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19 Dec 2019

Winner Announced for 2019 CGTrader Scholarship Challenge!

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The results of the 2019 CGTrader Scholarship Challenge are in. Students from all over the world were challenged to write an essay on the topic of “The Future of Real-World Environment with Augmented Reality. Eligibility requirements were:

  • Minimum 2.5 GPA
  • Must be high school senior, undergraduate or graduate student;
  • Enrolled full-time in an academic institution Jan 1, 2019 – December 31, 2019.

In the end, 600 students participated! The essays we received were thought-provoking and very creative but only one can be chosen to win the 1 st Place Prize of a $2000 scholarship.

The 2019 winner is Benjamin Irwin! Benjamin studies Computer Science at Imperial College London. There are also two runners-up - each of who will receive a $500 scholarship. They are Keven Sherwood who is studying for his Bachelor of Fine Arts at Alberta University of the Arts, and Jillian Johnson who is studying Electrical Engineering and Cognitive Neuroscience at Christian Brothers University.

Congratulations to Benjamin, the runners-up, and a special thank you to the many students from all over the world who wrote such amazing essays.

Here is Benjamin’s winning essay:

Nothing ages worse than images of the future. Evidenced through millennia, across art, science and literature, this is one of history’s hardest hitting home truths. In 1900, unwitting ‘futurologists’ at the Paris World Exhibition believed that by the 21st century, you and I would soar through the skies with ‘bat-wings’, move our cities around ‘on wheels’ and, in our most brazen feat, tame whales as faithful steeds to transport us across the world’s oceans. What they failed to predict in 1900, besides how unruly whales are, were the transformative powers of electricity and petroleum. 90 years later, our predictive capacities proved no less amiss when Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. Berners-Lee, and the few who cared, believed that this plucky new tool would provide a more efficient way for universities to ‘cache documents’. The reality, as we know, turned out to be quite different.

Now, a mere three decades on, once more we stand on the cusp of an epochal moment in human civilisation: the marriage of our physical and digital environments; the growth of augmented reality. This conjugal bond promises a brand new dimension, formed of 3d computer-generated images and objects, which are to be superimposed onto our existing world. For now, AR will be transmitted through our traditional screens, but these will soon be replaced by digital glasses and wearable technology. Later, the superimposed objects will occupy our world in holographic form, thus indistinguishable from our physical environment and ushering in the era of ambient computing.

Already, AR is a mainstay in manufacturing and retail, with smartphones enabling a virtual ‘try-before-you-buy’ for all manner of consumer goods. Everyday we hear fresh news of applications, research papers and patents; possible use cases across medicine, psychotherapy, social media, entertainment, sport, education and any industry you can imagine. Indeed, such is the scope of AR, that speculation about its possible applications fast becomes a humdrum exercise in list-making.

To understand AR in earnest and without falling into the trap of our predictive predecessors, I would argue that our conversation what a truly ‘augmented’ reality could be.

Where the internet promised the democratisation of knowledge, I believe augmented reality promises the democratisation of experience. At the whim of your feelings and impulses, fully realised augmented reality will summon any information or object, or teleport you to any vista in the universe. Consider this idea. Feeling creative? Turn your bedroom wall into a virtual canvas; your fingers are the brushes, your imagination the palette. Feeling active? Make your local running track into a packed olympic arena. Stressed? Spend time meditating atop Mount Everest before breakfast. Ready to sleep? Bring nighttime forward a few hours. In an edited, augmented reality, the only true limit will be your creativity.

This unprecedented expansion of our biological senses, the first confluence of human and machine, may seem unnatural to many. The truth, however, as neuroscientist Dr Anil Seth sees it, is that AR simply extends, rather than defaces, our millions of years of cerebral evolution. In the end, our own brain has long produced an augmented reality of its own, a dynamic internal simulation of the physical world, based on billions of electrical impulses fired through neural connections. In this context, AR represents a kind of biohacking of what already exists, and the augmented world will be just as ‘real’ as the physical world we see now, only without limit.

Where AR will foster new senses, so too will it repair our old ones. It has already been shown that virtual limbs, invoked with AR, can feel entirely real to amputees; thus bestowing mobility in an augmented world. Similar principles will be used to remedy sensory disabilities: those suffering from hearing loss will receive visual representation of sound; the partially-sighted will see a high-contrast, high-visibility version of our world.

As ‘wearables’ and holograms proliferate, AR’s connecting power will grow exponentially. Today 2d screens are ubiquitous, in our pockets and on our wrists, in our cars, trains and planes, on our appliances, our bus stops and our buildings. We spend an average of 500 minutes a day staring at these peculiar black mirrors - half our waking hours -and much of this time is a solitary, sedentary experience. AR will release us from this screen-based bondage.

It will demand that we use our whole bodies, moving around to interact with the augmented environment. The shared augmented reality will represent a communal, collective experience and the meta-narrative will be coproduced by all participants. Instead of phonecalls, we will have the chance to be ‘beamed’ into any room, and have anyone ‘beamed’ to ours — cross-continental communication will be the same as cross-room communication. Education will be nanosized across the globe, leading to enrolment without borders. Individual, lived perspectives will be shared widely, and this will portend an empathy ‘boom’, since viewing the world through someone else’s eyes will suddenly become a real possibility. Already there exists an AR app to build empathy in autistic individuals and another in those affected by human slavery. We should expect these exciting projects to multiply.

It is ultimately AR’s powerful connecting capability, I believe, which will prove its worth. Consider having a loved one, situated thousands of miles away, joining you at the dinner table. Consider, even, with the advent of ‘mind uploading’, the chance to resurrect digital versions of those you thought you had lost forever. The augmented world will not be governed by the rules of our current world; laws of time, space, gravity, life and death will simply not exist.

In a reality bereft of physical and material limitation, with the only limit our imagination, its looks quite possible that the futurologists of yesteryear weren’t so off kilter after all — that we will sprout ‘bat-wings’ and navigate the oceans on whale-drawn chariots. Nothing ages worse than an image of the future, except, perhaps, when that image is augmented and controlled by you.