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Regarding “Strong AR” and “Weak AR”

Gene Becker May 25, 2011

Layar’s AR Strategist Gene Becker penned this blog after attending Augmented Reality Event 2011 in Santa Clara, California, last week.



At the end of his otherwise lovely keynote at ARE2011, Microsoft’s Blaise Aguera y Arcas proposes a distinction between “strong AR” and “weak AR”. Aguera’s obviously a very talented technologist, but in my opinion he’s done the AR industry a disservice by framing his argument in a narrow, divisive way:

“I’ll leave you with just one or two more thoughts. One is that, consider, there’s been a lot of so called augmented reality on mobile devices over the…past couple of years, but most of it really sucks. And most of it is what I would call weak augmented reality, meaning it’s based on the compass and the GPS and some vague sense of how stuff out there in the world might relate to your device, based on those rather crude sensors. Strong AR is when you, when some little gremlin is actually looking through the viewfinder at what you’re seeing, and it’s saying ah yeah that’s, this is that, that’s that and that’s the other and everything is stable and visual, that’s strong AR. Of course the technical requirements are so much greater than just using the compass and the GPS, but the potential is so much greater as well.”

Aguera’s choice of words invokes the old cognitive / computer science argument about “strong AI” and “weak AI” which was first posed by John Searle in the early heyday of 1980’s artificial intelligence research [Searle 1980: Minds, Brains and Programs (pdf)]. However, Searle’s formulation was a philosophical statement intended to tease out the distinction between an artificially intelligent system simulating a mind, or actually having a mind. Searle’s interest had nothing to do with how impressive the algorithms were, or how much computational power was required to produce AI. Instead, he was focused on the question of whether a computational system could ever achieve consciousness and true understanding, and Searle believed the concept of strong AI was fundamentally misguided.



In contrast, Aguera’s framing is fueled by technical machismo. He uses strong and weak in the common schoolyard sense, and calls out “so-called augmented reality” that is “vague”, “crude”, and “sucks” in comparison to AR that is based on (gremlins, presumably shorthand for) sophisticated machine vision algorithms backed with terabytes of image data and banks of servers in the cloud. “Strong AR is on the way”, he says, with the unspoken promise that it will save the day from the weak AR we’ve had to endure until now.



OK, I get it. Smart technology people are competitive, they have egos, and they like to toss out some red meat now and then to keep the corporate execs salivating and the funding rolling in. Been there, done that, understand completely. And honestly, I love to see good technical work happen, as it obviously is happening in Blaise’s group (check out minute 17:20 in the video to hear the entire ARE crowd gasp at his demo).



But here’s where I think this kind of thinking goes off the rails. The most impressive technical solution does not equate to the best user experience; locative precision does not equal emotional resonance; smoothly blended desktop flythroughs are not the same as a compelling human experience. I don’t care if your system has centimeter-level camera pose estimation or a 20 meter uncertainty zone; if you’re doing AR from a technology-centered agenda instead of a human-centered motivation, you’re doing it wrong.



Bruce Sterling said it well at ARE2010: “You are the world’s first pure play experience designers.” We are creating experiences for people in the real world, in their real lives, in a time when reality itself is sprouting a new, digital dimension, and we really should try to get it right. That’s a huge opportunity and a humbling responsibility, and personally I’d love to see the creative energies of every person in our industry focused on enabling great human experiences, rather than posturing about who has stronger algorithms and more significant digits. And if you really want to have an argument, let’s make it about “human AR” vs. “machine AR”. I think Searle might like that.

Permalink: www.layar.com/news/blog/287

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Rob Manson Presents BuildAR at the Auggies

Chris Cameron May 24, 2011

Last week’s second annual Augmented Reality Event featured many great sessions and keynotes on this budding industry, but it also hosted another year of the Auggies. The Auggies is a fun AR demo competition as teams give their quick pitch to an expert panel of judges in hopes of receiving the “Auggies Award.”



This year, judges Bruce Sterling, Vernor Vinge, Will Wright and Jaron Lanier presided over more than a dozen competing teams. One of those teams was BuildAR, a member of the Layar Partner Network.



BuildAR is an augmented reality CMS that allows anyone to quickly and easily create Layar content using a friendly user-interface. To read more about BuildAR, check out our profile of the tool from last November.



In the video below, Rob gives his pitch about BuildAR, one of Layar’s Certified Layar Creation Tools, and receives some excellent feedback from the judges panel.




Permalink: www.layar.com/news/blog/286

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ARE 2011: Blaise Aguera y Arcas

Chris Cameron May 23, 2011

Augmented Reality Event 2011 was again provided with an inspiring keynote from Microsoft’s Blaise Aguera y Arcas, creator of Photosynth and architect of Bing Mobile and Bing Maps.



Last year, Blaise provided ARE attendees with a keynote similar to his well-known TED talk on Photosynth. Blaise was equally impressive this year in Santa Clara, providing a keynote on big data and augmented reality - an intersection we appreciate here at Layar.



In his presentation Blaise talks about how Photosynth is evolving and he ends with his latest project: Read Write World. A very impressive project about crunching all available big data to “index, unify, and connect of the world’s geo-linked media. Consisting of a cloud-based geo-indexing, matching and processing services.” All code is intended to be open source, serving an example of what big companies can aspire to.



Once again, we’ve got video for those who couldn’t make it to ARE this year, so check out Blaise’s great talk below!



Permalink: www.layar.com/news/blog/285

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Discover Phildelphia’s Past on Top of its Present With PhillyHistory AR

Adriane Goetz May 20, 2011










A 1963 photo of 4625 Springfield Ave. in Philadelphia overlaid onto the present location.

With each cool new history layer, we are reminded that Augmented Reality is a great way to display historical photos and information previously hidden away in government archives.



Currently on the Layar platform, you can see San Francisco’s historic Market Street before and after the massive earthquake in 1906 that forever changed the landscape, view the Berlin Wall as it stood between 1961 and 1989, uncover Civil War history and more.



The newest historical addition to the Layar platform, PhillyHistory, uses Augmented Reality to merge Philadelphia’s past with present.



Using content from the Philadelphia Department of Records’ online database (PhillyHistory.org), you can access nearly 90,000 historic images of the city, 500 of which are pinned to the current landscape in virtually their exact location in AR. Of those 500 images, 20 also contain additional information about the places in the photos created by the editors of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia as well as local scholars.







PhillyHistory App

This massive project was made possible by a Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The organization rewarded this grant to the City of Philadelphia Department of Records (DOR) in order to fund a research project that would investigate the use of Augmented Reality in displaying historic photographs as overlays on a view of the current landscape.



The DOR partnered with Philadelphia-based company Azavea to conduct the research on Augmented Reality and build the mobile phone applications. The two organizations published the results of this research in a free white paper available for download here. The paper also serves as a valuable resource for anyone interested in building on the Layar platform.



The PhillyHistory app is available in the iTunes Store as well as the Android Market, but you can also access it from inside Layar via the PhillyHistory AR layer.









Three phases in the evolution of the PhillyHistory layer

Permalink: www.layar.com/news/blog/284

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Moving Beyond Presumptions with Maarten

Chris Cameron May 19, 2011

Augmented Reality Event 2011 is going strong in Santa Clara, California but don’t fret if you couldn’t make it. We have more video for you from the event and more still to come.



Today we’ve got Layar co-founder Maarten Lens-FitzGerald talking about moving beyond the presumption that space is exclusive. So what does that mean? Well, at Layar, we are interested in democratizing space - opening it up so people can use public space to digitally express themselves.



To get a better idea of what this all means, check out Maarten’s talk below.



Permalink: www.layar.com/news/blog/283

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