Two things are clear about Augmented Reality. First, the technology will be flooding the consumer, enterprise, and education markets in the next year. Second, researchers know little to nothing about how this novel technology will change social interaction. This project seeks to make advances both in the computer science and the social psychology of AR. In collaboration with Greg Welch’s lab at the University of Central Florida, we are building systems that can network avatars via AR in realtime, and studying the social benefits and consequences. How does one’s daily routine change when augmented avatars become constant companions? How does human interaction change when only one person in a group room sees particular AR avatars? The notion of common ground in communication will be challenged when people are interacting with one another face-to-face, while also experiencing separate augmented realities.
Our initial explorations are guided by The Media Equation, a theory put forward by Byron Reeves and Cliff Nass, summed up in the statement “Media = People”. We show that in a range of situations, people behave as if the virtual characters they see are real, including giving them personal space when walking near them and feeling audience pressure when watched by them. These initial findings provide evidence that what we know about people interacting with people – the field of social psychology – can extend to AR as well. Even to virtual companion animals!