Mark Pesce’s new book Augmented Reality: Unboxing Tech’s Next Big Thing was released on Friday, January 8th, 2021. It’s a lucidly-written look at the past, present, and future of augmented reality. He contextualizes AR within the history of computing and evolution Human-Computer Interaction, while also looking at the underlying principles of adding metadata to space, spatial computing, and what it means for a physical space to go viral.

Pesce also looks at how AR is a technology that has to be watching, and the open ethical and technology policy questions around privacy. He says that the closer the technology is to our skin, then the more that it knows about us and the more that it has the capacity to potentially undermine our agency.

He also points out that as you change the space around us, then you’re also changing us. There will be a lot of emphasis on feedback loops for consumers wanting to have specific information and context about the world around us as well as an aspirational aspect of the world providing that information. Pesce describes this interaction as a combination of the space itself, how the space expresses itself through radiating out information, then there is how the people who are present in that space interpret and make meaning out that information, but then feed more information back into the space changing the meaning of that space.

He is grateful for Netflix documentaries like The Social Dilemma that starts to provide metaphors for some dynamics of technology companies and the role of algorithms in our lives, but that this role is going to only become more important as augmented reality technologies are able to overlay context, meaning, stories, and metadata onto physical reality that could have a lot more physical collisions with differing perspectives where they were not possible in cyberspace.

I had early access to the book, and I was able to conduct an interview with Pesce back on November 19, 2020. Pesce wanted to contextualize AR within the history of computing and human-computer interaction, but also to catalyze some technology policy discussions around the privacy and inherent surveillance aspects of augmented reality. With consumer AR on the horizon in the next couple of years, then there are a lot of deeper questions around how to navigate the relationship between humans and machines and Pesce’s Augmented Reality book provides a lot of historical context that brings up some of the first discussions and writings on this topic like Norbert Weiner’s The Human Use of Human Beings (1954) and J.C.R. Licklider’s Man-Computer Symbiosis (1960).

Pesce is able to not only contextualize the history of AR, but also give us some pointers of where the technology is heading in the future. If you’re interested in some deeper discussion and analysis of spatial computing, then this is a must-read account that’s grounding in this history and evolution of consumer augmented reality.


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