Criticisms of Augmented Reality

When everyone has the ability to tag the world, how messy will the world be? Are we not distracted enough with all our technology, and now we will see the world through a haze of added information popping up to distract us even more? And what will happen to our privacy, when AR applications allow anyone to add any information to any location? Isn't augmented reality just the next gimmick that is here today and gone tomorrow? If students are allowed to use hand held smart-phones in class, will they ever pay attention to the teacher? Do students really need more games to immerse themselves in? What proof is there that the good will outweigh the bad?

The above are just a few of the criticisms of augmented reality. As with any new technology, there will be questions raised about its legitimacy. In education there is certainly still an old guard who attack any new technology as an intrusion into what they would call real learning. It's not uncommon to hear teachers who say things like, " There will never be cell phones allowed in my class." Even though mobile learning is advancing there are still criticisms. What will the old guard make of AR? Another bag of tricks to entertain the kids?

Criticisms of AR Definitions

As more and more applications show up for smart phones like the Android and the iPhone, more and more claim to feature augmented reality. But which ones truly fit the definition of augmented reality? Some people like William Hurley of Business Week believe that an organization with a set of standards is in order.[] But in education does an exact definition really matter? Does it matter what it is called if it is pedagogically sound?

Criticisms: The Gimmick Factor

When any new technology begins to break into the mainstream, it's likely that its first uses will come from fields with money. For AR one of those fields is marketing. Today we see all sorts of uses of AR. Some examples seem to have relevance, while others seem to be done just for the sake of using the new technology. At first glance putting a marker graphic up to a webcam and seeing a 3D interaction seems kind of fun, but the fact is, if there is no more than that, users will tire quickly, and move on to something else. Addidas' shoe augmentation seems interesting, but really who wants to take a smelly running shoe and use it as a game controller? If a gimmick serves to get a person interested in something that has deeper meaning then perhaps it will have relevance. In the field of education, augmented reality applications have to be grounded in sound pedagogy, or the naysayers will shout their use down. AR can not be just another visual that doesn't aid understanding or learning.
Howard Wen of Computer World in a January 10, 2010 article reminds readers that they should not set expectations too high and that AR may be like Second Life and Virtual Worlds that were hyped to be the next big thing. According to Wen corporations rushed to get into the virtual worlds only to see them ''wither on the vine."

However, when we look at how Virtual and AR applications have begun to revolutionize training in the military and medicine, it seems unrealistic to assume that augmented reality and its future iterations will be viewed only as gimmicks.

Criticisms: Technological Issues

Currently, a number of the smart phone applications depend on accurate GPS location information. According to William Hurley in Business Week, ''"the accuracy of these devices is less than stellar. Confirmation that you are within 50-100 yards of your actual location might be good enough for today, but future applications will require much more precise GPS data."''[]
Another technical issue arises when users have to download applications to their computer. To be easily used by everyday users, a technology should be one that does not require downloading or extra devices. When we look at the earlier versions of AR, large wearable computers were necessary. Perhaps a doctor in training will wear a head apparatus to learn a surgical skill, but everyday students need completely accessible applications. Consideration too must be given to people with differing abilities.

Criticisms: Cognitive Overload

In the article ''7 Ways Augmented Reality Will Change Your Brain,'' Thomas Carpenter presents both the good and bad of AR. On one hand he sees that as a strategy for learning, AR provides opportunities for failure and correction that can lead to optimal performance. On the other hand, he sees too much information problematic. As an example, he asks what would happen to the baseball player who steps up to bat and sees streams of statistical information as he begins a swing. Carpenter see this as increasing the potential for choking. Too much information can be a curse. What learners need is the right information not what Carpenter calls, "vanity" information. He also points out that texting and driving is even more dangerous than drunk driving.

With a totally augmented world, would we become drunken travelers-drunk on our cognitive overload?

In the March 29, 2010 article ''How to Survive Geolocation's Looming Apocalypse'', Dave Curry at AdAge warns of the coming swarm of geolocation services and apps. He asks how we will survive the floods of data. When we have our smart phones layered with data and spam, won't we just turn our phones off? []

Today in many cities using a cell phone while driving is illegal. If our car windshield is layered with information, will we be paying attention to the important details of driving? The millennial generation is known to multitask. But how much can a person do well while doing so many different things at once? The multitaskers swear they are efficient, but studies show they are not. Clifford Nass, Anthony Wagner and Eyal Ophira at Stanford University looked at the differences between students who multitasked the most versus students who mulitasked the least. Each group took a series of tests while doing only the one task at a time. In every test, the students who were in the least multitasking group outperformed the high multitaskers. The researchers admit that they can not know what caused the difference. Is it the case that multitaskers are more disorganized in thinking, or does mutitasking make a person more disorganized?

Brandon Keim in a February 6, 2009 ''Wired'' interview asks Maggie Jackson author of ''Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark'' how the interruptions of our digital society affect us. Jackson replies, ''"This degree of interruption is correlated with stress and frustration and lowered creativity. That makes sense. When you’re scattered and diffuse, you’re less creative. When your times of reflection are always punctured, it’s hard to go deeply into problem-solving, into relating, into thinking.T hese are the problems of attention in our new world. Gadgets and technologies give us extraordinary opportunities, the potential to connect and to learn. At the same time, we’ve created a culture, and are making choices, that undermine our powers of attention.'[]

Criticisms: Loss of Privacy, Crime, Digital Divide

Because smart phone augmented reality applications involve geolocation, users in effect allow the applications to locate them at certain locations. The more users allow themselves to be tracked from location to location, the more information is collected. Today as we go from site to site on the internet, websites leave cookies on our computers. Marketers use these to know details of our likes and dislikes so they can reach us through behavioural targeting and addressable ads. With geolocation data added to the mix, the marketers will know even more about us. Where will all this information be, how could it be used? Will it be sold or shared? Can someone hack into this information? Will a criminal be able to locate us away from our homes and know there is time to break in?

In 2010, a website called [] began reposting publicly shared information from social networks like Twitter and FourSquare. One heading said-Listing all those empty homes out there. The site isn't run by criminals. Their intention was to draw attention to the information that people post online and the consequences. The story was picked up by many blogs and news outlets.[] As of April 2010 their site reads, ''"We are satisfied with the attention we've gotten for an issue that we deeply care about. If you're interested, you might like to read these articles:

[ On Locational Privacy, and How to Avoid Losing it Forever]

[ Over-sharing and Location Awareness]" []

What effect could geolocation data have on children? Today most kids have cell phones and smart phones. Will the layered augmented world on their smart phones create new dangers?

Of course another issue and criticism is that AR technology will further separate the haves from the have nots in the digital divide. At the moment only smart phones offer AR applications. Those smart phones require expensive data plans. Other AR applications require up-to-date laptops and webcams. If a teacher chooses an augmented textbook will every college student be able to use the technology that it holds? Will schools be able to afford the costs of augmented reality applications? Is everything open to everyone equally?

Next Up: Augmented Reality in Other Fields