Where is Canada's Strategy for Augmented Reality?

4 minute read

Augmented reality or “AR” is one of the fastest growing disruptive technologies out there. AR seeks to add additional layers to reality through software which people can interact with. Perhaps the most famous AR application so far has been “Pokemon Go” which reached 50 million users in just under three weeks, compared to Facebook which took 2 years to achieve as many users. The technology is not just about fun and games, AR is being used for a wide range of applications including wayfinding, navigation, business cards, art, manufacturingand so on, and will revolutionize many shared experiences. AR may not have the instant name recognition of other disruptive technologies, but its growth is predicted to vastly outpace that of the much better-known immersive technology, virtual reality.

Ar Mark Editorial Pic
Source: TechCrunch

The policy implications of this kind of growth in AR are enormous. From the standpoint of competitiveness policies and encouraging growth in this sector in Canada, thoughtful support of projected growth in AR will require a lot of forethought and policy development. AR will bring about the emergence of entirely new business models and will create value in unexpected places. Not only will this instigate changes in Canada’s innovation ecosystem, but this is likely to have downstream impacts as the technology becomes more ubiquitous in other industries as a tool. As with any emerging technology, new policy work will ultimately be necessary to ensure that citizens are protected. Steadily increasing adoption of AR will produce a myriad of challenges for areas like privacy, cybersecurity, mental health issues including AR addiction, changing definitions of consent and permission, or even for trying to mitigate political radicalization.

AR is bound to be one of the most important emerging technologies of the age and one that will have wide-ranging effects throughout society. Yet unlike other emerging technologies, AR will impact many citizens in a very tangible and routine way since it is something that people can see and interact with everyday. Indeed, growth in AR will be ubiquitous whereas it's unlikely that a large portion of the citizenry will investigate the details of the nanotechnology in their computer hardware. This broad constituency for AR, combined with the technology’s high potential to disrupt existing regulations and norms, should make AR a priority for government. Yet surprisingly, AR is a technology that has been given very little attention by government so far, or by the wider policy community. Indeed, there are only a handful of articles on AR policy worldwide.

Our team scoured the federal public service for a policy team on AR, and after nearly a month of calls, emails and inquiries to media officers, the lack of policy-capacity on AR in the federal government has become apparent. As best as we can tell, augmented reality falls most directly under the portfolio of Canadian Heritage. This is because AR is often used as a cultural medium and thus is categorized in the same way as other cultural mediums, like cinema. That in her then capacity as Heritage Minister Melanie Jolie presented on behalf of the Canadian Cabinet at Augmented Reality in Action (ARIA) conference, a leading global forum for AR, seems to confirm Canadian Heritage’s responsibility for the portfolio. Some other departments also use some measure of AR in their operations and thus house a degree of AR-relevant expertise, such as Library and Archives Canada and Ingenium, which manages several federal museums, who sometimes use AR in displays.

Yet all this is a far cry from the Government of Canada having dedicated policy expertise in AR, much less any of the well-developed AR policy teams or policies themselves that could guide the development of the sector. AR needs a regulatory lattice to grow on and the public at large needs progress on the foundations of an AR policy to start early if this is to manifest in meaningful citizen protections well before the time the technology becomes ubiquitous. Developing meaningful AR policy- and policy research- will not only ensure that Canada is ready for the explosion in AR, but also that Canada will be well-poised to take a leadership position in this new field. The shocking near-absence of AR policy in Canada today should be the policy community’s clarion call; Canada needs to start putting together AR policy and fast.

Join us on December 5th for a free event on Augmented Reality Policy as part of our Policy Crunch speaker series. The event will take place between 5:30 and 7:30 in our ASPIRE Lab on 60 George Street. Please register in advance to ensure there is sufficient space for everyone!

About the author

Mark Robbins

Mark Robbins

Senior Researcher

Mark's work principally addresses impact of the digital revolution on government, governance and public administration as well as how government itself impacts technological development through its actions for governing the ICT sector. Mark can be found working on a range of projects related to 21st century policy areas including digital transformation, innovation, digital government and artificial intelligence. When not writing research, Mark also organizes the IOG's Policy Crunch speaker series and annual Future Forum conference.

Prior to joining the IOG, he held various research positions on economic and political affairs, including at the Munk School at the University of Toronto, the Conference Board of Canada, UN-ESCAP, the Canadian Transportation Agency and the Parliament of Canada. Mark holds a Bachelor of Social Science in Political Science from the University of Ottawa, an M.A. in Political Economy from Carleton University and a certificate in commerce from Mohawk College.

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