Is the world ready for virtual graffiti?

Imagine a world full of invisible graffiti. Open an application, point your phone to the wall and a blank brick or cement will become a canvas. Create art with digital spray paint and stencils, and an augmented reality system will permanently store your location and location, creating the illusion of true street art. If friends or followers of social networks have the application, they can find their painting on a map and come to see it. You can scribble a joke at the door of a friend's apartment, or paint a beautiful mural next to a local store.

Now imagine a darker world. Hate group members happily exchange images of racist labels on civil rights monuments. Students bully each other by spreading vicious rumors on the walls of a target's house. Small businesses are harassed beyond their capacity when a large influencer publishes a sticker in their window. The developers of Mark AR, an application that is described as "the world's first augmented reality social platform", are trying to create the good version of this system. They are still discovering how to avoid the bad one.

Mark AR is one of the first projects built on Google's Persistent Cloud Anchors. The application, created by the mobile editor iDreamSky and the developer Subway Surfers Sybo, debuted at the New York Comic-Con last week, where visitors could borrow a phone and walk through an installation emerging from Mark AR, either seeing the professional works of art or creating his own. Talented artists can use a virtual spray to paint freehand. Everyone else (including me) could choose from a set of templates with comic themes. In the future, users could make their own templates or even design images in Photoshop and import them directly.

The creators of Mark AR plan more emerging exhibits, and after these small tests, they plan to test the application in a single city. "A launch in the city will be where we are testing: can we handle moderation? Can we make sure people play safely?" Says iDreamSky President Jeff Lyndon. "Once we can manage a city, we know exactly how we can scale our business to a national launch. "But if existing social networks have taught us something, it's that these are massive, complicated questions, sometimes even impossible to answer. 19659006] At the launch, Mark AR is supposed to It works a bit like Facebook Users will be logged in with real names, probably through Facebook When they create art, they can share the location with one person, a list of friends and followers, or members of a group The ARCore platform Google stores the location using GPS and computer vision, capturing details in the environment to use as anchor points. When someone shares art with you, it appears close a thumbnail on a map; If you visit that location and point your phone to the place shown in the thumbnail, you will see any images they have created.

There are many potential technical problems, since Cloud Anchors is still very new. But social issues, such as sharing, privacy and abuse, are more interesting. Pokémon Go the first successful AR game, raised its share of unexpected questions. Should people be able to catch Pokémon in the Holocaust Museum? (No.) Could it be illegal to place a digital marker in a person's real house without permission? (It is not clear). Should application manufacturers worry about the fall of their users in the ponds? (Apparently).

Mark AR faces these problems plus the complications of running a creative platform where anyone can upload content. They are also one of the first players trying to launch this type of network as the main product, although Microsoft will face similar problems with its AR game Minecraft Earth something that the company easily recognizes.

The creators of Mark AR are taking some clues from Pokémon Go – they are going to geofence physical spaces as monuments to be off limits, for example. And they expect a real name policy and the friend-based model will limit people who make offensive or harassing images. "Because there is no anonymity, that helps govern what people are doing," says Sybo CEO Mathias Gredal Norvig. (It's unclear how true that is: Facebook has faced repeated problems with closed groups dedicated to exchanging non-consensual pornography or degrading women or immigrants.)

Lyndon adds that Mark AR will devote resources to address abuse. "We are working on hiring a human moderation team, and we are also working with some technology companies to provide image recognition, to provide a kind of moderate machine learning, to see some of the images very quickly." The approach taken by larger social networks and purely online. However, it has been difficult to scale. AI cannot make sophisticated moderation decisions, and human teams are often overworked and sometimes traumatized by constantly seeing horrible content. And although iDreamSky and Sybo are well established companies, they don't have the kind of resources that, for example, Facebook could throw into the problem.

To be clear: Mark AR is not equivalent to someone labeling a Building with real graffiti. Users cannot deface or cover up the work of others. People will have to look for digital art. The company can remove paints at any time. And Mark AR might not end up being a great public platform. Its creators promote options such as letting people decorate private rooms or creating treasure searches for friends and family. If that happens, moderation may not be a big problem, assuming the application is updated, which is far from being safe.

But the purpose of Mark AR is to imitate a public art form. So, its most interesting uses involve, well, people who make public art. It is ideal for events such as comic and music festivals, where visitors gather in a physical space for creative purposes. And the idea of ​​walking through a city, finding the random labels that people have left behind, is fascinating. Can Mark AR build a new augmented reality without falling into the same pitfalls as our current digital worlds? That is also a fascinating question.

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