As we get closer to the augmentation of reality, the next step would be to get technology outside our devices and into the physical world. Mirrorworld can be referred to as a digital clone or a doppelgänger of the real world – a version of reality overlaid on top of the existing reality to add context and personalization.
The article published by Kevin Kelly at Wired[i] in February 2019 talks about the mechanism of that world-building and the interconnection with the digital devices. Like Google Maps, mirrorworld design is a mapping project. It’s similar in the way that it involves taking pictures of our neighborhoods and overlaying routes and transit information on top of it. In addition to that, the objects created digitally would be in three dimensions, will have the same scale as real objects, will understand the perspective of their placement in the real world, will acknowledge the presence of other digital and physical objects around them, and will interact with each other in real-time. The objective is simple: let’s make our world more informative. I see it as an extension of the Google Lens project[ii].
Mirrorworld in 2030 will have an extreme level of transparency. With billions of eyes watching us through cameras – simultaneously mapping and categorizing our world – we would soon approach an “everyone knows everything” stage. Today when we go at Google, we know what has been published and traced on the web. As we adopt AR in our lives, we will make our personal information more visible for the world to see.
2030 would be the dawn of a new age of the internet in which the web would exist not only on devices but also mapped on the real world. That interconnectivity would mean that users could search anything in their sight, adding a new layer of transparency to the system. It would be like tracing the physical spaces of the individuals and their environment, similar to how it’s done today on the websites through robots.txt files. Regulating this would involve adding a security layer to personal spaces of people – I can view details of my private space, but someone viewing the same space cannot see those details. The Netflix Film ‘Anon’[iii] paints this picture. Matt Miesnieks’ TechCrunch article[iv] also talks about this relation.
Let’s consider a scenario. IKEA recently released an AR application[v] that allows you to customize your personal space by putting digital objects (products) on it. So, if you’re setting up a new office and want to plan the interiors, a new way to do that now is to use your smartphone to place objects (in their actual dimensions) in your empty office space and see how the arrangement looks like. While it is convenient and user-friendly, it allows the app to do is create a map of your personal space, understanding the architecture through the camera. As this technology becomes mainstream, we will reach a stage where all these maps would be centralized and interconnected – like talking to each other – to create a digital map of the world, a mirrorworld.
This form of habituation is gradually being triggered in our lifestyle, making us feel that “it’s okay to share personal information.” A few days ago, Instagram released the news that they are working on a new platform for information sharing called Instagram Threads[vi]. The app (when live) would allow the users to share their location, speed, and battery life (in addition to the standard texting features like text, photo, and video messages) with their friends in real-time – “all the time.” The idea is to make this form of information sharing a habit so that it soon becomes a norm. Once that happens, personal data collection and big data analytics would be commonplace. A close look at this trend will make us realize that it’s a “history repeats itself” scenario – this was the state of advertisement in the 20th century. People were uncomfortable with inducing personalized ads (or any form of ads) in their lives until it became a trend, and the business models changed forever. Tim Wu talks about this in his book, The Attention Merchants[vii]. This new norm will break one more wall of our private lives.
An extension to that is the idea of Surveillance Capitalism. As personalization and user data become reachable, measurable, and trackable, personal data would be the product that companies will buy and sell. We are already on our way of having a global trend of data collection – ad companies fight for every search result on Google, and user data is sold and distributed exhaustively on the web. In this global hunger for personal data, privacy is a definite concern. Shoshana Zuboff talks about it in her book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism[viii].
It’s hard to ignore the dystopia associated with these technologies. I’m reminded of the Hyper Reality video by Keiichi Matsuda[ix] on YouTube. The overlays and augmentation are overdone to the point that it feels that the physical world doesn’t exist anymore. While it’s an exaggeration, I tend to get skeptic about our inclination to these technologies when I think about these outcomes. The now-famous Netflix TV series, Black Mirror[x], has been presenting dystopian views of the future of technology and our habits associated with it.
We are at a point today that we must dynamically evaluate our definition of privacy and what it means to us. To what extent do we want to go to get convenience and comfort? What is the damage level of that compromise? How does that change us?
Pixar’s WALL•E[xi] presented this concept through a story. I’m not ready to accept upcoming technology without being critical about its implication and taking the appropriate steps to manifest it.
[i] Wired | AR Will Spark the Next Big Tech Platform—Call It Mirrorworld
[ii] Google Lens project
[iii] Netflix Film ‘Anon’
[iv] TechCrunch | AR will mean dystopia if we don’t act today
[v] IKEA recently released an AR application
[vi] Instagram Threads
[vii] The Attention Merchants | Book by Tim Wu
[viii] The Age of Surveillance Capitalism | Book by Shoshana Zuboff
[ix] Hyper Reality | Video by Keiichi Matsuda
[x] Black Mirror | Netflix TV Series
[xi] WALL•E | Animated Film by Pixar