For a while now I have felt like I am becoming a part of a futuristic society. October 21, 2015, the day that Marty McFly traveled into the future has now come and gone. During this time the internet was flooded with clickbait and other articles about how right or wrong “Back to The Future II” was. Nike is releasing self lacing shoes and video conferencing and Skype are not new to us, and it seems like there are more 3-D movies out there than non 3-D movies. The future is as exciting as it is scary to me.
Granted, I am not aware of all of the technological advancements and experimentation that is happening in the world, nor do I want to be. For myself, ignorance is bliss. It is one thing to read about the future, it is quite another to watch it happen around you. I think where my main fears of the future come from is wrapped up in dystopian novels and films. I have long been a fan of the dystopian genre, from Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, to Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Huxley’s Brave New World and of course Orwell’s 1984. Dystopian novels have seen a recent resurgence in popularity, especially among young adult authors with The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, The Maze Runner series by James Dashner, and the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth to name a few.
The thing about dystopian novels is that they represent a fallen society. They are intended to illustrate that idea that there can never be a perfect world or utopia. This is because utopia is in the eye of the beholder. Thus, one person’s utopia is another’s dystopia. They are intended to be a commentary on then contemporary issues. What is most worrisome for me about the dystopian genre is that the more recent additions, such as the Hunger Games have been marketed as post apocalyptic fiction. While this may seem like merely an issue of semantics, for me it represents something much more serious. The term post-apocalyptic suggests that the novel takes place in our world, but in a version of our world created after some type of disaster that it is distinctly ‘other’ than the world that we live in. While dystopia is the antonym to utopia, meaning an ideal or perfect society, as coined by Sir. Thomas Moore in his political treatise “Utopia”. Thus, dystopia is a flawed utopia or imperfect society. By it’s definition it is inherently closer related to the real world (not that I think we live in a utopia) than the post apocalyptic genre.
What, if anything, does this have to do with Augmented Reality? I think that the language that we use to describe alternate/futuristic realities affects how we view our own world. Time and time again we have seen technology develop faster than the ethics, laws, and best practices around it can, thereby alienating certain rights and freedoms. I guess that the long and short of it is that I am scared of the potential that augmented reality has without regulated checks and balances to support it.
I do not want people to be able to walk down the street, look at me and have a piece of technology bring up a search results of everything that I have posted online (not that i’m a cyber bully or anything) or view my criminal record (not that I have one of those either). The failure of google glasses suggests that I am not the only one. I also don’t feel like the government or any other organization should have the right to record my every move, who I talk to, what I say, and where I go. It is way to Stasi in East Germany but with better technology for me.
I know that I am being paranoid, and that augmented reality is quickly entering the trough of disillusionment when it comes to its support. It is a classic case of “if this technology falls into the wrong hands…”. When we read dystopian literature, the comfort is that it is not your world and has one of two effects;
1) It enables you to view your world with a refreshed perspective realizing that things are not as dire as you perhaps thought,
2) You see elements of the dystopian world in your own world.
Augmented reality does not have to be a terrifying and scary thing. It has some incredible applications that I would suggest are on the whole positive, preserving or recreating un-savable historic buildings and sites for example. It can have positive impact in various fields; mechanics, construction, medicine, and military. Because of this, I think that we cannot underestimate the power that this technology has. I’m probably imagining an impossible future, that would predict the legal issues of technology and solve them without impeding technological development. However, in a world where these intuitive legal solutions and regulations do not exist, I am very cautious of technology like Augmented Reality.
I know that it is not necessarily logical to suggest that I can be concerned about the future based on what I read in dystopian literature. I realize that that is quite non-sensical, however, this post is about why I am not ready for augmented reality, and it is the elements of dystopian literature that I see reflected in our past and present that make me question the future of augmented reality.