This past week, the World Economic Forum played host not just to the bevy of leaders, thinkers and shapers, but a new approach to driving awareness and impact courtesy of one of 2016’s breakout technologies: Augmented Reality.
Niantic Labs, creator of the wildly successful Pokemon Go, announced this week that it would be partnering with Global Goals by creating 17 new Pokestops around Davos, each themed around one of the 17 Global Goals, a set of ambitious targets affirmed by 193 UN member countries in 2015 and each designed to contribute to ending extreme poverty, reversing climate change, and ending inequality.
Pokestops are real-world destinations where Pokemon Go players can visit to get valuable in-game items. While previously these location-based incentives have been used by businesses to attract customers, this represents one of the first large-scale experiments to use them to inspire new awareness of a major social cause.
People play at the Pokemon GO augmented reality game on August 20, 2016 in Lillo, a village which harbors rare Pokemon and as been flooded with Pokemon GO hunters since the mobile game launched. / AFP / BELGA / NICOLAS MAETERLINCK / Belgium OUT (Photo credit should read NICOLAS MAETERLINCK/AFP/Getty Images)
The partnership is fascinating for a few reason:
- Augmented Reality As A Bridge Technology
Although consumer technology has fundamentally changed the way people access information and connect with one another, it has sometimes also had the negative of attracting people away from real-world experiences. By layering data, media and game experiences delivered via mobile tech in the real world, augmented reality creates a bridge between digital and physical as well as between isolation and interaction that could have profound consequences for how we think about our relationship with technology and each other.
The campaign to place the Global Goals front-and-center adds a new dimension to that A/R experience, as it prompts contemplation of places, people and realities that extend far beyond even that real world location.
- Technology As A Platform For Impact
For decades, the technology community has had a central role in driving forward the concepts and world-views that surround “social entrepreneurship” and business-for-good. A first generation of dot-com billionaires including eBay’s Pierre Omidyar and Jeff Skoll have been central financial pillars of the space. That trend followed on into social network money with people like Reid Hoffman being involved both financially and as an advisor and board member of impact companies and Sean Parker founding and financing politically-oriented cause companies. More recently Y Combinator has started accepting non-profits into its accelerator program.
This Pokemon Go/Global Goals partnership functions on a different axis of the potential for collaboration between technology and impact, in which new technology creates fundamentally different approaches to engaging people’s attention and prompting them towards action.
- New Collaboration Opportunities Between Business & Impact
A larger theme is that businesses are spending more time integrating social impact as a core part of their strategy. These causes tend to specifically align with the brand, and the company is uniquely positioned to support the cause.
As mentioned above, when Pokemon Go launched last summer, businesses quickly realized that they could use the game to attract potential customers to their stores. Subsequently, major companies including McDonald’s, Sprint and Starbucks all formally partnered with Niantic to turn thousands of their locations into Pokestops or gyms. Thus, the Global Goals partnership at the World Economic Forum was one that Niantic was uniquely positioned to help. Another example was outdoor retailer, REI’s #OptOutside campaign during Black Friday which drove significant awareness towards outdoor activities.
While this partnership may start as a way to drive awareness of an important set of goals in the context of a specific event, it feels more like the beginning of a new set of opportunities to use augmented reality and other new technologies to bring people and industries together to shape the world we want. Personally, I’m excited to see the different ways how augmented reality will be used in the future to support various causes.