If you can see it, touch it, hear it, taste it, and smell it... is it real?
What if everyone can see it?
Imagine walking around in a digitally augmented world. As you walk past buildings, virtual signs pop out, telling you if there is currently seating available and displaying a virtual button to click for the menu. Your friend's name appears over their head as you walk up to them, and with a universal tagging system, you play a little prank and attach the description box "didn't shower today" onto them for the world to see (hey, not your fault they enabled friend description permissions). You look up at the night-time sky to see each star marked by name. You invite your friend to a game of chess, but neither of you has a board. No problem; you clear off a spot on a nearby table and a chess board appears, fully set up, for you and your friend to manipulate in real-time with your hands.
If you lose your keys, a compass-like arrow in your field of vision points directly to them and tells you how far away they are. Better yet, your car instantly recognizes who you are and will not start for anybody you haven't authorized.
You have edited your personal preferences so that words you don't like to hear are censored-out of surrounding people's speech for you in real-time. When someone says a big word you don't know the meaning of, you can convert that word into text and read a dictionary definition.
You haven't sat down at a physical television or computer screen in years - just project your own into 3d space and make it visible to whoever else you want. And if you're trying to explain what something looks like to a particularly non-imaginative person? Just draw it - in mid air!
There are no "computer programs" anymore - not in the normal sense. There is only reality, and the virtual framework that augments it. "Applications" exist as tangible, 3d objects with which to interact.
Video games run on their own "channels" or "frequencies", visible only to those who enable them in their feed. Gigantic boss dragons loom over treasure chests at the bases of historical landmarks.
The newest "Discovery Channel" special, say "Underwater Earth", simulates a tidal wave enveloping your local area in real-time, crashing down and rushing between the cracks of buildings as you gaze around seeing it all play out around you.
Don't own a drum kit? Or a piano? Don't have to - project whatever kind of instrument you'd like into reality and play it at your local gig.
The word "internet" doesn't exist anymore. Only the word "reality".
No single corporation owns authoritative power over "reality". On the contrary, every user has equal power, contributing to reality in a similar fashion to Wikipedia. Personal changes only effect individuals who allow for them, while a universal database of information grows larger every second, giving every human on earth access to any education they desire, on-demand.
These are but a few of the possibilities of advanced augmented reality - the combination of the virtual world and the real world. This world would be visualized through handheld displays, specialized glasses, and, eventually, contact lenses. Is this what the future holds? That all depends on company politics and people.
We are just now starting to see the beginnings of augmented reality - in advertisements, browsers, games, and maps. But this technology, given enough time, is potentially the most exciting invention since the internet itself.
Until then, enjoy these first toddler steps into this uncharted realm:
Layar - Augmented Reality Mobile Browser: http://layar.com/
GE Augmented Reality website: http://ge.ecomagination.com/smartgrid/#/augmented_reality
One of the first AR games: http://www.indiecade.com/index.php?/games/selected/levelhead