Augmented Reality Maps and the Crime Wave of the Future

Augmented Reality is one of the scifi promises I’ve been anticipating with equal amounts of dread and desire. Now that AR is real, I find that disgust and attraction are the least of my emotional feedback to the fledgling technology. Since beholding this splendid monstrosity, I feel responsible for it.

But what is it? Wikipedia says, “Augmented reality (AR) is a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are augmented by virtual computer-generated imagery.” Blaise Aguera y Arcas’s 2010 TED Talk includes an amusing demonstration. Augmented Reality places layers of primarily visual information between people and the real world. Put generously, it’s a tool and a toy that allows us to interact with our environment in ways we’ve literally only been able to imagine before now. Cynically, it’s a spambot’s wet dream and a nightmare for privacy lovers everywhere.


Spam is annoying at best and an alarmingly effective vehicle for identity theft at worst, but it’s hardly the most dangerous act likely to be perpetrated by Augmented Reality-savvy criminals. Crime has been abusing geography throughout recorded history, after all. What large scale conquest could have succeeded without maps of some kind? What espionage? What Great Escape? Even though the intersection of crime and geography is old news, AR will dust off the trope and escalate the conflict between informed law enforcement and outlaw entrepreneurship. While we watch Facebook burglaries trend into Twitter-fed geolocation muggings, it’s easy to extrapolate futures full of the potential negative consequences of and resistance to even fairly passive AR:

However, it seems like a waste of innovation to focus solely on the possibilities for its misuse. Dystopian plots have an abundance of readily exploitable conflict, but for more interesting and fun results, writers would be better off thinking like criminals. Why should the bad guys have a monopoly on opportunism? What happens when our protagonists take initiative?

As important as it is to write imaginative stories, there are greater things than informed entertainment at stake. Since humanity became dominant on Earth, we’ve increasingly depended on the villains among us to provide civilization with the drive toward adaptation necessary in the absence of external pressures. Augmented Reality is one emergent technology poised to change the very dynamics of human evolution. It vastly expands the general population’s anonymous access to information, an advantage historically surrendered to people willing to betray social obligations to obtain it. By providing unprecedented opportunities for social creativity and public outreach, AR empowers us all to become responsible agents of change.

More at the intersection of Crime and Geography:
http://news.discovery.com/earth/sex-offenders-thrive-in-oil-and-gas-boom-towns.html
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100221200902.htm

Responsible Geography, and related links:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2ngsr0NTUM
http://edition.cnn.com/2010/TECH/03/08/mexico.crime.social.media/
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/brett/8-bit-cities-real-world-maps-that-look-like-80s-v
http://news.discovery.com/tech/package-delivery-gains-citizen-shippers.html
http://www.physorg.com/news187336410.html

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