Towards Democratic Vistas, Anchoring the Digital to the Physical World

“How people will interact with the world around them,” according to Gartner, is destined to change forever due to computing. That is to say, the developer has at their hand tools to ‘place’ internet-based digital content into the physical world and have it ‘persist’, to stay in the same location. In this new world, every lake or mountain anyone can see from their own door can potentially become an excitement in their imagination to borrow from Nobel Laureate in Literature WB Yeats. Great technological discoveries make their own conceptual room while also absorbing surrounding language and thought.

L’esprit de géométrie tools – Anchors

There is a growing choice of frameworks, developer kits, and programming languages however one cross-cutting concept can be identified, a necessary traversable conduit to channel internet-based content to our physical world, that of ‘anchors’. Broadly anchors in this context are real-world scale coordinate systems for expressing geometry. Anchors work with data recorded by sensors from a mobile device or headset that track common frames of reference, triangulate relative position, and create geometry in 3D space, mapping a real-world location. Content can be ‘anchored’ to for instance horizontal or vertical planes, an image, 3D objects, a 3D map, geographic coordinates, and even a face. Developers becoming a type of explorer of those near-at-hand immediate terra incognita that spreads out in every gaze.

Such coordinate systems enable developers to consistently reason about the position and orientation, together known as pose, of ‘placed’ virtual content overlaid onto a real landscape and mediate between the user’s gaze direction or hand position. Digital internet-based content augmented into view can ‘persist’, can stay in place over time between sessions, and can be shared between consumer devices. The developer composes and edits what happens around an anchor. Such anchor setting is hard to achieve given demands not least on computer vision tasks of plane finding and motion tracking. Location error can occur by way of the ‘drifting’ of virtual content not reflecting where you are. Created 3D maps can also compliment occlusion APIs by adding the illusion digital content is being blocked from view behind physical surroundings or by providing further map intelligence – such as vegetation, water, or building segmentation – changing how the digital content interacts with specific map geometry. The new prime meridian is the individual.

Once mature these anchoring tools can conjure experiences that provide moments of joy, delight, surprise, beauty, humor, imbue with story, and exalt the everyday via computing, a creative infrastructure – but how so?

L’esprit de finesse – Places Made Important

To say the world ends at the discussed Cartesian and Euclidean space is an impoverished view of human experience. Ancient Athenian playwright Aristophanes enlightens, mapping is human language embodied in geometry. Ancient Greco-Roman Strabo in Geographica teaches that the only wise man is the poet, moreover, Homer was the beginning of geography. From this perspective, the role of human language is elevated subsequently so too are those who master it, namely those great poets. Or defined another way is it the marriage of the esprit de géométrie, the rigor of the geometer, and the esprit de finesse, the imagination of great creatives – those with an intuited creative impulse as Nobel Laureate in Literature Henri Bergson outlined. It is both the anchor and ship, at once steadying and buoyant.

This seedling technology stack has everything to do with place, as anchoring filters the internet into the physical world, into the topographical mind. With the authority of inheriting a corpus of Irish place literature, the millennia spanning Dinnshenchas tradition – the narratives of place, the lore of place, how the imagination of great creatives affect their environment – the poet Patrick Kavanagh and Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney both affirmed we have all lived in important places, Homer’s Iliad was simply a local row. Places are made important only by the light of the mind which is now playing upon them, not so much just celebrating the world, more that the great creative is at hand to proceed with the celebration.

Towards Democratic Vistas

American poet Walt Whitman in one of his masterpieces ‘Democratic Vistas’ set out that the greatest art is non-subordinated soul world literature of first-class creatives, whose measurable outcome is whether it has helped any human soul if it has created joy. All of this, through Whitman’s lens, is foundational for democratic vistas. For our purposes here, of the digital technologies referred to and the language-game, it is to say places where great creatives inoculate, transmute joy into place for individuals to experience.

The Universalis Cosmographia Map, a masterpiece union of the geometric and the creative, which changed the way we see the world and gave the New World her place-name, America, incorporated text from Virgil’s Aeneid Book VI by the collaborating poet. Strikingly Book VI, as translated by Seamus Heaney, ends with the line “Anchors are cast from the prow; sterns cushion on sand.” How this rhymes true today when such a diverse range of groups of people with the enunciating tools are casting digital anchors intertwining lands with new technology. In some sense as a result a New World, Mundus Novus, is emerging from under your feet.

This ample geography has the potential to dazzle the imagination, into the marvelous as people may come to know it, and it will not wait long for metres.

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