Augmented Reality: A conceptual analysis of its genesis and use

written by Maxine Carlisle. Submitted: just before the deadline.

Augmented reality (AR) is a tool that engages with sensory perception to bring usable information into the physical world.

Since its genesis with Ivan Sutherland (1968) and his program the Sword of Damocles, AR is continuously evolving as new designers, scientists, artists, educators, and doctors, imagine how they can utilise the device to enrich their selected field of work. What is most intriguing about this technology and its plethora of uses, is the conceptual line of thinking that enabled its development. Presocratic Greek thinking is the foundation for Western sentiments, and in the study of AR, one can ascertain the nature of AR as an attempt to obtain knowledge and truth by observing and interacting with the physical world and our humanity.

Ivan Sutherland is an American electrical engineer who has been widely renowned as the father of computer graphics (Hosch, W, L. 2018). His theoretical text on The Ultimate Display, focuses on how technology can and will maximise human interaction with the world in real time. “A display connected to a digital computer gives us a chance to gain familiarity with concepts not realisable in the physical world” (Sutherland, I. 1965) Sutherland’s work at the University of Utah influenced his progression with computer graphics technology and he attributes significant collaboration and aid from David Evans. Evans used basic incremental computing in order to solve issues with pixel generated graphics (Frenkel, K., & Sutherland, I. 1989). These studies led to the invention of the Sword of Damocles (Figure 1), the first Augmented Reality technology.

Figure 1: Ivan Sutherland. (1968). The Sword of Damocles. Original Source Unknown. Accessed via:

Whilst, in today’s climate AR technologies are multi-modal and engage with more than just the sense of sight, the basis of these discoveries found the genesis of AR technology, and contribute to how thinkers and corporations all across the globe engage with it. Furthermore, a considerably notable revolution in the history of AR, was when scientist Dr. Steven Feiner developed the first mobile AR system in 1986, called the “Touring Machine” (Kipper, G., & Rampolla, J. (2013).

Figure 2: Dr. Steven Feiner (1986) The Touring Machine. Original source unknown. Accessed via:

Scholar Amakawa affirms that one of AR’s fundamental features allows for information specific to contextual locations to be represented in the real world (Amakawa, J., Westin, J. 2018. 315-331). Whilst, the Touring Machine was relatively primitive in its conception, Feiner’s backpack allows AR to be carried. Thus, a leading foundation and fundamental advancement which is manipulated by media, science and the arts, to access sophisticated versions of AR. So, that for its true ability to be utilised, it must be mobile to enhance interaction with one’s immediate surroundings in real time.

The use of AR today still maintains elements of its genesis, and is a rapidly expanding industry being used by alternate creators. Victor Breton discusses AR in his Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design and his underlying message admonishes the boundaries with which we project onto the world. His inspiring words,

“a tool addresses human needs by amplifying human capabilities. That is, a tool converts what we can do into what we want to do” (Breton, V. 2011).

Maintaining this sentiment, the demand to keep up with human needs is a pressure upon media companies. With an estimated impact of $3 billion on market online software sales and 32 millions users by 2025 (Live Animations, International IT Company. 2018), companies like Apple and Facebook have already released AR technologies. With Aple’s iOS 11 software it introduces ARKit. ARKit aims to transcend the constraints of a screen. It “blends digital objects and information with the environment around you… freeing them to interact with the real world in entirely new ways” (Changoo, F. 2018). Reaffirming this notion, Breton continues to query the inadequacy of the smartphone, “Why aim for anything less than a dynamic medium that we can see, feel and manipulate?” Heeding this notion, Apple anticipates a post-smartphone world through AR and battery efficient wearables including AR glasses. Smaller companies like Vuzix, Vividworks and Epson, resonate with Dr. Steven Feiner’s innovation of wearable technology, aiming to develop devices that are transportable in efficient ways.

As well as the media companies, methods of education can be enhanced by AR technologies. Constructionist learning, a mode in which one is educated by constructing mental pathways to comprehend the world around them, allows connections to be affectively made between student and context (Murthy, S. 2017). A case study of how AR is being used to educate society with constructionist learning thresholds is in New Philadelphia concerning investigations and revealing of truths from African American history. With actual remains of African American slavery settlements all but obliterated, AR reconstructs an ‘intangible heritage’ (Amakawa, J. Westin, J. 2018). Whilst an AR headset transmits images and sound, one can tour through New Philadelphia, and see historical landmarks imposed onto the landscape.

Figure 3: New Philadelphia Association Board members and Free Frank descendant Gerald McWorter field testing the app

This is an example of historical and identity preservation through the use of AR and constructionist education methods.

AR has sensory design features that tap into the innate human necessity to connect with other beings on varying levels. How we communicate across globe continues to expand and as John Perry Barlow affirms, “cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of communications” (Barlow, J. P. 1996). Therefore, it only seems natural that a system like Augmented Reality will assist in the expanding demand of users online and how they interact. The company Senseg, is modulating forces to sync with a variety of sensations that can be generated to give different textures to different images (Papagiannis, H. 2017). It is essentially a “touch panel display device provided with a so-called tactile sensor, in which the sense of touch is fed back to the user’s fingertip operating the touch panel display” (Senseg, ltd, 2015). Kasper Hornbaek from the University of Copenhagen has developed a deformable display technology that reinvents screens into arbitrary shapes. This could allow surgeons to physically reach into a virtual brain, and egg with a procedure that mirrors a real life operation (Papagiannis, H. 2017). Hornbaek also suggests that the display could allow you to, “hold the hand of your significant other, even if they are on the other side of the world”. In regards to haptics and ultrahaptics, Marianna Obrist, a scientist and lecturer at the Department of Informatics at the University of Sussex, is developing next generation technologies that generate vibrations and airwaves to allow us to touch objects that are not physically present (Papiagiannis, H. 2017). A device that allows us to feel without touching. Ultrahaptic technology and display technologies extract AR from the preconception of just a device that enhances sight and hearing. It is also able to enter our sense of touch, and hopefully, in the future our sense of smell and maybe, taste. These are two examples that are just the beginning of how innovators are using AR to enrich us on a more human level, bringing the gap between our humanity and the vastly technological world in which we live.

Taking a broader perspective on AR technologies, after having contemplated its uses and how it affects us in the 21st century, ultimately, its genesis and core reasoning is a heavily westernised concept. The reasons why and how we seek to use AR can be reference to a Presocratic line of thinking. Presocratic Greeks are the founders of Western thought, and theorising enables much of Western frameworks to comprehend and engage with the world in which we live. In theorising, ( >theoria; viewing; contemplation) we are able to seek the truth of our reality and being by seeing the world in shaped materials (Vamvacas, C. J., 2009). Therefore, AR is a vast pool in which knowledge can be accessed and enhanced through stimulation of not just our minds. But, our bodies synchronise with digital media in real time to enable a further engagement in intellectual understanding. This quest for truth in our humanity is a quantitative desire of Westernised technological companies. Therefore, inherent Western lines of thinking are conducive to the fundamental logic of AR.

AR is a software (technological tool) transmitted by devices that adds layers to the physical world and ‘augments’ who we perceive and understand it. The argument lies therein that it is a tool, so how it is used is determined by who is wielding it. It is predicted to eradicate the smartphone altogether, and Apple will be one of the most successful companies to do so. Finally by observing Greek thinking and acknowledging the derivation of Western thought from the Presocratic period, AR is innately Westernised. However, this does not demise the positive and enlightening attempt to seek truth through the advanced technologies of Augmented Reality.


Reference List:


Amakawa, J., & Westin, J. (2018). New philadelphia: using augmented reality to interpret slavery and reconstruction era historical sites. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 24(3), 315-331. doi:10.1080/13527258.2017.1378909

Barlow, J. P. (1996, February 8). A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. Electronic Frontier Foundation. Electronic Frontier Foundation. Retrieved 8 February 1996, from

Changoo, F., & Safari, an O’Reilly Media Company. (2018). iOS augmented reality with ARKit(1st ed.) Packt Publishing.

Frenkel, K., & Sutherland, I. (1989). An interview with ivan sutherland. New York: ACM. doi:10.1145/63526.63531

Hosch, W, L. (2018, September 30). Ivan Edward Sutherland.

Kipper, G., & Rampolla, J. (2013). Augmented reality: An emerging technologies guide to AR(1st ed.). Waltham, MA: Syngress/Elsevier.

Live Animations, International IT Company. (2018, June 27). Which industry will benefit the most from Augmented Reality?

Murthy, S. (2017). Augmented reality block building game for enhancing creativity: Block sculptures (Order No. 10273725). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1986224866). Retrieved from

Papagiannis, H. (2017). Augmented human : how technology is shaping the new reality. Retrieved from

Sutherland, I, E. (1965). The Ultimate Display.

Victor, B. (2011, November 8). A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design.

Vamvacas, C. J., & SpringerLink (Online service). (2009). The founders of western thought – the presocratics: A diachronic parallelism between presocratic thought and philosophy and the natural sciences ( ed.). Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.

Max Carlisle
About Max Carlisle 3 Articles
Maxine Carlisle is studying a bachelor of arts degree majoring in English.

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