When Hamilton community members recently gathered in the Kennedy Auditorium to hear John Werner ’92 talk about augmented reality, they quickly realized that this wouldn’t be a typical lecture.
Werner interacted with the audience after each section of his presentation, soliciting comments and “a-ha moments” in order to get a sense of the individuals in the auditorium. He also brought his augmented reality device to demo and show students after the talk, which was the highlight for many.
“After learning so much about augmented reality—a subject I thought I was familiar with—the chance to test it out first-hand was incredible,” Aleta Brown ’17 said.
Werner, vice president of strategic partnerships at Meta, works toward designing a future where augmented reality will be “a healthy, vital extension of who we are.” For the technology-skeptics in the room—and there were a few—this claim seemed a little worrisome, but Werner offered countless examples of the ways in which this technology could help people in the diverse fields of healthcare, education, transportation, law, manufacturing and many others.
Beyond speaking about his own augmented reality project, innovations at the MIT Media Lab, “bottom-up innovation” in India and new start-up in Silicon Valley Tech, Werner made predictions for the future of augmented reality, saying, “I predict that the smartphone is going to disappear, and eventually we’re going to wear something on our head. Instead of a mouse, the future is going to be using our hands.”
Halfway through his talk, Werner reached out to the audience. “One of the reasons I wanted to come back to campus is to say: keep yourself aware of where technology is going because there are ways that you’ll be able to make a difference.” He explained, “Instead of trying to take what we’ve done in the past, let’s think about where we’re going and what the next 50 years are going to look like. What’s the future of education, manufacturing and design?”
Werner then concluded with a challenge: “The players in augmented reality are not going to be just scientists. I’m challenging you to think about how you can be a player in augmented reality. Technology is here to stay. Let’s figure out what we can do with it outside of the gaming space.”
Educational technologist and fellow alumnus Kyle Burnham ’15 said, “Given the work I’ve been doing with LITS’ Research and Instructional Design Team, I agreed wholeheartedly with Werner that augmented reality, more than virtual reality, will have an immense impact upon the way we learn and teach, enabling opportunities by extending what’s possible.”
He continued, “Even if technology like the Meta 2 isn’t commercially usable yet, Werner brought up some great points for why it’s worth it for educators and learners to experience it at this moment: to spark ideas about what those cases can and will be.”