Let’s talk about reality. While we all share the same base layer of physical reality, our experiences encompass so much more. Our reality is shaped not just by raw physical factors like physical location and weather but also by our perception and understanding of the world. The reality that we inhabit today, a reality that incorporates constant contact with digital technology, is a far cry from the reality of our grandparents, who got excited when it was time to listen to their favorite radio shows. And even that reality is light-years from the distant past. Imagine showing a radio to a puritan from 1625 or a smartphone to a telegraph operator in the 1850s.
Thanks to modern technology, our base physical layer of reality is expandable. Augmented reality (AR) exists as a digital layer that sits on top of our base layer of hard, physical reality – meatspace, as some wags in the tech community have dubbed it. The AR layer that sits on top of physical reality will provide us with transparency into real-time information that we currently lack. Imagine visiting a new city and having their transit maps displayed in AR in front of you; no more looking at your phone or fumbling with a paper map. Based on your location and destination, you could get real-time visual cues that help you navigate a new place without having to be glued to your phone.
AR will also provide us with access to entertainment and fantasy. Pepsi recently used AR in a bus-stop based ad campaign that displayed realistic augmentations of things like meteor strikes, tigers wandering the streets, and giant robots peering out between buildings. AR is still a young technology but it’s easy to see how much potential there is for an augmented future.
But since augmented reality sits as a layer on top of our base physical reality, isn’t there potential for conflict? Eventually, someone is going to want to put an AR layer on top of something significant, like Cloud Gate or the Empire State Building. Can they just do that? Can anyone just pop up a layer of augmentation and tie it to a real, physical place to gain exposure or to control the information narrative? Do people who own tangible assets have any way to control what happens on the AR layers over their property? This is largely unexplored territory, but fortunately for all of us, we have people like Aaron Beltran working on the problem. Beltran is a digital pioneer and a visionary who is already thinking about these complex issues and taking action through his company, Meta Reality Realms.
Aaron Beltran’s AR Vision
Aaron Beltran is a forward-thinking man with a sprawling vision for the augmented future. Today, most people engage with digital realities through portals like VR goggles or game servers. Companies like Facebook are entering the metaverse and creating massive virtual worlds. Surgeons use virtual reality and sophisticated computer imaging technology to explore a patient’s organs from the outside, allowing them to perform more focused surgeries and to practice in VR before they make a real cut. While VR and the metaverse are amazing technologies, they are not the same as Beltran’s vision for augmented reality.
The key difference is that Beltran’s AR world exists alongside physical reality. The metaverse and VR operating rooms don’t physically exist outside of servers and headsets. Your hangout in the metaverse is happening on some distant server. The AR layer, on the other hand, exists in the context of real physical places. “Think of it like a Pokemon gym,” Beltran says. “It is a place that exists digitally but at a real, physical location.” Participating in AR today might win you a free Slurpee for training your Squirtle at 7-11, but as things like robotics and nanotechnology continue to advance and develop, the true potential of the AR world will materialize. Beltran envisions AR functioning as a way to bring people together in real life, unlike current digital tech which can connect us online but leaves us out of the real world. “I live right in front of a park, and you don’t see the same kinds of things you saw [before],” he says. “But soon, people will come together and do crazy things in AR.”
Beltran envisions AR as extending existing digital spaces into our physical realm, and vice-versa. Imagine how AR could impact a sport like paintball: with an AR extension, your regular paintball field could be turned into a sci-fi landscape. You could turn paintball into live-action Halo. AR will also let people gather to watch eSports in person. Watching professional gamers play on live streams or pre-recorded gaming channels has become a very popular pastime, but imagine going to an arena and watching real-time as nanobots, coordinating with an AR layer, battle out a real-time game of Halo or a League of Legends raid right in front of you.
Aside from gaming, there are tangible, real-world applications for AR technology. Imagine overlaying AR onto a historical site. It’s one thing to walk the battlements at Castillo de San Marcos; it’s another thing altogether to see it fully reconstructed, with soldiers patrolling the walls, ships at anchor in the harbor, and cannons roaring at brigands. Even something like reading a plaque can become an interactive experience with AR. You’re probably going to forget what’s on a plaque before you’ve even left the parking lot, but you’ll remember getting to talk to an augment of a soldier who describes life at the fort.
Happily, Beltran’s vision of the augmented world includes conservation. Being able to manifest a customer service agent into your location could be helpful for a variety of pedestrian tasks that currently occupy large buildings. A lot of functions of the bank, the DMV, or the insurance agent’s office could easily be virtualized and presented through an AR interface, allowing you to transact business without having to present to a physical building. Imagine being able to meet with a loan officer without having to go to the bank, or processing your registration without spending hours sitting in a moldy waiting room. This technology will help reduce traffic congestion and even remove the necessity for expensive and often ugly office buildings, helping us reduce emissions and minimizing the need to pave over nature just so your boss can keep an eye on the cubicle farm.
The Future of Digital Property Rights
Along with his glimmering vision of our AR future, Beltran sees how competition for AR layers on physical space will impact real property owners. To meet that challenge, Meta Reality Realms offers owners of real property a chance to codify their digital property rights in the form of a physical warranty deed that is transacted via the blockchain. Not only will Meta Reality Realms codify your property rights on the blockchain, but they’ll also create an NFT – a non-fungible token – of your property. Think of NFTs like one-of-a-kind, original digital pieces that live on the blockchain. While some people joke that NFTs can be copy+pasted and are therefore not useful, they forget that real objects can be forged too. Just because you have a Babe Ruth or Honus Wagner baseball card doesn’t mean you have an original or authentic card. In the context of your property, this would be something like a map of the physical layer that would interface with AR tech. And, in the case of NFTs, their validity is based on the blockchain.
What is the blockchain? The blockchain is a giant, distributed, publicly accessible ledger that is widely used to record transactions and track assets. All participants in the blockchain share access to the entirety of the record. Unlike traditional records, the blockchain is immutable, meaning that no participants can change what has been put onto the chain: if information needs to be changed, a new transaction is added to the blockchain, on top of the previous transaction. Each block confirms the timing and sequence of all previous blocks, which makes it very difficult for malicious actors to tamper with information. The blockchain is also very transparent: all parties to information sharing on the blockchain enjoy a high level of transparency.
While the legalities around digital property rights are just now beginning to be sussed out, Beltran views staking your claim on the blockchain as a long-term investment. “Amazon was a long-term investment. Apple and Microsoft were long-term investments,” he says. Similarly, as digital property rights are likely to become a hot commodity in the future, it makes sense to get in on the ground floor now. Skeptical? Just imagine trying to convince someone to buy Apple at their IPO because the iPhone would be revolutionary.
More than an investment, Beltran sees protecting one’s digital property rights as a necessary move as we careen into the future. Just as you wouldn’t want someone setting up a moonshine operation in your garden shed, you don’t want malicious actors setting up unauthorized or unhelpful AR augments over your real land. To help real property owners get the jump on these problems, Meta Reality Realms is currently registering AR rights for free. For zero dollars, you can have your digital ownership of real property encoded on the blockchain right now. While large tech companies like Meta, Apple, and Google have done a good job at convincing investors to buy into VR technology and the metaverse, the fact remains that human beings are going to continue existing in meatspace. You can’t eat virtual food or sip a virtual beer. To live life, we must engage with the base physical layer of our reality, which we will naturally augment with AR. Codifying your ownership of the AR space around your property is a smart move.
The Future is Bright…and Augmented
Beltran’s vision for the future is bright. AR is going to change our world in unpredictable ways. And while some of us – especially those of us who have made the mistake of entering any online comments section – may view new ways of engaging through technology with suspicion, Beltran thinks that AR is going to help people transcend the ugliness of our digital world and create something better. AR’s existence alongside metaspace means that people lose the sense of anonymity and disembodiment that comes from the contemporary internet. Besides, he says, “even now people are becoming more aware, more conscious.” That awareness, paired with an ability to connect in new and exciting ways in the physical and digital world at the same time, makes our AR future a bright one indeed. We’ll see you out there.