Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

By Dennis D. McDonald

Click or tap image to download a .pdf of this article.We voluntarily provide details of our lives and our relationships to the Cloud. In return we receive helpful suggestions about when and where to travel, where to eat, and what to see along the way. We are simultaneously “augmentors” and “augmentees.” For many this is a fair exchange. 

I don’t always use the term “augmented reality” to describe what we get in return since I’m no longer sure what isn’t reality in our modern age.

I’m not just playing word games. Philosophically, everything we sense in our daily lives makes up the “reality” we face, regardless of whether this comes from direct contact or through an electronic medium of some kind.

Whatever comes in through our eyes or ears or sense of touch is part of a greater reality we must interact with. Sounds generated by the banging of a drum next door or a loudspeaker broadcasting a drum beat from 1943 may have little consequential difference. Their vibrations both travel through the air to our eardrums, we experience them,  and we respond.

These are examples of the realities we experience every day. That we as humans can manage sensory input from so many sources is a significant evolutionary accomplishment. How else would we drive a car, ride a bicycle, or play guitar in zero gravity?

One of the things we learn is to pick and choose what we pay attention to:

  • As infants we pick out mother’s face from a sea of faces and reach out.
  • As children we learn not to stare directly at the sun.
  • As teenagers we learn to manipulate the complex controls of multi-ton vehicles while listening to the radio and chatting with friends.
  • As adults we learn how to navigate the complexities of home ownership, death, and taxes.

Along the way now we have technologies to help us think, decide, even remember. Increasingly we see technology attempting to help us in advance of need — planning a trip, selecting a restaurant, selecting a tune to play. The complex algorithms that evaluate our creditworthiness and track out of the ordinary credit card purchases are no longer esoteric but are coming to a phone or a tablet computer near you to help you survive — and hopefully enjoy — your daily grind.

One thing that’s happening is that sophisticated technology is not being limited to highly specialized vertical niches but is now being brought to “the masses.” An example is Apple’s Siri. That Apple had the guts to bring such an advanced technology to support the humdrum day-to-day transactions of millions of ordinary consumers was nothing short of audacious. Other advanced technologies continue to find their ways into the hands of ordinary people such as Google Glass.

All these technologies expand the scope of our work, our decision-making, and our relationships as more options and information are placed before our eyeballs or into our ears.

How do we as individuals manage these changes — these augmentations —  of our respective realities? Are we evolving into two classes, haves and have-nots, with only the haves really possessing the wherewithal to take advantage of increasingly complex and feature-rich realities?

I like to believe that I can be in control, that I can manage the constant flow of data. I like to believe that I can influence the frequency with which I receive notices from my bank as well as how often Google Now tells me the details of the trip I’m about to take (or so it thinks).

I also know that, if something really important happens, I want to know about it now. But to be able to do that the system really needs to know how I define “important.” Yet, I’m not sure that I feel comfortable about sharing the intimate details of my preferences, my hopes, and my fears with the machine — especially if that machine might mistakenly reveal my private details to others or to some government agency “… just trying to catch crooks.”

As technology oriented as I am, I am beginning to have some doubts about where the technology is headed. Just as I thought in the early days of social media that the relationship categories of systems such as Facebook and LinkedIn were remarkably primitive, so I now feel that systems like Google Glass, Google Now, and Apple Siri are also primitive and prone to error. 

On balance such systems provide useful information. They also make mistakes both of commission and omission. As we become more dependent on the assistance of such systems for our daily lives, we need to keep in mind the disclaimers displayed online with online maps and driving directions, that conditions may have changed from the time the map was generated.

How many people actually take this heartfelt recommendation by mapping system attorneys?  I don’t know. But it also makes sense (even more sense, in my view) to be cautious about taking the advice of Google Now (or Apple Siri). Things change constantly. The traffic accident that just occurred might take a lot more time to make its way into crowdsourced warning systems and heads up route displays.

An important question is, of course, are we better off with these reality augmentation systems then without them? Right now I certainly believe we are. I also think skepticism and caution are warranted. Living in the reality of the world is a remarkably complex undertaking. How we behave, survive, and prosper are influenced both by major events — and by the beating of the wings of a single butterfly.

There’s no doubt in my mind the cloud-based services can help us deal with the major events, but I think we might have to wait a bit longer for the butterfly wings.

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Copyright (c) 2013 by Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D. Dennis is a Washington DC area consultant specializing in digital strategy, collaborative project management, and new technology adoption. His clients have included the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the US Environmental Protection Agency, Jive Software, the National Library of Medicine, the National Academy of Engineering, Social Media Today and Oracle, and the World Bank Group. His experience includes the management of projects involving the conversion or migration of financial and transaction data associated with large and small systems. Contact Dennis via email at or by phone at 703-402-7382. 

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