In the Future No One Will See the Same Thing

Augmented reality is coming and I don’t think anyone can predict for sure what the cultural response will be. However it’s definitely fun to think about the possibilities.

My usual thought experiment goes like this: I imagine a world where everyone is wearing special glasses or contacts, and these lenses automatically record everything everyone sees. I then mix in ubiquitous network access, location tracking, and face recognition, and I start to see a lot of evidence for what you might call the “the end of privacy.”

In such a future, one might expect there to be much less confusion as to what happened at a given date and time. Fuzzy eyewitness accounts ought to become obsolete beside the relative certainty of digital recordings. As a culture we might find it a lot easier to agree on facts, as so much data will be available to support the “correct” story. We might start to develop a unified history.

But there’s another side to augmented reality that throws a big wrench in this vision. Digital recordings are extremely malleable. And when you are wearing augmented lenses all the time, “what you see” becomes just another software preference. You will ostensibly be able to to tweak and filter your vision with the same ease that you might change your computer’s desktop wallpaper. If you want to make your world look like an old movie, you could potentially do that. If you want the sun to be shining all the time, you could potentially do that too. And if you want your husband to look like Brad Pitt, just check a box in the control panel, and it is done. Just know that your husband is probably doing the same thing to you.

I’m not saying that people won’t still choose to see the same things under a lot of circumstances. But the level of individual solipsism that such a technology enables might in some cases fracture the truth to an even higher degree than we’re already used to. And I haven’t even begun to delve into the possibilities of having your vision hacked without your knowing it…

3 thoughts on “In the Future No One Will See the Same Thing

  1. The reason people won’t see the same thing is that the character of the universe is perspectival. Perspective contributes to the reality of the event. We don’t see the same thing because our viewpoint is part of the reality. There is no single “true” perspective. How does a website really look? Like .html? The way the author sees it with his monitor and browser? The I way I see it on mine? The way you see it on yours? Yes. This is known as relativity.

  2. I agree, but I think you are making a fairly obvious (and probably irrelevant) point. Just because truth and perspective are relative doesn’t mean that there isn’t a big qualitative difference in a world where people are literally programming their sight. To just say “oh well everything is relative” is needlessly reductive.

  3. I agree that everyone will see something different. However, I expect that recordings will keep original, unaltered versions for various reasons. While recordings are malleable, the strength of the future society without privacy is that there will be multiple recordings resting in the control of multiple people. It will be hard to alter them all.