So, what’s this Virtual Reality thing all about?
That’s from Tomorrow’s World in 1990.
It’s safe to say that things have moved on. Maybe a little. There are still dorky headsets but luckily the processing power to run them has started to come from the world of mobile phones as opposed to the world of bulky laptops.
It doesn’t matter if you think people aren’t going to wear dorky headsets in the future, there’s enough energy from Apple and Google (as the main platform providers) to make something worthwhile here. They’re both investing heavily and neither will launch something until they think it’s right (because that’s Apple’s DNA and…with Google, they tried before and it didn’t really work out.).
There are privacy concerns. Augmented Reality technology needs cameras to function. And probably, if they can’t get computer vision working the way they want, a LIDAR sensor (yes, LIDAR is expensive but it’s equipped in a Tesla car and only a few years before a single LIDAR array was the same price as an entire Tesla car. This is like the “Superdrive” dilemma. Back when the Pioneer Superdrive DVD-writer was available on the Mac, it was technically cheaper to buy a Mac to get the Superdrive than it was to buy a Superdrive off the shelf. Technology gets cheaper. Isn’t it wonderful?
So now I gotta wear goggles?
Speaking as someone who now wears glasses due to ease, and partially by necessity, I’m not worried about the “goggles” aspect. When they get going they’l be like the Apple Watch or the AirPods. So ubiquitous that you won’t even notice them. Comparing them to the goggles of yesteryear, is a bit like saying the Apple Watch won’t catch on because Calculator Watches from the 80s didn’t become ubiquitous. Or that the original iPod won’t catch on because it doesn’t have WiFi….and is “lame”. You have to have a much more holistic view of the world.
And at the same time, I bring you back to the privacy issues. This is an always on camera that will not only be recording what it sees but also understanding it in a contextual manner. Unrestricted this isn’t (just) about facial recognition but also about receiving 1000 adverts for Flora margarine because your “AR glasses” noticed that you stock Flora in your refrigerator. They’ll know the layout of your home and be able to tastefully suggest that the chair in your living room is looking a bit threadbare and could be replaced by a wonderful chair from one of their sponsors. I guess it’s whether or not you see this as a problem.
But I’m already augmented!
Yes, you are, you clever soul. Using a bicycle or a car is augmenting your ability to move around using technology. Using the mirrors in your car is giving you the ability to look behind you without turning your head. The issue is that in these cases, the agency remains with you.
When your Augmented Reality contact lenses not only feed you the adverts they want you to see, but they also actively edit out competitors adverts then you’re slipping into the Uncanny Valley. When the AR is capable of editing out things from your vision (like in the movie Anon), and you’ve ceded control of your vision to people who may not have your best interests at heart, how will you even know you’re being misled?
The issue is that the agency is now with someone else. And that agency will be driven by whatever that organisation (and let’s face it, it’s going to be a for-profit company) wants you to see.