What if your augmented pet felt real – Part 2

Last time I presented the 2007 TV series Denno Coil, that has AR technology and its impacts as the pure topic. Also, I showed the Strange Beasts AR short film that captures the same thought: what happened if an augmented reality were indistinguishable from reality? Three parts need to be tackled – realistic behavior, realistic visuals and realistic interaction and (virtual) haptics to make us believe it. So, what if? What if all felt so real?

Impact of too real augmented reality

Well, there are some minor technicality problems like bumping into real walls (we see an augmented open door) or falling off a cliff (we see a bridge) that need to be addressed. A fail-safe system that needs to pass governmental and insurance approval will take care of it. Some chaperone/Guardian-like system (like for VR today) will warn us. No worries. But what are the bigger questions? How can we profit from it, what will change and what will be worse?

On the plus side, we get all the goodies we wait for today. Like all AR videos show us. We can work spatially everywhere we want, get full AR-extended view, enjoy great new mixed reality entertainment, use telepresence to jump to friends, buy virtual decoration for us and our living room, etc. Like in Strange Beasts we get a companion, a helper, tutor or buddy that is always with us. A pet could help reduce anxiety, stress. Our digital personal trainer or hologram (like Al in good old TV-series Quantum Leap) will help us out. Never lost or speechless again. Learn more, experience more, discover more. All marketing can go wild.

Let`s look at a few: only buying virtual decoration could help reduce our carbon footprint and save resources (not talking about the needed resources to create perfect AR infrastructure of course). We could easily exchange all our living room decoration with one click. We would only need that furniture, kitchen and bathroom objects that are needed by our body. A bed, a shower, no way around that! (Though you might tend to shower less when you are living in an Ernest Cline-like VR space most of the time…) I like this idea of removing more stuff from my physical room or library. After all, it`s just the next step: mp3s instead of vinyl, ebooks instead of paper, virtual decoration up next! In a shared AR-space, we could share AR´ed decoration with friends and make it an actual part of our reality.

AR technology would help in all areas of our daily life. It could help us to self-improve dramatically. Also on a clinical, psychological side we could profit with new forms of therapy. Fear of height is already treated in VR (well, doing tests), we`ve seen arachnophobia desensitization with AR (virtual spiders crawling over your hand) and the before mentioned companion (a holographic prompter, tutor or pet) could have the biggest impact. Your virtual dog could help you to overcome trauma and loss. It could let you reduce anxiety or stress (like advertised in Strange Beasts, too).

A huge feature: this AI-AR-companion would never let you down. It would never go away, abandon you (unless programmed to) or die. You could actually keep the very same pet, that never ages, from your early childhood days to your last breath! This could give you stability and a feeling of safety.

The problem of disconnecting

You hear the criticism coming: what if… the augmented pet felt real and we pull the plug on it? What if a system crash deletes our companion and his memory (a virtual friend with amnesia)?

We will be depending on augmented content and their existence. Be it the navigation system that lets us find our way, the job monkey application that makes us earn money (like shown in Keiichi`s Hyper-Reality) or the disappearing status symbols we carry around or stuff into our physical home to show off with friends or strangers.

If this content goes away, we get scared, like today with no 4G. During my longer trials with the Hololens at home I already experienced it, too: the missing virtual calendar or the missing holographic cat on the floor irritated me when I did not wear the glasses. What happened? you will ask. I can imagine feeling lost and helpless easily.

Augmented Reality - Dangerous for our minds?

Augmented Reality – Dangerous for our minds?

But it gets even harder, if it was for a companion: a virtual friend that we connected with emotionally. He or she knows all about us, reacts to our jokes, helps us out and supports us. If the plug is pulled, we could experience the same loss like we do today with the death of a family member. With a long-term connection and a realistic appearance that integrates seamless into our reality, it could get even harder than losing a real friend. You heard me. If your virtual friend was with you for all your life instead of a real friend that was with you only for a few years? What would hurt more?

The bigger Problem: we don`t want to disconnect

A system failure with a backup could be resolved. But what if we don`t want to disconnect anymore? What if we are hooked to the augmented part of our reality?

We could escape ugly reality, replace parts of it, avoid confrontations and reality. We could replace that lost item by an augmented version of it. We could actually replace our dead pet or our dead daughter by AR (you should have seen Strange Beasts by now). Recently a German TV-Show “Tatort” had the moment when an A.I. version of a dead person called a family member (episode “Echolot”) – unnoticed. We would on purpose or unconsciously avoid coping with loss and lose a part of being human. We could supposedly escape many problems and flee into a happy AR reality – until we die alone.

Disconnecting your AR get´s a problem – like it is with today´s crude, flatland digital space already.

The Augmented Future – what should we do?

I´m aware that I´m getting carried away and we are far away from this dystopian piece. I love AR and want to look on the bright side. But even more important to think about possible crossroads today, about the right path to pursue, the right way to live today. Not thinking about it before it`s too late could result in our total dependency and helpless drone existence – getting enslaved in total surveillance. Society to crash? People to suffer from new psychosis when virtual friends are lost or if we don`t let go on real dead family members or friends? What happens to the one not wearing glasses / lenses? Do we split society into two? On which part would you stand?

Mixed Reality is at its beginning. VR devices and experiences are getting discussed a lot today. Further studies are needed to see what it might cause. Same applies for AR in the future. What needs to be done along the road?

For example, the virtual companion could stay abstract on purpose. Maybe emotional impact does not go all the way then? Maybe it needs to switch off with a disclaimer once in a while? Or companies that sell us virtual pets will make them die after a while (to sell us new ones)? What rules apply and who defines them?

Willl privacy prevail? Or will we give up on all our private data – to feed into the facebook/google-like machines, to “give us a better experience”? I do understand that the cloud computing power will enable great A.I. companions better. But do I want to share all my life with a big cheese company for smart AR fun? As always, a great open standard would be key. Time to support it! Will AR hardware of the future allow usage independent of the big players? Or will we be left out? Can we hack it? (Please do!)

If a younger generation learns how to interact with virtual characters and gets a brain connection trained to actually feel them – they should also get trained in telling the difference. Keep the worlds apart, step back, learn AR competence. Disconnect.

Some good might come from being left out or of disconnecting. We don`t need to blow up all our physical or delete all our virtual belongings. But clean up your life, remove unnecessary rubbish and focus on the real content. Discover real-world-caused emotions that can help your goals in a physical space your body will live in until the last day. Let`s switch off the tech once in a while and go out and play and meet your family and friends.

This said, happy holidays and Easter! Happy Semana Santa, chach@s!