A Whole New (Mirror)World

Anyone who played Pokemon Go got a taste of the world’s next big platform ― augmented reality layering the internet onto the world. Wired calls it “mirrorworld,” and predicts that the company taking the lead in mirrorworld will become the most powerful company in the real world.

There are a few companies working on augmented reality (AR) headsets ― a lens through which the internet can be layered onto reality. Those headsets will layer virtual apparitions onto reality. Mirrorworld will become a 1:1 map, which will become the next big digital platform.

Some things that mirrorworld could feature include name tags identifying people we’ve met before, arrows directing us where to turn on the street, or annotations superimposed on places. Mirrorworld may layer past versions of a given place over what exists now for an immersive historical experience. It could also result in a complete deluge of advertising.

It’s unknown yet where this will lead, for as the magazine says, “The real value of this work will emerge from the trillion unexpected combinations of all these primitive elements.”

There are some contenders to become the company leading the development of mirrorworld ―  Magic Leap, which makes a set of AR goggles, and Microsoft, which has HoloLens CR.

The full blossoming of the mirrorworld is waiting for cheap, always-on wearable glasses. Speculation has been rising that one of the largest tech companies may be developing just such a product. Apple has been on an AR hiring spree and recently acquired a startup called Akonia Holographics that specializes in thin, transparent “smart glass” lenses.

This technology is further along than some people might expect. The Army purchased 100,000 HoloLens headsets for the battlefield. Tesla has filed patents for factory production AR. General Electric creates digital dopplegangers of the machines it creates; the mirrorworld will allow engineers to use VR to troubleshoot engines, power generators, and control systems for energy producers, among other things.

In 2016, GE recast itself as a “digital industrial company,” which it defines as “the merging of the physical and digital worlds.” Which is another way of saying it is building the mirrorworld. Digital twins already have improved the reliability of industrial processes that use GE’s machines, like refining oil or manufacturing appliances.

Microsoft, for its part, has expanded the notion of digital twins from objects to whole systems. The company is using AI “to build an immersive virtual replica of what is happening across the entire factory floor.” What better way to troubleshoot a giant six-axis robotic mill than by overlaying the machine with its same-sized virtual twin, visible with AR gear? The repair technician sees the virtual ghost shimmer over the real. She studies the virtual overlay to see the likely faulty parts highlighted on the actual parts. An expert back at HQ can share the repair technician’s views in AR and guide her hands as she works on the real parts.

AR is starting to enhance the digital shopping experience. As AR progresses, you’ll be able to place a piece of furniture virtually in your space to measure it and see how it looks in your room, keeping it in place as you walk around it. You’ll be able to instantly change the fabric pattern.

We’re seeing this technology already, as AR allows shoppers to change hair color or try on shades of makeup on phone apps.

Mirrorworld is made possible with cameras. A lot of cameras. Cameras everywhere, which will take mass surveillance to a whole other level. While mirrorworld’s Argus will help robots navigate the world safely, it will also raise the possibility of serious abuse by authoritarian governments and create new security threats.

Mirrorworld could become the next leap in the technological revolution. Wired predicts that millions may be using mirrorworld in the next decade, and its final shape will take decades to mature. Our grandchildren may grow up in two worlds ― the real world and the mirrorworld.