An Augmented and Virtual Reality Future And Its Potential
The world of people, that we like to call society, evolves. There was a time when if a person couldn’t see well, they just bumped into things until they came up with a work-around or died. Then rich people got hold of optometry. Now the masses have access to it. Now we have technologies that let students interact with, rather than just read, the materials from their classes. These technologies also let people who grew up watching a kids television program about fantasy animal fighting-rings fulfill this would-be crime while walking around in the real world. The entertainment use predictably became popular faster but the potential benefits these technologies could have for society are important but must be applied equitably around the world if society hopes to recover from the extreme inequality that defines modern capitalist economies.
Assuming we’re able to maintain and grow the technotopia of extreme energy use and opulence of the world today then we might be stepping into a new age for humanity guided by augmented and virtual reality technologies. Imagine if the modern grocery store became a defunct building and we were able to shop for our food from a VR environment with a ballet of gestures and ocular-focuses that woul
d look alien today. Imagine if social interactions that felt physical but were unbound by geography could be experienced from the living room, or some kind of ubiquitous personal VR holodeck. On a typical Friday night one could stay in and eat out at a dinner party with friends, attend a live play, discuss their newest read with a book-and-intellect-tailored book club, and meet and engage with a new lover.
Now, without consideration of the data-collection and security concerns (source 1, source 2), Pokemon GO seems to be the first important example of augmented reality technology grabbing the collective imagination of people with the time and resources to pay attention. Other AR games are in development but for now, the growth of the community of P-Goers™ is momentous. Almost matching Twitter (Estd. 2006) for daily-users in less than a week. The capacity for these technologies to change how users interact with the world and society are immense.
The University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies spent the 21st Century creating technologies to diagnose and treat patients, and teach medical students how to doctor in an interactive computer-generated classroom. The institute branded their VR product as MedVR Lab. Other augmented reality apps for education allow students to see the stars without needing to wait for a certain time of year or clear night (Google Sky Map), they can introduce the students to geographical concepts with real-world examples using a streetview on a map (GeoGoggle), or introduce them to a wide range of topics with digital storybooks or geotags (ZooBurst, AcrossAir). All of these readily available applications portend to a bright future for these technologies and a great capacity to improve the human experience.
Augmented reality technologies currently rely on smartphones to reach a broad audience. The interactive glasses concept didn’t take off on its first try but it will be back, and several episodes of the British television series Black Mirror imagined a future where people wear a contact lens technology that constantly records their visual and audial perspectives, and gives them the real-time information overlays that define augmented reality technologies. With the rise of AR and VR products and under the continued assumption that humanity is able to maintain its high energy trajectory of concentrated opulence these glasses, eventually the contact lenses, and perhaps even a brain chip seem inevitable.
Standing on the precipice of a new age in participatory communications and information technology there are a lot of unknowns that will be answered in time. These technologies will change human behavior and the potential of our individuals and collective for better and worse. Just as the optometrists’ glasses allowed the visually challenged to reach higher in society, the technologists’ glasses will expand the capacities of those with access for knowledge and action. Everybody with these technologies will be able to store more information in their head and retrieve more information faster. The chess master will have their moves mapped out that much further. The architect’s calculations will be that much more accurate. And the politician’s solutions to societal problems (assuming a reformed politics performed for the public) will be made with that much more information at hand.
Although more powerful technologies will devalue labor, the humanist would have to hope that with that devaluation ascends the wisdom of R. Buckminster Fuller that it’s nonsense that every member of humanity has to “justify their right to exist” through labor or accumulated wealth where the other option would be to allow all of those who cannot justify that right to stop existing through active or passive means. Anybody looking for a future whose joy is equally shared by all must will that the benefits of any revolution to take place are distributed universally. The privilege of having access to modern communications technology contrasts in a dark manner with the reality of those whose well-being has been left behind in the push for modernity. The iPad of a Western child and the sparse, brown water drank by a child growing up in extreme poverty symbolize the deep chasm of experiences that allow for the privilege of the ‘developed’ world to ignore the plight of the ‘developing’ world.
The first step of the generation who grow up with augmented reality technologies must be to see that chasm not as an innate problem of the poor but as a man-made differentiation used by the privileged to oppress the poor. That reality must be augmented and that chasm bridged to create a humanity deserving of a shared future. And the power of these technologies can hopefully act to repair the experiential disparities created by generations of unequal development and trauma laid upon the oppressed. Otherwise, assuming humanity’s continued existence, look forward to a future of opulence for those with access, knowledge held by the powerful without wisdom or compassion, and awesome technologies being used for unnecessary luxury and ego-gratification while the surviving poor (the next iteration of the working poor) wallow in a sustained level of miserable conditions so that the rich can compare themselves favorably to the ‘lazy’ masses from their augmented worlds.