This week, for the first and I hope only time, I stood in front of my Sailors at an all-hands call and talked about Pokemon Go. If you had asked me during Command Leadership School to make a list of all the things I might discuss at quarters with my squadron, the topic of Pokemon would certainly not have crossed my mind.
For those unfamiliar, Pokemon Go is a game played via smartphone. Using the camera, geo-location, and gyro-scope functionality of the phone, players walk around collecting Pokemon characters that “appear” at various real-world locations. The more characters you collect, the higher you get in the game. (And, of course, there are in-app purchases)
I raised the topic to the Sailors I work with in order to lay some ground-rules on when and where the game can and cannot be played. As you might imagine, there are concerns about an app that takes control of the camera and geo-location features of someone’s phone for a game that might potentially be played in restricted or sensitive areas. The app collects a ton of data; the security and application of such information is not fully understood. In an age where ISIS is creating hit-lists from harvested open-source social media, and we in turn are targeting them via their own geo-tagged twitter posts, Pokemon Go becomes one more vulnerable aperture in the cyber domain. Additionally, individuals playing Pokemon Go can lose situational awareness of the world around them, creating significant safety concerns. And then there is the effect it can have on professional behavior in the workplace.
Despite my concerns as a military commander for the potential risks and vulnerabilities, I am also struck by the incredible potential of such augmented reality. When paired with a more advanced viewing apparatus, the ability to overlay virtual threats or situations onto actual locations during live training events represents the direction we need to be headed with military training, provided we address the previously discussed operational security concerns. The technology demonstrated by Pokemon Go brings scalability and efficiency that must be explored as we seek to better leverage the full spectrum of live, virtual and constructive training.
Beyond the military application of such technology, imagine the educational and cultural potential. You could visit Gettysburg, climb Little Round Top, and instead of trying to visualize the 20th Maine’s audacious bayonet charge, you could watch virtual soldiers overlaid on the actual landscape you are standing on. When touring a new city, the downtown area could “come alive” with cultural facts and historical characters. Or when taking in a sporting event, you might be able to see scores, statistics and other relevant info without taking your eyes off the action.
I love the full-circle nature of this. It was government that drove the innovation and development of the internet and GPS, the infrastructure and framework that Pokemon Go is built upon. Now the public sector can benefit from the advances in augmented reality made by private industry. We are seeing similar effects of this symbiotic synergy in the transportation field, whether it’s space travel, high-speed mass transit, or self-driving cars. Despite what we are continually told by our presidential candidates and my own concerns about societal unraveling, we truly live in an amazing time. Fraught with peril, to be sure, but also full of incredible possibility. I can’t wait to see what the next few decades will bring.
Any and all opinions are solely my own and do not represent the views of the Department of Defense.