16:37 GMT07 July 2020
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    How 1901 Novel Predicted the Appearance of Augmented Reality

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    Parallel Universe: How Augmented Reality is Changing People's Lives (5)
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    Augmented reality is now being used in dozens of applications – in space exploration, medicine, video games and archaeology. But even though it relies heavily on today's technology, AR, which adds extra visual layers to reality, was first mentioned way before the invention of TVs, computers and smartphones.

    In the 1901 sci-fi novel "The Master Key," a teenage boy summons "The Demon of Electricity" and starts receiving mysterious gifts, with one of them looking a lot like today's augmented reality gadgets. Here is how the author of the novel L. Frank Baum describes the device:

    "It consists of this pair of spectacles. While you wear them every one you meet will be marked upon the forehead with a letter indicating his or her character. The good will bear the letter 'G,' the evil the letter 'E.' The wise will be marked with a 'W' and the foolish with an 'F.' The kind will show a 'K' upon their foreheads and the cruel a letter 'C.' Thus you may determine by a single look  the true nature of all those you encounter."

    What L. Frank Baum's readers might have considered to be almost impossible, became reality later in the 20th century. The experiments to add extra layers to reality started in the 1950s and 60s and went on throughout 1980s. They gained momentum with the growing popularity of personal computers and the appearance of smaller high resolution displays. EyeTap – a wearable device with a camera, which added computer-generated visuals in real time to what the operator saw, first appeared in 1978.  But it wasn't until 2013 that such technology became commercially available, as Google started selling its augmented reality device called Google Glass for $1,500. However, the tech giant abandoned the project following controversy over privacy and safety concerns.

    Augmented reality, or AR, is a live direct or indirect view of reality, which is supplemented or altered by computer-generated visuals, audio or GPS data. Currently, besides special glasses or helmets, the technology is widely available on smartphones and tablets.

    Surprisingly enough, unlike many other gifts, which were given to the protagonist of "The Master Key" by the Demon of Electricity, the modern version of "magic glasses" powered by artificial intelligence is now quite close to reading people's minds. An app called Magic uses smartphone cameras to scan faces and is able to accurately interpret human emotions, such as fear, anger and happiness. Then the app augments the live video feed with animated tears, hearts or flames.

    Besides video games and entertainment, AR is being widely used in other fields. In archeology it helps to visually rebuild ancient ruins, in medicine it's a great way to teach surgeons and medical students. Tourists can use augmented reality apps to enhance their sightseeing experience, musicians find it quite handy in teaching people to play instruments.

    It's expected, that the virtual and augmented reality markets grow even more in the coming years. According to Digital-Capital.com, by 2021 mobile AR could become the primary driver of a combined VR/AR $108-billion market.

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    Parallel Universe: How Augmented Reality is Changing People's Lives (5)


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