The Future Is Here With Augmented Reality, Facial Recognition, and Interlinked Social Media

3/17/2011

- Melanie Wahl, SEO Specialist

Science fiction has been filled with seemingly far fetched ideas for decades.  Writers were talking about adventuring amongst the stars long before Yuri Gagarin became the first man to travel into space in 1961 (for example MGM's Forbidden Planet in 1956).  "Star Trek," first aired in 1966 and showcased a popular handheld device called a tricorder, able to scan, collect data, analyze, and report data back to a wider network.  Today, such a handheld device is in the hands of millions and is called a smart phone.

Look at the offerings available through the iPhone App Store or in the Android Market and you realize that there are a vast number of apps all striving for your attention, many ready to turn your hand-held device into something out of a science fiction movie.  Augmented reality, a term for overlaying computer-generated information on a real-world location is growing in popularity.  The idea is similar to viewing the world you live in through your phone and seeing the world much like Arnold Schwarzenegger's character did in The Terminator (1984).  Acrossair, a developer of iPhone apps, came out with a series of augmented reality apps that overlay information on the nearest underground transit based on your location.  You open the app, hold up your phone, the screen displays the scene in front of you and then pulls data in showing floating bits of information that identify what you are facing, how far the nearest underground is and which lines run through that underground.  So far, Acrossair has developed versions for the NY Subway, England's Tube, Chicago Transit, Tokyo Subway and more.

While Acrossair is focusing on overlaying computer-generated information over real-world locations, Yobongo is trying to simplify location based communication.  The service is similar to text messaging in that you send a short snippet of text.  The difference between tweeting and texting and Yobongo is that the service sends out your message to mobile devices of registered participants in a certain physical distance from where you send the message.  You do not have to enter in specific numbers or gather a group of followers.  You do not have to have had any interaction with the contacted party in the past at all.  Although this may seem like talking to a faceless crowd, more and more people are choosing to communicate this way.

Those who actually have trouble recognizing faces, termed "Face Blind" or a sufferer of Prosopagnosia, may be relieved in the advances of facial recognition software.  There are companies working on integrating facial recognition software with a smart phone so that a person's name and information can be pulled from online sources onto the screen and matched with their face.  It seems like science fiction, but it is happening now.  Facial recognition software has found its way from the page to the screen and to consumers.

"The Minority Report," the basis of the 2002 film featuring Tom Cruise and directed by Steven Spielberg, had a brief but thought-provoking scene where Tom Cruise's character, John Anderton, is scanned repeatedly as he walks through a mall.  Each ad he walks by tailors the message and call-to-action specifically to him, often calling him by name. This combination of facial recognition software and augmented reality used by fictional advertisers in the movie is being used by large brands today. Unilever released the world's first smile-activated vending machine in 2010; simultaneously combining facial recognition technology, user-generated-content, and free* ice cream.  A consumer would approach the machine, which would display their face on a monitor and give a prompt with an enticing angle.  Smile large enough, as determined by a smile-o-meter, have a snapshot taken and uploaded, with your permission, to Facebook, and receive your choice of ice cream as a reward.  This takes facial recognition and augmented reality into the social world, weaving experiences and information through the digital and real world space.  Companies looking towards the future should consider how the population reacts towards these technological advances and how their company should proceed.

Unilever's ice cream machines ask for your permission before using a person's likeness, but what industry guidelines have been written to dictate that this is a requirement of advertisers?  Who will write the ethical guidelines for this new terrain? Right now, the identities of the decision makers are nebulous.  Facebook's latest offering for advertisers, Sponsored Stories; pulls content that a person may believe is only going out to their friends' News Feeds and displays that content (including the person's name) in the ad section of Facebook.  Although only friends will be able to see these Sponsored Listings, right now, there is no way to opt-out. 

Augmented reality and facial recognition software may be on the horizon for your company, but the currently changing space of social media can not be ignored.  Whether your business is actively participating or not is no longer an issue.  Information can be pulled from various networks and dynamically created into pages that feature you or your business, thereby giving you a presence. It is increasingly important for businesses to develop and continually modify a social media strategy to guide them through current and possible future advances.  Social media strategy and management could be performed by an agency who keeps abreast of new and innovative technologies, such as MoreVisibility. Working with an agency has the added benefit of hearing about cumulative data about reactions to new changes in social media, guidelines on how to handle emotions in the online space, and updates to ethical boundaries as they are determined and regulations are drafted. 

Read MoreVisibility's blogs (SEO, SEM, Analytics, and Social Media) to learn about the latest advances and news or contact us to discuss developing a social media strategy for your business.

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