Augmented Reality: What’s Coming and How Does it Affect My Library?

Next month, along with members of our Emerging Technologies Committee, I will be giving a talk on augmented reality for staff members in my library system. This is a big thrill for me, as I have spent the last ten years excitedly watching and anticipating AR’s development. It has now burst through its embryonic sac and is quickly becoming a part of our daily lives.

The rapid formation of an information layer on top of our reality should cause librarians to sit up and take notice. As information specialists, libraries should be leading, not following, in this opportunity. The tools to create something useful have never been easier.

QR codes are extremely simple to use (Google “QR code generator” for a slew of free options) and can be an early stepping stone for people to begin dabbling in the creation of an information overlay. Why not slap some QR codes onto your DVD collection and link it to a trailer so that people can get a better sense of the content of the DVD than what they’d get from reading the back of the case? Cost: A small square of paper and about 30 seconds of your time. Or how about putting QR codes on book shelves that will guide readers to additional selections? “If Hunger Games is checked out, try something similar from this list.” How about next to the car repair books, a QR code to link patrons to the online Auto Repair database? You’re already paying for the database — encouraging more use gives your library a better return on investment. The uses of these easy-to-make tags are only limited by your imagination.

Moving beyond QR codes, you can build custom apps based on GPS using a free service like Layar. This is a do-it-yourself-able option for creating GPS-based AR apps. The Museum of London’s Street Museum app could be used by any library or museum with an archive of historic photographs. Or use it to locate books on your shelves, or to link those books to alternate resources.

And then there’s Aurasma, an AR building application that uses object recognition to overlay data onto the real world. Whether it’s a photo of your library, your library logo, or any number of objects found in your physical library, you can make them interactive in a way that is both fun and educational. Living books or interactive charts and graphs for data are the low-hanging fruit. Add in some ingenuity and the opportunities are endless.

Augmented Reality is now here and is not going to go away. It will continue to grow and evolve and expand into almost all aspects of our lives. The time to embrace it is now, while libraries can still have the option to play a role in how data is compiled and content is delivered.

Book Review: Digital People: From Bionic Humans to Androids by Sidney Perkowitz

Are you interested cognitive science? Physics? Artificial intelligence? How about biology or the philosophy of being human? Maybe literature or film? If any of these topics interest you, you’ll enjoy Digital People: From Bionic Humans to Androids
by Sidney Perkowitz

This quick (about 200 pages), well written book explores our fascination with immortality through the creation of machine versions of ourselves.

The book starts out with a look at artificial beings in literature and film, beginning with the story of Pygmalion, the sculptor, falling in love with his beautiful ivory statue and Aphrodite bringing it to life for him, and following with numerous examples including Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the Asimov robot stories. Perkowitz discusses early films such as Metropolis and R.U.R as well as modern films such as Blade Runner and Robocop. And all the while he is not writing reviews or plot summaries, but instead is exploring the underlying philosophy of man’s desire (or obsession) to create a new humanity.

I was surprised to learn how long scientists and engineers have been working on creating artificial life. Perkowitz describes The Automaton Theater way back in the first century (yes, the FIRST century), as well as the Swiss man-machines of the 1700’s.

The second half of the book reports on the breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and robotics in the late 20th century through today. The research in mechanics, behavioral science, programming and cognition are just part of the picture. The book offers a look at what’s going on at MIT and also the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry.

What is an adroid? What is a cyborg? How do they differ and in what direction is this all heading? How close are we to actually creating artificial life?

This book is fascinating. It’s thorough without being cumbersome. It’s a great resource for finding titles for further reading and/or viewing. And it stimulates thought on what it means to be human. This is a book I will read more than once.