Two decades ago, if a person claimed to see imaginary characters from a children’s cartoon behind a well-placed lauki in their refrigerator, justifiable questions would have been raised about their relationship to reality. In 2016, though, Pokemon Go, an Augmented Reality (AR) game had otherwise sane adults hunting for Pikachu and his friends across the world, visible to players only on their smartphone screens. At Apple Worldwide Developers Conference which concluded earlier this week, CEO Tim Cook’s revelations with regard to iOS 12 made one thing clear: More people than ever before are likely to adopt AR, at a wider rate and across devices beyond just the mobile phone.
Human beings, of course, have always used tools to deal with nature. With the first piece of flint, the first stone-and-wood spear, homo sapiens became cyborgs for all time to come — machines have been essential to how we mediate our relationship with nature. But AR is not merely a tool that makes it easier to deal with the world. It is a way to change perception itself, make it more useful, informative and interesting, all without the hassle of mind-altering drugs or years of meditation.
AR will enhance perception in many ways: Like for the androids in The Terminator, details and calculations about health, prices and restaurants nearby will pop up on your glasses. There will be no more getting lost, no asking strangers for directions on a rain-soaked mountain road, because GPS will point the way on the car windscreen itself. The terror of self-reflection on a dull day will be avoidable as AR apps make perception a live-action video game. The only thing that will suffer is salvation, ideas of moksha in all their forms. After all, that the world is false, and a better fantastical reality exists in the great beyond is at the heart of most eschatologies. But with reality augmented for a few hundred dollars, who needs heaven?