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?