Feeds, tweets and APIs are the beginning. Will news orgs step up to augment reality?

In her TED talk, Unveiling the “Sixth Sense,” game-changing wearable tech, Pattie Maes demos a system that creates interactive visual layers over the real world. The actual implementation, a tiny projector tied to a wearable computer that watches your fingers for input (using colored marker caps to identify fingertips!) is cheap, but not something you’d likely want to wear to the store.

But imagine for a moment a similar system, one that detects more subtle gestures and does not physically project light onto the objects you’re manipulating. A device that annotates the real world and presents information about the person in front of you, the product you’re considering purchasing or the comparitive likelihood of catching a cab at this corner or the next block over.

Map for driving by eszter
Map for driving by eszter, based on MacGyver Tip: Heads up display with a reversed paper map from LifeHacker.

I’ve blogged about this before, but Maes’ talk reminded me how important this technology will be. It *will* happen, and although there’s much work left to do in the end user interface (Rainbow’s End by Vernor Vinge, and Counting Heads by David Marusek present brilliant visions of how they might work) the inputs to these systems are coming online today.

Feeds, tweets and APIs aren’t just for the web

Twitter, when paired with TweetDeck gives me an always-on, ambient awareness of events worldwide. Its like a tiny, quiet news radio, feeding me timely information on events I care about. When I’m at my desk, I can hear the Internet hum. Soon, that spatial restriction will be lifted.

I already use Amazon from my phone’s web browser when I’m shopping, but the APIs are there to build new, better interfaces, that, as the Maes’ demos in her talk, can port Amazon ratings and everything else into the real world.

The NYT’s and The Guardian’s new APIs are similarly useful, but present even richer information. Detailed, expert analysis of not just products, but news and events. (And surely Bittman’s recipe for Roast Chicken With Cumin, Honey and Orange would be handy to have on a heads-up display, at the grocery store, when cooking, and when you’re regaling friends with the elegant simplicity of roasting a whole bird.)

Who’s building the future?

Of the 1180 APIs cataloged at ProgrammableWeb, only 18 are categorized as “news”. If news orgs want to hang on to their last shred of credibility as the essential information providers of the last century, they’d best get on it.

APIs are the future of information, and the content creators who adopt them will augment our reality.

Froot loops, search addicits, and augmented reality

Quote of the day goes to David Coen: “I wish I could just “command-F” for C.T.C (Cinnamon Toast Crunch).”

Amen! My pinky finger twitches for the “/” key (old-school Firefox shortcut) all the time: when I’m scanning ingredients, reading a news story, and finding my location on a map.

After a taste of what the web can do, I’m hooked. I need it all the time.

cereal aisle, by Ben McLeod
cereal aisle, by Ben McLeod

More from Señor Coen:

If you wanted to know what happened in the world you either turned on the TV or checked the headlines in your morning newspaper. Google has them beat. It’s too late to try and become the aisle sign (the first thing people go to). But there is still room to become the helpful employee roaming the aisle. That’s where news organizations can still make their mark.

So, paper is out, and journalists will become be the online guides. Boing Boing does this remarkably well. They post the stories that matter to me, and a whole lot of people like me. (Who knew copyleft, unicorns, and cryptozoology could command such an audience?)

But we’re still trapped in our computers

Find as you type makes the web livable. But off-screen search, now that would make reality livable. Epiphany, the just-barely-science-fiction augmented reality device from Vernor Vinge’s excellent book Rainbows End, gives the wearer queryable visual (and haptic) overlays of the real world:

If you override the defaults you can see in any direction you want. You can qualify default requests — like to make a query about something in an overlay. You can blend video from multiple viewpoints so you can ‘be’ where there is no physical viewpoint. That’s called ghosting. If you’re really slick, you can run simulations in real time and use the results as physical advice. That’s how the Radners do so well in baseball.

This is the sort of stuff journalists need to be geeked about. If we’re to be the sensemakers, as David’s post implies, we can’t let ourselves get stuck in the narrative tar pits.

We must create new ways to make sense of the world.

(I’ll happily host the first meeting of the sci-fi for journalists book club. Who’s bringing the chips?)