Ultimate Reality distortion field

EverythingElsePosted by Eskil Sun, March 29, 2015 10:50:18
Right now Virtual reality is all the rage, and I think it will be able to capture a significant audience, but it is just a step towards an even bigger technical breakthrough: Augmented reality.

For those not familiar with the term, augmented reality is watching the real world threw a display (preferably mounted in front of your eyes like a pair of glasses) where you can see the world but where the image can be augmented with computer graphics that to the the person wearing the device appears to be in real life.

Augmented reality has some great applications: You can get way points that appear to float on the street when you are navigating a city, you can get name tags floating over everyones heads at the cocktail party so you wont ever need to be embarrassed when you forget peoples names again. Augmented reality will find your keys, tell you how when the bus arrives, keep track of your kids, show you how much charge you have left in your electric car, and translate all text in to a language you can read. The act of picking up a cell phone to gain knowledge, will seem arcane. When you tell people about the amazing things augmented reality can do, you can see their eyes light up with excitement.

There is only on thing: Augmented reality scares the life out of me.

Imagine a cocktail party where everyone can see how unimportant you are using facial recognition. Imagine a world where advertisers can hide competing stores for you or maybe just suck the color out of them. Imagine a world where people just digitally retouched away homeless people from their reality. Imagine when the online shamers comments literally hangs above your head for everyone to read. Imagine a world that will erase all opinions and expressions you don't already agree with? Imagine a world where political money can buy a world the reinforces their world view? Imagine a world where a computer program decides if you are to be perceived as threat that needs to be dealt with using deadly force? Prejudice will take on an entirely new meaning with this technology.

These are all things that happen in our digital lives, and with augmented reality they will invade our physical lives. How you will be judged in the future may entirely and inescapably be bound to what other people have chosen to put in a database about you, a database you are very unlikely to have control over.

Will you dare to criticize the police for how they treat minorities if that online comment will be hanging over your head at the next traffic stop?

The societal implications of who controls how we perceive reality, are hard to over estimate. Without full control of our senses, can there even be free will?

Google glass is the first semi commercially available augmented reality product and they have gotten a lot of flack on privacy grounds, but that's only the beginning. Google may just as well start using the slogan:

Google glass, when you want to be sure you never accidentally talk to a Jew again.

To be fair Google has said that they will not allow facial recognition on google glass, but since that is the killer app of augmented reality, someone will do it, and when one product has it, all competitors have two options, follow or die.

Its easy to say that I am being paranoid and delusional, but the problem is that most of our worst fears when it comes to social media has already happened. Our private lives gets traded as commodity, the security services have full access to all our information, and the social networks wash away any dissenting views from our vision in order to "improve our experinece". If there is a great commercial incentives for corporations to invade our privacy, the commercial incentive for controlling how we perceive the world would be even greater. If you think a company like Facebook who owns OculusVR wont release a augmented reality product that would nett them billions, because of any moral implications, then you are probably the one being delusional.

I think we can fix Social media by at least providing alternatives (I'm working on it), but what makes augmented reality such a scary thing, is that unlike social media it will be inescapable. If you don't want to be a member of Facebook you don't have to (I'm not), if you don't want to carry a networked surveillance device like a phone you don't have to. But with augmented reality you will still be a victim of the technology if everyone around you sees you through the distorted lens of augmented reality. What does it matter that you are not wearing the device, if the person denying you a seat at the restaurant, a job, entry to the club, a rental car, or an apartment is doing so because of augmented reality.

You can also ask, how optional technology really is. You may miss a party or some birthdays if you are not on Facebook, but most high paying jobs today are entirely dependent on using a smart phone. I would pay good money for a phone with a hardware switch that turns off all sensors, but right now that option doesn't exist. With the vast potential use of augmented reality its even questionable if we will have the option of not using it if we want to succeed in life. The problem is how inescapably useful this techhology is. The salesman who can spot the big fish on the street will just win over the one who cant.

For convenience we have given up our privacy, are we now about to give up our reality?

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Posted by NemesisLeon Tue, April 14, 2015 00:28:28

First of all, Deus Ex : Human Revolution and Adam Jensen's augmented-reality glasses need to be mentioned.

Now for my comment... You seem extremely concerned with how people interact with new technology. Every new piece of technology is a double-edged sword, so the REAL issue is how people treat each other. You need to look into politics, persuasion, and sociology. Find the ways that people can be convinced to get along. Find the ways that people can be given better character and attitudes. That is the true problem.

Posted by Hypocee Mon, March 30, 2015 05:49:29

It seems like you're focusing on one symptom rather than the disease. Almost all your examples make more sense if you substitute "mass surveillance" or "person tagging" for "augmented reality". The weapon is the line from the camera through an algorithm and into Big Data storage. The technology used for the last step is relatively immaterial; smartphones or staff consoles can already alert someone to anything the hivemind knows about you. Augmented reality - or, more generally, HMDs since the Glass isn't AR and AR isn't necessary for any of the bad examples - can only deliver it more conveniently. The people who would be doing all this discrimination already have people to screen for them. The salesman can get a cash register ringtone when the rich target walks by.

I take a cynical comfort in two things. First, that human perception is limited and civilization's history is largely a matter of increasing the number of people one can ignore in a day. Nobody's going to be walking down the street with everybody's information turned on because it would be a sea of gibberish and thankfully, nobody actually wants to think of any of us as people. Second, the Dependency Principle from Iain M. Banks' Excession. If we imagine people increasingly cutting off contact out in the real world via AR, their choices are going to be either just stay home or get mugged to shit. If they choose the first and we're progressing toward a world where only food and mail-order delivery drivers go outside, that seems to me to be a separate problem.

So I think the glasses are an irrelevant distraction compared to the cameras: the universal surveillance state, society, company, or all three or they're all the same thing. Its seed could be built today in most cities and any number of San Francisco techbro startups are actively trying. We'll see. I'm hoping some cyberpunk jamming tactics will emerge to disable the tech or pollute the data enough so it becomes unprofitable in the nest. Plus the glasses can do lots of cool stuff.

Disclaimer: I'm an enthusiastic backer waiting on my set of CastARs, among the first AR glasses announced post-Rift and the 'dumbest' I know of, just an HDMI up and a USB down for 80 bytes/frame of position data. I mainly want them for experimentation with ergonomic monitor workspace replacement. I have dreams of making a little custom wearable constellation out of a Pi and an HDMI smartphone, maybe a Leap Motion, but I'm currently struggling with medium-level VBA macros so that's not going to happen.

Posted by ansi Sun, March 29, 2015 23:39:52

Actually I still find it creepy how Marshall Mcluhan's teachings have been ignored all these years.
(This makes me think of a recent videogame called Remember Me.)

Posted by ansi Sun, March 29, 2015 23:22:43

I always wanted to be a cyberpunk :D

Posted by Wes Sun, March 29, 2015 14:01:44

Indeed, I do expect AR and VR to share advances. Oculus' research into "presence" should be valuable for AR, and screen and battery technology have improved immensely for both due mainly to the smartphone market.

I also expect both technologies to be useful in fields such as education. Using VR you can immerse kids in a museum, or give them a sense of scale of the universe. With AR you can augment learning in schools, allow easy lookups of information, etc. I'm very exciting to see how the technology gets used.

It's also fair to consider how it can be misused, and I don't disagree with you that it's worth discussing. It definitely leads into some larger arguments such as our right to privacy, and the potential power it can give others over us.

But I do think we need to be careful when blaming the tools, rather than how they're used. That line of thinking can demonize anything (the internet for instance). It's largely on the technology creators to think about safeguards to prevent privacy violations (such as the Japanese law that all cameras must make a noise).

At the end of the day, I'm still very much looking forward to seeing how these technologies can enhance our world. I'm feeling very optimistic about it.

Posted by Eskil Sun, March 29, 2015 13:35:49

I dont want to come off as anti new technology that is not my point. We just need to talk about what technology does to our society. Not all technology is good (Nuclear weapons is one obvius example of technology that several times nearly eradicated human life on earth), and we are and should have a discussion about stem cells, 3D printing and nuclear power.

Luckely we are now talking about survailance and information gathering thanks to snowden, altough i dont think most people realize how powerfull this stuff is yet. Often technology can be the answer to our concers such as encryption is to survailance.

AR is a technology we so far arent talking about. Ive never heard anyone discuss the problematic aspects of AR so i think its worth raising. Especialy since we are starting to see the fallout from information technology. We can just say "Oh, well thats the price of progress" everytime new technology is shown to be harm full. We actiually have to work on improving things.

VR and AR are two very different experiences, but the technology developed for VR will very much accelerate AR.

I appreciate your comment.

Posted by Wes Sun, March 29, 2015 12:38:53

Hi Eskil,

I enjoy reading your blog, and think you nail it most of the time. Especially in your discussions of game design do you consider aspects I'd never even think of. In this case though I do feel you miss the mark.

Every new technology has opponents that make these kinds of claims. Socrates warned against writing because it would lead to "forgetfulness in the learner's souls". People opposed the printing press because of the flood of information it would release. The radio was seen as a distraction, and let's not even discuss the backlash to the TV. Every new potentially disruptive technology has opposition that spells doom and gloom. History has shown however that society adapts, and ultimately improves as a result of technology.

It's also worth noting that these kinds of debates are going on in many fields right now: 3D printing, stem cell research, nuclear power. All are highly contested, but will likely be beneficial in the end. AR may very well be disruptive, but it's worth remembering that we live in a bit of a bubble as geeks, and this is one of many thousands of different advances going on right now.

I'm afraid I also disagree that VR is a step towards AR. Ultimately I see these as two distinct fields. AR is more for adding information or context to your real world. VR is for escaping your world and jumping into a fantasy. VR in my mind has more application in gaming, whereas AR is something you might take with you on the go. I expect to see both of these fields growing and divurging. It's unlikely VR is only a stepping stone however. Valve recently closed down their AR department to focus on VR as they see more potential in gaming.

I mean no disrespect by my criticisms. I'm glad to see you're blogging again more often, and looking forward to future posts.