real-time tracking of police presenceReal-time tracking of police presence would just require some friends


Recently I’ve been looking at the emerging humanitarian uses of collaborative micro-blogging, and in particular Project EPIC’s initiative to define a “folksonomy” of tweet formats to aid Haiti crisis response. I’m currently building a set of Yahoo Pipes feeds that process and locate relevant tweets onto an interactive map (I’ve been hampered by outages in Yahoo Pipes services). Yahoo Pipes is a sort of rudimentary visual programming, that will allow easy reconfiguration by non-programmers once these pipes have been set up. These tools are intended to be easily extendible and “mashable” into new uses.

I’ll post about the Yahoo Pipes work when it’s completed, but needless to say I am aware and involved in the positive potential of augmented reality and surrounding technologies.

I’ve been motivated to write about the negative potential after reading Augmented Planet’s “The Case Against Augmented Reality”. Although it gained some attention as a dissenting voice against the generally positive coverage AR gets, it was a little underwhelming, and even the comments failed (for me) to really go very deep into things. I’m effectively re-posting an annotated version of my comments on that page:


It’s not surprising that with any new tool there will be ways to use if maliciously. However, occasionally a technology dramatically changes the game. For example, by reducing the effort needed to get meaningful results, Data Mining has transformed our relationship to casual data tracking. While one commenter thinks the problems arise exclusively from the exploitation of social networking data, I believe the re-contextualization of available data leads to new dangers.

On the one hand Augmented Reality can similarly redefine our visualisation of data to give a wholly new experience of our environment. On the other hand, any active participation in an AR landscape is tied to geo-tagged micro-blogging (what I call Geogging) and the potential for vast, emergent pattern tracking.

Computer games offer a huge insight into possible future uses of Augmented Reality. I originally became interested in the potential of AR when playing the Parkour game Mirror’s Edge; from the first-person perspective of running around city rooftops (often pursued by police), paths of escape are indicated by colour codes. I see this provision of leveraged information as key, providing a situational awareness advantage in any sort of conflict.



Shady characters of the criminal underworld (or whichever “badguy” you’re worried about), can tag and share spatial/temporal information with each other in the same way Crackers share security vulnerability exploits and Phishers share creditcard numbers.

Consider the GPS in Grand Theft Auto; it would be fairly easy to crowd-source police car locations with an iPhone app, augment your GPS display, and orchestrate a getaway with identical “radar” information to the game – It’s something thousands of people have practised while stoned at home on their couch. *



Hiro from the book Snowcrash used his Augmented Reality to get a free car, with a pinch of social networking.

Finally, as mentioned above, the use of AR applications will fuel the shift into geo-tagged social networking/micro-blogging. Local police already monitor Facebook and Twitter to pre-empt flashmobs and illegal parties. The unintended composite power of a constellation of personal/spatial/temporal data will be enormous, and there is no barrier to access; anyone can use it.

* or alternatively use geo-coded Twitter tweets with Layar running on a phone along side the GPS.

Edit (19/2/2010): Of course good old Twitter searches can be scary too! The BBC has just reported on the creation of the site, showing the locations of empty houses:

"not long ago it was questionable to share your full name on the internet. We’ve gone past that point by 1000 miles."

The Dutch developers told BBC News the site was designed to prove a point about the dangers of sharing precise location information on the internet.