Realtà Aumentata – Augmented Reality from soryn on Vimeo.

One of our distinct human characteristics is how organized our species has become (or at least we try to be).

Let’s shelf the natural movements of the atoms and molecules that make up our being, because when it comes to people – and our “stuff“, we like to name it, sort it, categorize it and make it easy to locate.

We organize our cultural stuff too – from words, books and knowledge – we’ve watched this information collect around the world on the Internet.

Google turned eleven years old last week and since the dawn of the Net they have built an unprecedented Internet resource that sorts information by words.

From the Dewey Decimal system to keyword searches, we’re still using letters to organize our data. We enter a word into a box and presto – we all have the history of our planet at our finger tips.

There’s a new idea surfacing on the horizon called “Augmented Reality” (AR) that blends GPS technology, smart phones, mobile software and all the information on the Internet. Instead of sorting by text, AR augments this data by location – bringing about new technologies both novel and mind-boggling.

Wikipedia defines augmented reality as “a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are merged with-, or augmented by virtual computer-generated imagery – creating a mixed reality.”

Augmented Reality has been emerging for several years now, but it’s really starting to gain traction now on smart phones.

Basically, you use your mobile device or web cam to enhance (or add to) a real-world experience. Sounds very science fiction. It’s becoming very real.

The idea evolved from main frames, the desktop, laptop and now the little computers we carry in our pocket that shoot video, photos, collects email, plays thousands of songs and maps information or weather wherever we stand. It just so happens this device also makes telephone calls. The funny thing is that we still call it a “phone?”

At present, the smart-phone market share, according to Nielsen is approaching a 20% consumption rate in the United States. Italy has the highest rate of usage with numbers approaching 30% of the population.

As wireless services have improved, one of the latest introductions on our phones is GPS technology. Add a digital camera and now you have a computer that can present an image anywhere on the planet, know where it’s located and associate information related to that image in a handheld screen.

If your phone knows where it’s located and can orient itself and determine whether it’s tilted left, right, upside down or 23% – then it can position itself and relate to data in the same way.

Imagine for a moment you’re visiting a metropolitan city and you are trying to the find a subway.

With AR, you can look through your smart phone’s camera at the street scene in front of you with people and cars buzzing around you in real-time. As you move the camera around, little graphics appear within the screen and point your way to the subway – or for that matter, a pizza parlor.

For a history buff, you could visit the American landscape in Boston and hold your smart phone up on the street corner and watch a Wikipedia icon pop-up on the screen and click the link to read about the historical site that stands in front of you.

Wikitude is ready to roll out this free app right now on your Iphone.

By adding the GPS coordinates into the mix and the smart-phone’s ability to know it’s orientation. You can stand in a spot, the phone calculates your latitude and longitude and matches that to other information around you that match the two points on the planet.

How about a game? Pacman could take on a whole new level if you could play it in a park.

Consider the marketing applications for this technology – walking down the streets will take on a completely new experience.

The graphics are still a bit crude and who wants to look at world with virtual billboards and cheesy avatars. After all, if you remember Second Life, this idea of a virtual world is nothing new. One of my favorite early presentations about Augmented Reality is from 2004.What intrigues me though is the idea that all of a sudden, information has a new indexing method.

A lot of people enjoy Google Maps and the ability to zoom into locations all across the planet. Sprinkle that idea with a little Augmented Reality and you can walk streets and see all kinds of information and for the most part – experience a virtual world.

Google has been a little behind, but according to Fast Company magazine – “Google’s Street View revolutionized desktop maps, and its coverage of cities around the world is still expanding. But compared to some upcoming augmented reality apps, Google almost feels like its lagging. Is this why its added business metatags to the service?”

Let’s fast forward into the future a bit and bring this closer to home.

We’re walking on Broad Street in Downtown Kingsport. The handheld Iphone has given way to a pair of sunglasses or contact lens. As we explore the streets, we see pictures that were taken over the past twenty years of people, places, businesses, videos, news stories, sound files all mapped to where we stand.

If you’re looking to stay slightly ahead of the digital marketing curve, Augmented Reality could well be “what’s next” and a huge skip past virtual worlds.

The early apps are looking for marketing solutions and I bet the gaming world is taking note of this tech too, but there are some apps that might be extremely useful and invasive by the same measure.

How about a reality app that let’s you walk into a room and see business cards floating over the attendees?

Perhaps an app for the single guy walking into a nightclub and seeing the status of who’s single or married?

There are already ideas forming about how to us AR and Twitter like this new proposed app by TwitAround.

What if the AR app could track negative comments about businesses or for that matter track criminals in a way that even the idea of looking down a street would expose volumes of information about the place or people that surround you?

Sounds a bit too much I know, but keep in mind the ways technology could augment our world and keep us safe.

It’s a crazy place and if you don’t believe me, turn on the news. Last week Al-Queda terrorists are adopting drum smuggling tactics and embedding bombs inside human bodies. Airport security will either have to go to strip searches or develop some new tech that helps keep us safe and even though I admit that it’s all moving too fast – I still like to see us keep an edge over those who seek to do harm.

Besides, we all are watching as the world suffers from a inflating attention deficit disorder.

Daniel Sanchez-Crespo, a project leader at the Barcelona firm, Novarama, had this to say about Augmented Reality – “The real world is too boring for many people. By making the real world a playground for the virtual world, we can make the real world much more interesting”.

Just between friends – the older I get, the more I embrace the heart of a Luddite. I miss the old days of three channels of television and plenty of free time. I’ll admit that since the introduction of the Net, I find myself chained to a screen either on a desktop, my lap or in my pocket.

It’s hard to ignore though. Like many of you, I love new toys. Augmented Reality has some remarkable possibilities and although it probably will not help us get any closer to the true meaning of life, it’s certainly going to make it more entertaining.

AR has been called “the opportunity that’s going to blow the lid off everything,” as Denise Gershbein of frog design put it at Mobilize 09, adding, “That’s the moment when you stop looking down at a device and hold the lens up to the world.”

I’m sure that some people will think that we’re going to far shaping our realities, but TV and video games have been doing that for years and Augmented Reality could be the natural evolution of our species – merging the machines with the humans, but that’s another sci-fi flick altogether.