Unless you have been living under a proverbial rock for the past month you have likely heard about the new craze that swept the nation, Pokémon Go. What makes Pokémon Go unique from other digital video games is the use and implementation of innovative technology known as augmented reality. Unlike virtual reality, which is an artificial, computer generated simulation or re-creation of a real life environment, augmented reality superimposes digital information over a user’s real world environment, blurring the lines between what’s real and what’s computer generated.
While the emerging technology is still relatively new, the augmented reality market is forecasted to hit $90 billion by 2020. By then, the technology will no longer be limited to just your smartphones, but will likely be integrated into more conducive forms of digital eyewear such as Google Glass. Its anticipated pervasiveness will not only create a myriad of opportunities for businesses looking to capitalize on the various applications of the new technology, but will also result in novel legal issues that will inevitably require a paradigm shift in traditional bodies of law to redefine the scope and application of privacy laws, tort laws, and real property laws.
Just imagine a world where augmented reality is commonly used by the masses in everyday life through the use of a commercially developed headset that displays digital content over your surrounding environment. You take off for your morning commute to work when you’re bombarded with a constant barrage of digital advertisements overlaid onto surrounding buildings, billboards and cars. The driver behind you gets distracted looking at a movie trailer for Fast and Furious 27 being displayed on the trunk of your car and slams into you after failing to notice the red light. This begs the question as to who is liable for your damages; the driver, the marketing company responsible for displaying the distracting advertisement, the headset manufacturer, or all of the above? Inevitably, the courts will have to wrestle with the challenge of apportioning liability under an otherwise unprecedented set of facts.
After exchanging information with the driver, you finally arrive to work at your family-owned pizza joint only to find a virtual advertisement for a local Dominos strewn across the facade of your storefront. Sure, your gut instinct tells you that this type of competition seems wrong – but is it actionable under Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act? Further, consider the novel question of whether the presence of an unauthorized virtual advertisement on your building constitutes an act of trespass. Trespass is traditionally defined as an act of physically entering land that someone else has the right to possess. But query whether an act of virtually interfering with one’s property would result in the same legal conclusion.
While all of this may sound like a farfetched hypothetical from the future, the reality is that the future is now. This is why it is so critical for individuals, businesses and lawmakers to start considering and understanding the unique legal issues and opportunities that these new technologies present and prepare accordingly. After all, change is the law of life; and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.