • Is Multitasking Bad For Us?

    Cognitive researchers have sobering though preliminary news—if we can focus on it.