Phil and Stephen discuss the Hard Problem of Reality. Our notion of what’s real is increasingly being challenged by new technologies like AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) as well as algorithm-driven social sites that serve up ever-more extreme content just to keep us clicking along. Are these technologies diving us farther away from each other and from what is really real?
Of course, it’s possible that the new reality technologies are insignificant compared to the longstanding human ability to delude ourselves (and others) about what is real. But what happens when that well-established capacity for delusion meets these powerful new technologies?
Here are some recent news items that speak to that eventual convergence.
A new report from Bloomberg claims that Apple is aiming to have its AR headset ready in 2019 and possibly start shipping it in 2020. Citing sources “familiar with the situation”, the report notes that this headset will feature a brand new display and run on a new chip and fresh operating system instead of the iOS mobile platform that currently runs ARKit. This new OS is apparently dubbed ‘rOS’ internally, which stands for ‘reality operating system’.
As for input, the company is allegedly experimenting with touch panels, voice activation serviced by Siri and head gestures.
We’re building an artificial intelligence-powered dystopia, one click at a time, says techno-sociologist Zeynep Tufekci. In an eye-opening talk, she details how the same algorithms companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon use to get you to click on ads are also used to organize your access to political and social information. And the machines aren’t even the real threat. What we need to understand is how the powerful might use AI to control us — and what we can do in response.
Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, has a disturbing warning about the social network: “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
“The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them … was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?'” said Parker, who joined Facebook in 2004, when it was less than a year old.
“And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever,” he told Axios. “And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you … more likes and comments.”
Parker added: “It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”
“The inventors, creators – it’s me, it’s Mark [Zuckerberg], it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people – understood this consciously,” he said. “And we did it anyway.”
For the last eight years, baseball fan-turned-writer Becca Schultz has presented herself online as Ryan Schultz, a false identity she assumed when she was 13 years old, duping and harassing women on Twitter along the way.
On Wednesday night, a woman named Erin tweeted a series of screenshots announcing that Schultz is not actually Ryan, a married father of two studying to become a pharmacist. Instead, Schultz is a 21-year-old college student in the Midwest, whose entire career as an aspiring baseball writer has been under a fraudulent byline.
Right now VR is basically just sight and sound. To achieve its promise — to let you fully immerse in a virtual reality world — VR needs all five of our senses. That means designers will (eventually) have to conquer touch, taste, and smell.
This is much more difficult than recreating sight and sound of course. It will require designers to create something akin to the haptic gloves and body suits from Ready Player One, or (the more extreme option) to jack into our brains directly — Matrix-style — which is not so unbelievable with a neural lace.