Reinventing Reality: How AR Tech Could Go Wrong
Even today's devices can cut us off from life around us.
CREDIT: MIT Media Lab
"Stop mushroom foraging and come back to dinner!"
Ah, the wonders of using augmented devices to enhance mundane experiences that, while compelling, can lead to some very real problems. Leaving the real world for your own virtual meanderings can jeopardize your relationships.
At "The End of Reality," a session at South by Southwest Interactive, a pair of augmented reality researchers warned that our current lust for AR devices comes at a price. Alex Olwal and Jamie Zigelbaum, both active at MIT's Media Lab in Cambridge, Mass., gathered friends and colleagues at workshops before the Austin conference, to imagine problems in the future as people succumb to wearing AR devices as naturally as they don underwear.
Apps gone wrong
At the workshops, Olwal and Zigelbaum asked participants to imagine AR apps of the future with unpleasant consequences. How about a device worn on the neck that would convey the stress and anxiety of those around you? While it could be used to help you calm people, chances are you'd quickly get out of there, Olwal said.
Another participant thought of an even more unpleasant app — an ant farm suit. Like with social location apps available today that lead you to where the crowds are at hot nightspots, the ant farm suit would crawl with virtual ants. The more people at a particular location within a 10-mile radius of your current position, the bigger the crowd.
But physical discomfort is only one hazard. Olwal said that mental disorders could also be a byproduct of using AR. At the workshop, participants were given exercises to imagine possible psychiatric disorders and sexual problems associated with AR.
Infinite Choice Paralysis, aka Worm Hole Syndrome: Here, overwhelmed by the endless choices of augmented reality environments, the brain simply shuts down. Even when the participant stops using AR, symptoms persist. Brain scans indicate continued increased blood flow to visual and auditory centers, while other areas of the brain are starved of oxygen.
Not Real Disorder: AR users obsessive over getting to the "real" reality. Mild cases would be characterized by withdrawal from life and disregard for everyday events. Severe cases could show no empathy for self or others, which could result in self-mutilation and homicidal tendencies.
Illusory Consensual Partnering: In the future, partners create their own realities and all interaction occurs through AR filters. In this world, harsh words could be turned into cheerful requests. Each believes the other shares the same reality, but they do not. After years of misperception, they realize their error after a system outage. What do they do? In this scenario, they choose to ignore it and continue as before — not so different from estranged couples today.
Finally, Olwal shared a letter written during a workshop when colleagues jump forward to 2025 and seek advice from sex and relationship guru Dan Savage (Savage Love columnist and author).
The letter read: "Whenever I have sex with my girlfriend, she overlays my body with Justin Bieber's . How can I make her want to see me?" Signed only "not bieber."
While these scenarios sound pretty outlandish in a ballroom at the Omni Hotel in Austin, they may not seem so silly a decade or two from now. Olwal and Zigelbaum urged developers and users to think about what they're giving up when they use any kind of AR, even one as simple as turn-by-turn directions on your phone.