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AR’s Journey From Pokemon Craze to Essential Business Tool

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Gamers play with the Pokemon Go application on their mobile phone, at the Grote Markt in Haarlem, on July 13, 2016. Remko De Waal — AFP/Getty Images

A confession: I spent an hour Friday wandering the streets of Portland, Oregon, chasing Zubats and Bulbasaurs and wondering how long it would take me to qualify for the PokeGym.

I’m talking about Pokemon, of course – the addictive “augmented reality” game that as of yesterday had added a stunning $20 billion – yes, you read that correctly – to the market value of Japan’s Nintendo in just two weeks time. I didn’t pay Nintendo a penny – there was a PokeStop in the fountain outside my hotel that allowed me to replenish my supply of Poke Balls for free. But I did see a surprising number of other people chasing the same phantom creatures. And I guess there is some value – perhaps even $20 billion? – in provoking such an outbreak of mass hysteria.

I won’t predict how long the Poke craze lasts – although I’m inclined to think any fad that takes off so quickly may crash just as fast. But I do suspect we will look back at the last two weeks as the beginning of an era of augmented reality. The editors at Bloomberg point out that “AR” is already starting to invade the workplace, with factory workers experimenting with headgear that displays safety alerts, and engineers using devices that help them repair sophisticated machinery. We likely will move quickly from using augmented reality to waste time – which is what I did Friday – to using it to boost productivity and save lives.