Podcast with Jeffrey Ventrella – on the Versatilist

Hey wiggy peeps,

I was recently interviewed on the Versatilist Podcast, by Patrick O’Shea.


In this podcast, Patrick and I kick around lots of ideas on artificial life, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality. I describe my ongoing efforts to develop a kind of self-animated character that can thrive in our highly augmented future.


Augmented Reality is Inevitable

sculpturePost-humanism sounded scary to me at first. The idea that humans will turn into cyborgs: half machine-half animal; the idea that humans will merge with technology to the point of becoming unrecognizable – something other than the soft, fuzzy artist/poet/lovers that we once were.

But there’s a nicer version of post-humanism.

Medical and information technology are enhancing our bodies and our minds in many ways. A hip replacement; a vaccine against polio; the prompt answer to a factual question by Siri or Google using a hand-held device; the ability to project your expressive body language to a loved one on the other side of the planet. These are enhancements to human potential.

The conversation on post-humanism, in my opinion, should not be centered on “if”, but “how”. Technology is a fact of our species. Fish swim. Birds fly, and humans make technology. And if that technology makes us smarter and more creative, then in a sense one might say that it makes us more human.


Augmented reality is defined as the overlay of visual (or audible) information over a view of the real, physical world. While virtual reality replaces the real world with a simulated one, augmented reality modifies, or enhances one’s perception of the real world.

Augmented reality is on the rise in gaming and education research. It’s quite exciting, and I think it’s inevitable that it will become a normal part of our future.

As educators, artists, and engineers, it is our job to make sure that augmented reality makes us more human, not more machine. It’s a theme that comes up for me all the time, and it is also very relevant as so many people find themselves sucked into computer-mediated social networks or virtual reality games that are hyperreal and addictive.


Fantasy and escape are still valid, important parts of our human nature. But perhaps it’s time to look at how gaming and computer simulation can bring us back into closer connection with each other and with the natural world.

This is one of the goals of Wiggle Planet, which features free-range animated characters that are being designed to bound from augmented books and games into the world – and back again. This cross-reality nature is enabled by dynamic data in the cloud (currently in development) that makes them exist both in our imaginations as well as in real-world locations where they can be found, like a rare mushroom or hummingbird.

Our Kickstarter Campaign gave us an initial boost for the creation of a book that will bring these characters (wiglets) to life in the context of a nonverbal story about nature, finding your place in it, and how we (post-humans) can be a part of a more connected world – in harmony with nature.

We are a visual species. Any technology that enhances our visual experience of the world and allows us to “see” a deeper reality, is a great advancement, as I see it. For this reason, I believe that augmented reality can be a wonderful addition to our post-human future.

-Jeffrey Ventrella

The Future of Augmented Reality Is On Top of Your Nose


Can Muffin  see these characters?

No.  She just happened to look in that direction when the picture was taken. But, the person taking the picture saw them. And guess what…

The characters can look back.

There are two reasons why we decided to use augmented reality to show off our characters:

1. We want people to play with our characters. Augmented reality is hot right now (at least among techies and nerds). Why not take advantage of a trend? And who knows – maybe it’s not a trend.

2. Augmented reality is an ideal venue for autonomous characters with geolocation. (What does that mean? I can’t tell you. If I tell you I will have to kill myself).

It tires out your arms to hold a smartphone or tablet up in order to view digital content overlaid onto the camera’s view of reality. But I think this is a transitory form factor for augmented reality. Eventually, augmented reality will be overlaid onto glasses that we wear on our heads. Having these images overlaid on glasses would free up our hands.

The idea of SmartGlasses is not as creepy to me as it used to be.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been thinking about it a lot now, or maybe it’s because I’m getting used to the idea of Google Glass. But before I get into that, let me show you a video about a new augmented reality  glasses product from Epson:

Yes, Google and Epson are pushing the post-human agenda by encouraging us to put technology on our bodies. And yes, this is creepy. But as long as glasses are a device that can be easily taken on and off, I am less worried about augmented reality becoming a predator to normal reality.

For the same reason that I sometimes want to turn off my cell phone and put it in my pocket, I should be able to take off my smartglasses and stick them in my pocket.

But enough about the future of augmented reality. I am more excited about the future of self-animated characters! Here’s a video I recently made about how we will design a book where the characters interact with the reader (using augmented reality – that is…the old fashioned kind).