Editor’s note: This article reviews Charlie Fink’s Convergence, How the World Will Be Painted with Data. AR Insider’s Mike Boland contributed a chapter to the book which we’ve excerpted in four parts. You can see more or purchase the book here.
The thing about AR is that it’s not just one technology. It exists along several points of the spatial computing spectrum, while also extending to and deriving from other technologies. We’re talking computer vision, machine learning, graphical processing and optics among others.
This is one of many takeaways from Charlie Fink’s Convergence: How the World Will be Painted with Data. As promised by its title, the book delivers wide-reaching commentary on the moving parts that will contribute to and converge into what we now call AR and spatial computing.
“Technology doesn’t evolve in a vacuum,” Fink writes. “It has many disciplines, some more interdependent than others. In the next five years, AR, AI and zero-latency 5G networks will grow and scale, enabling powerful, personal, almost invisible computing that burrows into our lives.”
This multi-disciplinary feat could only be accomplished with help. Just like AR isn’t one technology, Fink smartly and modestly taps experts in the sub-topics of what becomes a converged narrative. The result is a chorus of voices, mostly singing in tune with each other.
These voices include Mark Billinghurst’s kickoff chapter to define AR, and Amy LaMeyer’s dive into the unsung but important audible AR. Amy Peck breaks down the competitive hardware landscape and Tom Emrich heralds AR’s democratization potential for under-represented classes.
But perhaps most important are the chapters that dive into the AR cloud. These narratives build from the book’s tagline about painting the world with data. The AR Cloud will be the pervasive and geo-anchored data layer, which AR devices dynamically tap to do their thing.
This includes the AR Cloud’s original proponent Ori Inbar, and his construct of a “Spatial Wikipedia” to open up the AR cloud’s development and governance. It can have walled gardens, but should have standards and protocols for interoperability, he says, just like the web today.
Several AR cloud players are likewise represented. Ubiquity 6‘s Anjney Midha is building a universal visual browser (UVB), a term coined by Fink himself. Like web browsers translate HTML and other languages into friendly text and images, the UVB will be the AR cloud’s front end.
In that way, the AR cloud is sort of like a software stack. In addition to Inbar’s spatial wikipedia and Midha’s visual browser, Ray DiCarlo examines the concept of an operating system for the AR cloud. And Lewis Packwood looks at developer platforms like Niantic’s Real World Platform.
Indexing the Spatial Web
But the biggest analogy to our current web could be Google’s search index. It created tremendous value starting 20 years ago as an organizational layer to the web. The AR cloud could similarly be that organizational layer to the spatial web by indexing things spatially and semantically.
Another word for organization is filtration, a key principle that Fink espouses to avoid potentially dystopian scenarios of information overload. The universal visual browser will tap into “layers” of information that are personalized or thematic (think: sports, commerce, education, etc.).
The layers concept is further reinforced through Magic Leap’s concept of the Magicverse, which is invoked throughout the book. This is key to Fink’s vision of the smart city of the future, where inhabitants are empowered by access to 5G-amplified informational layers.
The layers concept is also inherent in Inbar’s Spatial Wikipedia. And it will lead to a plurality of AR clouds that map to the competencies (and self-serving interests) of the companies building them. This once again maps to the 2D web that we know today: Open standards with walled gardens.
Speaking of self-serving, we’ll invoke our contributed chapter, as tech giants will establish their own “layers.” Facebook will own the spatial web’s identity layer, while Google owns the knowledge layer. Amazon could own the commerce layer and Microsoft, the enterprise productivity layer.
In Convergence, Fink also walks the walk. Like the Silicon Valley practice of “dogfooding” (eating your own dog food), the book practices what it preaches by featuring real AR interactions. These are prompted with markers throughout its pages and a companion app by Happy Giant.
Like our review of his last book Metaverse, we can’t resist the urge to poke at the similarity to Kramer’s coffee table book in Seinfeld’s fifth season. Like the book about coffee tables that turns into a mini-coffee table, Convergence is delivered alongside the AR medium that it examines.
This is not only to walk the walk, but to also infuse dynamism in an inherently static medium. Fink admits in the second page turn that the book is already out of date. But it will be a valuable time capsule for the collective mindset — and even misfires — of AR’s leading thinkers of 2019.
We say misfires because of history’s sometimes-comical future gazing. The flying cars envisioned in the 1960s and the video phone in Kubrick’s 2001 (a phone booth with a video monitor), are not-so-subtle reminders that we will both overestimate and underestimate our augmented future.
“We can only imagine the future in the context of today,” write’s Fink in a memory trip to his boyhood visit to the 1964 World’s fair. “History teaches us the future will be nothing like what we think. It will take far longer than we want. And it will have a form no one can yet predict.”
You can see more or purchase the book here.
Disclosure: AR Insider has no financial stake in the companies mentioned in this post, nor received payment for its production. AR Insider Editor Mike Boland contributed a chapter to the book reviewed in this article, but he nor us receive financial incentive nor direct payment for book sales. Disclosure and ethics policy can be seen here.