Monday, June 08, 2015

Augmented Reality in the Year 2040


 In honor of AWE  -- the Augmented World Expo at the Santa Clara (CA) Convention Center – where I will speak Wednesday morning – I’ve decided to post this excerpt-chapter from my novel ExistenceIt is set at a transhumanist convention in the year 2040. And the point-of-view character is using a LOT of augmented reality (AR) gear as she strolls the aisles, sampling hot new tech trends.  Not the most action-packed scene in the book… but still, I think you geeks, especially, will be amused.  

Added Note: You can view my talk to AWE here. 

=====
        
As Tor Povlov entered the vast conference hall, she realized, right away, that she had entered Awz.
        A real-cloth banner, just inside the entrance, proclaimed --
        TOMORROW WELCOMES THE BOLD!
        To which, a tagger had attached, in lurid vrafitti, visible to anyone wearing specs --
        And Next Tuesday Greets the Gullible!
        Beyond, for aisle after aisle, eager companies, foundations and selforg clubs touted “transforming breakthroughs” from smartly decorated booths, augmented by garish VR. Even more than while s-trolling back in Sandego, Tor found her specs bombarded by eager pitches, offering everything from health enhancements to lifespan folding. From guaranteed rejuvenation supplements to home marrow repair kits.      

  From “cyborg” prosthetics to remote controlled nanoflits.
        From fully-implanted brainlink shunts to servant robots.
        Yes, robots. The quaint term was back again, as memory of the Yokohama Yankheand slowly faded, along with a promise that this generation of humanoid automatons would actually prove useful, rather than cantankerous, too-cute, or dangerous. Or all three at once.
        “Every year, they solve some problem or obstacle, in machine-walking, talking, vision, navigation, or common sense,” she subvocalized for her report, letting the specs absorb it all, watching as one aindroid from a Korean chaebol showed off eastasian dance moves and a winning smile. The demonstration was impressive. But demonstrations always were.
        “Then, they always wind up bollixed by some simple task. An uneven flight of stairs. A muddled foreground or background. A semantic paradox. Something that wouldn’t bother a five-year old kid. And every year, the lesson is the same.
        “We are already marvels. A three kilo human brain still combines more amazing things than any computer model can yet emulate.
        “It’s been seventy years that ai-builders have promised to surge beyond human ken. Their list of tricks keeps growing. AI can sift and correlate across all of human knowledge, in seconds. Yet, each decade reveals more layers of unexpected subtlety, that lay hidden in our own packed neuron-clusters all along. Skills we simply took for granted.”  

      There it was, again. A theme, planted in her mind by Sato. The notion that something strangely spectacular had been wrought -- by God or evolution or both -- inside the Homo sapiens brain. About the same time as that chert core in her bag was the technological acme.
        “If anything, today’s Tower of Babel is flat but incredibly wide. This generation of godmakers isn’t thwarted by language -- that barrier is gone forever -- but the bewildering complexity of the thing they hope to copy. Our minds.”
        Of course, some of the products and services here had more modest goals. One body-sculpting booth offered the latest fat-dissolving technology, using targeted microwaves to melt lipids exactly where-u-want. Their slogan -- from Nietzsche -- Tor found ironic on about five different levels.
         “The abdomen is the reason why man does not easily take himself for a deity.”
        She wondered what Sato would make of that. Well, one more humility-reminder bites the dust. When everyone can look good in spandex, will conceit know any bounds?
        Not everyone could wait patiently for all this progress.  Elderly believers in the Singularity grew worried, as it always seemed to glimmer twenty years away, the same horizon promised in the 1980s. And so, Tor passed by the usual booths offering cryonic suspension contracts. For a fee, teams would rush to your deathbed, whether due to accident or age. The moment after a doctor signed-off you were “dead,” skilled teams would swarm over your body -- or (for a lower price) just your detached head -- pumping special fluids to chill in liquid nitrogen, in relished confidence that some future generation would thaw and repair you. Decades ago, cryonics companies eked along with support from a few rich eccentrics. But the safe revival of Guillermo Borriceli changed all that, pushing the number of contracts past thirty million.  One of the offshore “seastead” tax-havens even allowed cryonic suspension before legal death, leading to a steady, one way stream of immigrants who were wealthy, infirm, and -- in Tor’s opinion -- certifiably crazy. 
        They never explain why future generations would choose to revive refugees from a more primitive time. Money alone won’t cut it. 
  
      Was that why many of today’s rich were converting to fervent environmentalism? Donating big sums toward eco-projects? To bribe their descendants and be recalled as karmic good-guys?  Or was it an expanded sense of self-interest? If you expect to live on a future Earth, that could make you less willing to treat today’s planet like disposable tissue.
        Meanwhile, some offered services aimed at the other end of life. Like new kinds of infant formula guaranteed to enhance early brain development. Or suture-spreaders to enlarge a fetus’s skull capacity, letting its brain expand in the womb – with a coupon for free caesarian section. The brochure showed a happy child with the smile of a Gerber Baby and the domed head of some movie alien… bearing a glint of unstoppable intelligence in big, blue eyes.
        Fifty-Genes Inc. offered a service that was legal at just three seastead colonies. Enhancing the few dozen patches of DNA thought to have been crucial in separating the hominid line from the other apes. Continuing along the evolutionary trail. All three of the people manning that booth wore dazzle makeup, hiding their identities from facial recog programs, making them painful to look at. As if the feds didn’t have ten thousand other ways to track a person.   
  
   Farther along, she encountered yet another humanoid automaton, under a virt-blare that proclaimed Certified: Turing Level Three-Point-Three! in flashing letters. Proportioned like a body builder, it bowed to her, offering Tor a seat, some zatz-coffee and a game of chess -- or any pastime of her choosing. There was a flirtatious glint in the machine’s smile, either cleverly designed... or else...
        She was tempted to plunge a pin into that glossy flesh, to see if this one yelped. The old man-in-a-robot-suit trick.
        A subvocalized side note, for later: No cutsie animal or child-like bots, this year? All hunk-style males, so far. Why? A trend aimed at fem demographics?
        She couldn’t help but wonder. Men across the planet had been using robo-brothels for more than a decade, with hundreds of thousands of Luci, Nunci, Pari, Fruti and Hilti models purchased for home use. It didn’t exactly require artificial intelligence to mimic crude, servile passion, if that’s what some males wanted. Of course, the trend was bemoaned in the press. Women mostly stayed aloof, contemptuous of the unsubtle artificial lovers they were offered.
    
    Till now? While the hunk-bot flirted with her, Tor recalling Wesley’s onetime proposition -- to maintain a cross-continental relationship via dolls. Would it be more palatable to be touched by a machine, if it the thoughts propelling it came from someone she cared for? He was coming to DC in a few days, flying east to meet her final zeppelin, at this journey’s end. Did that mean he was giving such nonsense? Ready to talk, at last, about “getting real?” Or would he have a fist full of brochures to show her the latest enhancements? A modern way they both could have cake, and eat it too?
        Oh crap. The subvocal was on high-sensitivity. Her musings about sexbots and Wesley had gone straight into notes. She blink-navigated, deleted, and disciplined her mind to stay on-task. Spinning away from the enticingly handsome android, multi-tasking like a juggler, Tor kept reciting her draft report without breaking stride.
        “Oh, few doubt they’ll succeed eventually. With so many versions of AI cresting at once, it seems likely that we’ll finally enter that century-old sci fi scenario. Machines that help design their successors, and so on, able to converse with us, provide fresh perspectives, challenge us… then surge ahead.
        “At that point we’ll discover who was right, the zealots or the worriers. Can you blame some folks for getting nervous?”
        Of course, Tor’s aiwear had been tracking her word stream, highlighting for gisted meaning. And, because her filters were kept low on purpose, the Convention Center mainframe listened in, automatically making goorelations. Helpfully, the building offered, in her low-right peripheral, a list of conference panels and events to match her interests.

        My Neighbors Prefer Death: Easing the Public’s Fear of Immortality
        Yes. Out of five hundred program items, that one had good relevance to her “skepticism” phrase. The next one was also a good fit.    
    Risk Appraisal: Dangers on the Road to Transhumanity.
        But it got even better. Tor blinked in surprise at the next offering.
        Special invited-guest lecture by famed novelist Hamish Brookeman! “Reasons to doubt ‘progress’ -- and reasons to believe.”
        Tor stopped in her tracks. Hamish Brookeman? Here, of all places? The author of Tusk! and Cult of Science, coming to beard these extropians in their own den? Who had the courage -- or outright chutzpah -- to invite him?
        With a tooth click and scroll-command, Tor checked the conference schedule... and found the Brookeman talk was already underway!
        Oh my. This was going to be demanding. But she felt up to the challenge.
        Swiveling, she called up a guide ribbon -- a glowing path that snaked toward the lecture hall. Which, according to a flash-alert, was already full to capacity. So Tor sent a blip to MediaCorp, asking for a press intervention. It took a couple of minutes (after all, she was a newbie), during which Tor hurried past a publisher of biofeedback mind-training games and a booth selling ersatz holidays on realistic alien worlds.     
  
Smell Colors! Taste the Rainbow! See Music in the Air! -- hollered a booth offering synesthesia training. Next to another kiosk that proclaimed a kinky aim – to genetically engineer “furries,” cute-but-fuzzy humanoids. Tor shivered and hurried on.
        Abruptly, the guide ribbon shifted, aiming her instead down a different aisle, away from the back of the lecture hall, where standing room crowds waited. Now, it directed her toward the front entrance, closest to the stage. Wow, that was fast.
        I am so gonna love this job, she thought, not caring if that made it into the transcript. MediaCorp already knew. This was what she had been born to do.
        Along the way, Tor passed between stalls offering latest generation otto-dogs, lurker-peeps, and designer hallucinogens... the latter one was covered with vir-stickies on about a hundred levels, sneering “ignore these guys!” and “it’s a narc sting!”
        (As if anyone needed to actually buy drugs, anymore, instead of homebrewing them on a MolecuMac. Or using a meditation program to make them inside your own brain.  A dazer with a twin-lobectomy could hack the lame safeguards.)
        One booth offered a dietary supplement that seemed intriguing, but she didn’t slow down, merely click-noting it for further information, later:
        No More Lemons! blared the virt-banner. Bypassing Humanity's Broken Vitamin C Gene With New Gut Bacteria!
        
But, for the most part, Tor had little attention to spare for exhibits. Kicking her M-Tasking into overdrive, she called up a smart-condensed tivoscript of the Brookeman speech, from its start twelve minutes ago, delivered to her left ear in clipped, threex mode -- triple speed and gisted -- while preserving the speaker’s dry tone and trademark Appalachian drawl.
        “Thanks invitation speak you ‘godmakers.’ Surprised/pleased. Shows UR openminded.
        “Some misconstrue I’m anti-science. Anti-progress. But progress great! Legit sci -tech lift billions! Yes, I warn dangers, mistakes. Century’s seen many. Some mistakes not science fault.
        “Take the old Left-Right political axis. Stupid. From 18th Century France!  lumped aristos with fundies, libertarians, isolationists, imperialists, puritans, all on ‘right.’ Huh? ‘Left’ had intolerant tolerance fetishists! Socialist luddites! And all sides vs professionals. No wonder civil servant’s guild rebelled!
        “Result? Wasted decades. Climate/water crisis. Terror. Overreaction. National fracture. Paranoia. Blamecasting.
        “Shall we pour gasoline on fire?
        “Look. Studies show FEAR sets attitudes/tolerance 4 change. Fearful people reject foreign, alien, strange. Circle wagons. Pull in horizons. Horizons of time. Of tolerance. Of risk. Of Dreams.
        “You tech-hungry zealots answer this with contempt. Helpful?
        “New ‘axis’ isn’t left vs right.
        It’s out vs in!
        “You look outward. Ahead. You deride inward-driven folk.
        “But look history! All other civs were fearful-inward! R U so sure YOU are wise ones?”
        The front entrance to the lecture hall lay ahead, just beyond a final booth where several cleancut envoys in blue blazers passed out leaflets to educated and underemployed U.S. citizens, inviting them to apply for visas -- to the science-friendly EU. The brain-drainers’ placement was deliberate. They’d get plenty of customers, when Brookeman finished.

        Feeling a little eye-flick strain and attention fatigue, Tor clicked for a small jolt of adderall, along with a dash of provigil, injected straight into her temple by the leftside frame of her specs. Just a bit, to keep her edge.
        “Look at topics listed in this conference,” continued the ai-compressed voice of Hamish Brookeman, addressing the audience in the hall next door. “So much eager tinkering! And each forward plunge makes your fellow citizens more nervous.”
        The condensed tivoscript was slowing down and expanding, as it caught up with real time.
        “Ponder an irony. Your premise is that average folk can be trusted with complex/dangerous future. You say people = smart! People adapt. Can handle coming transformation into gods! How libertarian of you.
        “Yet, you sneer at the majority of human societies, who disagreed! Romans, persians, inca, han and others... who said fragile humanity can’t take much change.
        “And who shares this older opinion? A majority of your own countrymen!
        “So, which is it? Are people wise enough to handle accelerating change? But if they are wise... and want to slow down... then what does that imply?
        “It implies this. If you’re right about people, then the majority is right... and you’re wrong!
        “And if you’re wrong about the people... then how can you be right!”
        Even through the wall and closed doors, Tor heard laughter from the audience -- tense and reluctant. But she already knew Brookeman was good at working a crowd. Anyway, most of this bunch had grown up with his books, movies and virts. Celebrity status still counted for a lot.
        “All I ask is ... ponder with open minds. We’ve made so many mistakes, humanity, during just one lifetime. Many of them perpetrated not by evildoers, drenched in malice. But others by men and women filled with fine motives! People like you.”
        An aindroid stood by the door, smiling in recognition as Tor approached. This one featured a hole, penetrating straight though its chest, large enough to prove that the entity was no human in disguise. An impressive highlight. Till the automaton gave her a full-length, appreciative eye-flick “checkout” that stopped just short of a lustful leer. Exactly like some oversexed, undertacted nerd.
        Great, Tor thought, with a corner of her mind MT’d for such things Another realism goal accomplished. One more giant leap for geek-kind.
        The robot opened the door, just enough for Tor to slip through without disturbing speaker or audience. Her specs went into IR mode and a pale green ribbon guided her, without stumbling, the final few meters to a VIP seat that someone had just vacated, on her account. She could tell, because the upholstery was still warm. A wide imprint, and her spec-sensors gave a soft diagnosis of fumes from a recent meal, heavy in starches. If it need be, she could track down her benefactor, from those cues alone, and thank him.
        But no, here was Hamish Brookeman, in the flesh at last, tall and angular, elegant and expensively-coifed. In every way the un-nerd. Leaning casually against the lectern and pouring charm, even as he chastised. The tivoscript faded smoothly, as realtime took over.
        “Look, I’m not going to ask you to restrain yourselves for the sake of holiness and all that. Let others tell you that you’re trodding on the Creator’s toes, by carping and questioning His designs; that’s not my concern.
        “What troubles me is whether there will be a humanity, in twenty years, to continue pondering these things! Seriously, what’s your damned hurry? Must we rock every apple cart, while charging in all directions, simultaneously?”
        Brookeman glanced back down and ruffled some sheets of paper, though Tor’s zoom-appraisal showed that he wasn’t looking at them. Those blue irises held steady, far-focused and confident. Clearly, he already knew what he was about to say. In public speaking, as in music, a pause was sometimes just the right punctuation, before striking a solid phrase.
        “Take the most arrogant of your obsessions,” Brookeman resumed. “This quest for lifespan extension! You give it many names. Zero senescence. Non-morbidity. All of it boiling down to the same selfish hope, for personal immortality.”
        This goaded a reaction from the crowd -- hisses and muttered curses. Tor commanded her specs to deploy a slender stalk wafting upward with a tiny, omnidirectional lens at the end, surveying members of the audience, joining dozens of other gel-eyes floating, like dandelions, up to a meter above the sea of heads.
        “Did I strike a nerve with that one?” Hamish Brookeman chuckled. “Well, just wait. I’m getting warmed up!”
        Clearly, he enjoyed the role of iconoclast... in a hall filled with self-styled iconoclasts. A kindred spirit, then? Even while disagreeing with his hosts over every specific issue? That kind of ironic insight could make her report stand out.
        “For example, it’s easy to tell which of you, in the audience, believes in the magic elixir called caloric restriction. Sure, research studies show that a severely reduced, but wholesome diet can trigger longer lifespans in bacteria, in fruit flies, even mice. And yes, keeping lean and fit is good for you. It helps get your basic four-score and ten. But some of the fellows you see around here, walking about like near-skeletons, popping hunger-suppression pills and avoiding sex.... do these guys look healthy? Are they enjoying their extra years? Indeed, are they getting any? Extra years, I mean.
        “Alas, sorry to break this to you fellows, but the experiment was run! Across the last four millennia, there must have been thousands of monasteries, in hundreds of cultures, where ascetic monks lived on spare dietary regimens. Surely, some of them would have stumbled onto anything so simple and straightforward as low-calorie immortality! We’d have noticed two-hundred year old monks, capering around the countryside, don’tcha think?”
        This time, laughter was spontaneous. Still-nervous, but genuine. Through the stalk-cam, she saw even some of the bone-thin ones, taking the ribbing well. Brookeman really was good at this.
        “Anyway, remember that age and death are the great recyclers! In a world that’s both overpopulated and unbalanced in favor of the old, do you really think the next wave of young folks is going to want to follow in your shadows... forever?
        “Putting things philosophically for a minute, aren’t you simply offering false hope, and thereby denying today’s elderly the great solace that every other ageing generation clutched, when their turn came to shuffle off this mortal coil? The consolation that at least this happens to everyone?
    
    “During all past eras, this pure and universal fact -- that death makes no exceptions -- allowed a natural acceptance and letting-go. Painful and sad, but at least one thing about life seemed fair. Rich and poor, lucky or unlucky, all wound up in the same place, at roughly the same pace. At risk of quoting a fellow you transhumanists love to hate, Leon Kass claimed that our lives only become meaningful when we are aware of our mortality.
        “Only now, by loudly insisting that death isn’t necessary, aren’t you turning this normal rhythm into a bitter pill? Especially when the promise (all-too likely) turns into ashes, and people wind up having to swallow it anyway, despite all your fine promises?”
        Brookeman shook his head.
        “But let’s be generous and say you meet with some partial success. Suppose only the rich can afford the gift of extended life. Isn’t that what happens to most great new things? Don’t they get monopolized, at first, by the mighty? You godmakers say you want an egalitarian miracle, a new age for all. But aren’t you far more likely to create a new race of Olympians? Not only privileged and elite, but permanent and immortal?”
        Now the hall was hushed. And Tor wondered. Had Brookeman gone too far?
        “Face it,” the tall man told three thousand and twelve listeners present in the hall... plus nine hundred and sixteen thousand, four hundred and eight who were tuned in, around the planet. “You techno-transcendentalists are no different from all the millennial preachers and prophets who came before you. The same goggle-eyed, frenetic passion. The same personality type, yearning for something vastly better than the hand that you were dealt. And the same drive to believe! To believe that something else, much finer, is available to those who recite the right incantation. To those who achieve the right faith, or virtue. Or who concoct the secret formula.
        “Only, those earlier prophets were much smarter than you lot! Because the redemption they forecast was usually ambiguous, set in another vague time and place, or safely removed to another plane. And if their promises failed? The priest or shaman could always blame it all on unbelievers. Or on followers who were insufficiently righteous. Or who got the formula wrong. Or on God.
        “But you folks? Who will you duck behind, when disillusion sets in? Your faith in Homo technologicus -- the Tinkering Man -- has one fatal flaw. It offers you no escape clause.
        “When your grand and confident promises fail, or go wrong, who will all the disappointed people have to blame?
        “No one... but you.”




Want more?  Check out the amazing video preview-trailer for Existence, with incredible art by Patrick Farley!

42 comments:

Anonymous said...

Existence would make a great multi season scifi drama. Lock a good screen writer in a room with "Existence" and "Earth" and I am sure something awesome could come out of it.
-AtomicZeppelinMan

David Brin said...

um... great idea... now to convince someone with actual hollywood power....

Anonymous said...

Hollywood-shollywood, all the cool kids are crowdfunding their media projects these days. -AZM

Barb said...

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2075083284/star-trek-new-voyages-phase-ii-2015
Watch this episode: http://www.startrekphase2.de/en/4x03_world_enough_and_time.php

Tony Fisk said...

On a similar vein, I found the virtual ads in Minority Report amazing for the way they overwhelmed the rube viewer while they slid off the seasoned characters.

Nit-pick: If this were a proof-read, I would have suggested something other than 'vrafitti', which isn't easily pronounced and doesn't sound like a good candidate for future coinage. ('gAR-fitti', perhaps? Oh well...)

Otherwise, a nice passage. There are a few touches I didn't pick up on first read (like Brookeman's emphasis on the need for deliberation as Tor's compacted transcript catches up and slows down). And, er, predictions.

Tacitus2 said...

I don't think I would prefer to live in a world with this sort of sensory bombardment. Not that we don't have the beginnings of it already. The slippery slope....you finally get a modern phone and it is so easy to look at facebook, check the gps, ask it questions.....

What you describe sounds like information on the order of a hyperdense solution. One quirk in the system, a power surge, a malicious virus, and the whole thing coagulates into sludge.

And would people (now I suppose we would have to use the term loosely) have any back up system? Does imagination blossom or atrophy in a world such as you describe?

Tacitus

Alex Tolley said...

The possibilities of malware subverting the AR should be taken more seriously. As for ads, there is an increasing use of ad blocking software and it is emerging on phones too. Why should it not be also with AR glasses? We should look to the natural world for the array of strategies used to survive as an indication of the approaches that will be used by data to gain or hide from your attention.

I'm not so worried about sensory overload as you can shut the things off; unless you are using smart contact lenses.

Whether this is a useful technology may depend on how much control the individual is allowed in a corporate dominated world and how well malware and spam can be kept at bay.

David Brin said...

Guys, note the difference between this scene and Minority Report! In MR the adverts are "push"... thrust at the passerby through aggressive tech that they cannot easily avoid or ignore.

In my scene it is Augmented Reality that's "pull." The user commands her specs to adjust to Filter 6543E through AR level 7987re#43, or scrolls with her tooth or whatever. If something is irritating, you just wipe it away or shift filters.

Yes, there are terrible potential problems in both cases. Helplessness in the MR world... and addictive subjectivity in the Existence world, where you control what you see hear... and if you have poor self-control, then you live in a permanent Nuremberg Rally.

But the latter world is more empowering.

David Brin said...

NOTE! The illustrations depicting Tor Povlov were drawn by the great web artist Patrick Farley!

Alfred Differ said...

Sludge? Nah. Maybe eventually if Vinge's version of 'failed dreams' turns out to be true, but not yet. The systems we deploy commercially range from fragile to robust, but the commercial interests themselves are anti-fragile. It is more likely that parts will melt-down leaving the whole largely unharmed and then we will learn from the error.

People have been making the 'sludge' prediction for some time.
My Vegas upbringing tells me to bet against them if they are defined well enough.

Alex Tolley said...

Sludge?

Paul451 said...

Curse broken?

http://planetary.s3.amazonaws.com/assets/images/spacecraft/2015/20150609_ls-a-sails-out.jpg

Tony Fisk said...

Indeed. LightSail-1 has achieved its primary objective.
The sails aren't quite at full deployment, but they're intending to walk the struts out a little in the next day or two so they have a better calibration check.
Also, look out for a photo from the other camera, which should have Earth as a backdrop.
Re-entry is expected this weekend.

matthew said...

Interesting brief on an experiment that shows that crows share the ability with primates to count using "number neurons."

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150608152002.htm?utm_source=feedburner

Good news for future designers of crow VR goggles.

locumranch said...


"Augmented Reality" is a tiresome & pretentious term, as if VR (goggles or otherwise) can be said to 'improve' reality in a manner different than newspaper, a pocket watch or a video.

Convenience is the only promise that AR holds for us -- the convenience of an attached google search, reference, subtitle or advert -- but, much like the convenience of an inferior-tasting frozen pizza, the presence of pre-prepared context cannot be said to 'augment' or improve the depth & flavour of authentic pizzeria-style, made-from-scratch reality.

To refer to what VR goggles might offer us as 'augmentation' is about as sincere as claiming that ersatz merit, body parts, food or human companionship is somehow 'as good as' or 'superior to' the real thing. For this I award you an unearned Noble Prize, the presence of which will in no way be inferior to a real one awarded on the basis of merit. Noble prizes for everyone, 10 for a dollar, and (with it) 'Satori' comes free.

Augmentation, indeed.


Best

Alfred Differ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch: That's quite a crystal ball you have, but I encourage you to hand it over to someone who can correctly recognize the value of 'convenience' because you are failing to spot it.

Printing presses offered a more convenient way to reproduce existing books and the scribbled notes of their owners. There wasn't much in the way of value in them beyond this.

Steam engines offered us the convenience of NOT maintaining draft animals, slaves, and shackling our industry to water power. There wasn't much in the way of value in them beyond this.

Convenience usually impacts a price in the market and when one resource changes price, others tend to as well. Markets are rather non-linear in this respect. The price that will most likely be impacted by the convenience of AR is the one associated with arranging collaborations between us and between us and our automated agents. It is possible nothing much will happen to other prices, but I'd bet against that future.

@Alex: The sludge comment was directed at Tacitus2's coagulation comment. Sorry for not labeling it correctly. 8)

raito said...

Well, regarding 'convenience', there's that old saying 'quantity has a quality all its own'. Especially when that quality gets leveraged.

Alfred's examples are correct, but don't go very far.

TV is just a convenient way of using radio to do pictures, just like radio was a convenient way to telegraph a bunch of people all at once, just like the telegraph was a convenient way to send a message without having to either be within earshot or send a person.

Sure, you could send someone a picture as a message, and you could use the telegraph to send pictures. But it wasn't convenient enough to do it for anyone to do it.

How about AR doing things like pointing out people in a crowd, along with whatever data you want on them? Useful for everything from finding your short spouse whose lost in the crowd, to giving a salesman the edge by knowing what you've bought (or even considered) in the last 5 years.

Alex Tolley said...

I'm mot so wild about projecting information into my field of view like a HUD. It has its value, but is it that convenient? However AR as an information view that can be displayed on a screen like a smartphone or tablet I get. To be able to scan an item, visually, in different wavelengths, by identifiers etc to pull up a wealth of information would be really valuable.

For example, while meat suppliers are trying to remove country of origin labeling, some vendors or retailers could offer information on their labels about the supplies, the supplier, etc. Interest groups could also take that information and highlight issues about the food itself, the source, the supplier etc to flag attention about particular issues like nutrition, safety, boycotts, water footprint, country labor and environmental policies, etc. This could all be filtered by consumer preference, offering a rapid info dump in order to make purchase decisions. Retailers could even detect this and alter their purchasing decisions. It won't be long before apps will be able to physically interrogate food for composition, DNA barcode verification, etc.

I expect this will force suppliers to provide their own information if only to counteract that of interest groups. This is similar to Bruce Sterling's SPIME concept.

And this is just one small piece of the value of AR. Unlike VR, I suspect AR is going to be really important in the future.

Alfred Differ said...

@raito: I’ve got an arsenal full of other examples. I was considering to whom I was addressing my comment and chose to limit myself to the two most obvious ones. Usually I pull from the tech examples James Burke discussed in his first Connections series, but I down-selected to ones that were delivered onto the market fairly complete on the first day where the inventors couldn’t have guessed at the revolutions they were starting. For example, the printing press was SO convenient it broke Mother Church in Europe and made it possible to express Public Opinion. Heh. What a wonderfully beautiful black swan!

@Alex: I suspect AR will consume VR. I tried hard to do a number of useful things in Second Life and there was no way their servers could keep up. I found decent business/engineering uses for the place other than the usual stuff selling visual candy, but running a space with a large number of people visiting takes an incredible amount of horsepower and always will. It’s an arms race the VR folks can’t win. The more ‘real’ they make it look (not that they do) the more we will demand ‘reality’. The VR folks can’t do that without some tech out of V. Vinge’s books from the Beyond. The AR folks don’t need that much horsepower. They will win.

I actually prefer that they place these feeds within my visual field of view. I’m sick and tired of looking down at my hands and craning my neck to see a tiny screen. I want a HUD that has enough horsepower to ‘stick’ things to objects in view and not necessarily to my camera view. I want an audio display that works the same way in full stereo that can compensate for my partial deafness. Build and market that and I’ll open my wallet wide. Oh… I also want our host’s Holocene stuff built in. I know precisely how I would use it at the start and know full well I can’t imagine how much it would improve my life later. I don’t need the story examples to see this. I can even see how that tech could enable the ‘auties’ to join us in more productive ways.

Jumper said...

Thanks for that comment, Alex. Well argued, and saves me the time, because I agree with all of it.
As the Kindle went nowhere until they bit the bullet and really worked on "easy on the eye as a book" I doubt any interface will gain popularity unless it's really easier on the eyes. And hands and whatever.
Something new will come around the bend. I was thinking of artificial arm control for those using a prosthesis, and wondered if a mouth-control would be tolerable for routine use: bite down for a stronger hand grip... these sorts of interface controls will likely go into our clothes somehow. I'm just not sure how much I want on my shirt. If any! I think I'd find a functioning keyboard tattooed onto my left forearm a temptation.

Paul451 said...

I'm not sure Locumranch actually knows what AR is, judging from his comment.

Tim H. said...

I wonder what Chester Gould would've made of augmented reality, and tech development generally? Though instead of Diet Smith, we got dozens of people playing various aspects of his character...

locumranch said...


I know AR's current incarnation and what it promises to be; I've even read Vinge's projection of it's despicable potential; and I fear (as should you all) the mind-control device that it is most likely to become as it enhances, mediates and controls your perceptions of reality.

It promises to be quite convenient, to be sure, as it helps you identify faces in a crowd, provides handy references, directs you from point A to point B, tells you the products to buy, who to trust, where to eat & what to believe on the basis of proprietary software, owned & operated by Charter Cable, in collaboration with the FOX network, Big Government, NATO & any number of NGOs. Remember. also, that there are already significant anti-trust issues with the likes of Google.

So, slip on those AR glasses without fear, and let someone else's trade-marked software make all your critical decisions for you. Submit; accept THEIR version of reality as the unadulterated truth; embrace the *New & Improved* consensual reality; and keep your eyes peeled for those WMDs, those Yellow badge wearing degenerates & those Party Members in good standing.

And, as always, let their conscience be your guide.


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Jumper said...

Uh, locumranch, all that mind control already exists. It's called "TV" and controls people's minds to all the extents you mention already.

Alex Tolley said...

I fear (as should you all) the mind-control device that it is most likely to become as it enhances, mediates and controls your perceptions of reality.

How is this fundamentally different from your cultural assimilation, education, exposure to media, etc?

There are also issues of choice. One doesn't have to accept the firehose of AR data. IIRC in "Existence", doesn't the AR come in different channels which can be selected by the user?

As I type in my browser, I have set various adblocks to filter out all that mind altering advertizing. Why would AR devices not work similarly? Even Apple, which does not allow IOS Safari to use extensions is changing that behavior is IOS 9, so that the user has more control over what is pushed down the pipe to the screen.

Yes, AR will be tweaked to favor certain suppliers' wants. But the same thing happened when you bought a map from a gas station or Michelin, or the local holiday resort. Apart from information volume, what exactly is different?

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch: Yes, the potential danger is there. That doesn't mean we get to avoid it by rejecting it. People burned books, but more got printed and smuggled to make up for it. The Luddites didn't like what the machines could be used to do, but smashing them didn't stop the future from crashing down on them anyway.

Don't accept AR into your life blindly, but don't avoid it either. Rejection will just make you into one of the Obselete some day. Grab the bull by the horns or the tiger by the tail or whatever analogy works for you. Try to ride the tsunami and demand what you want from the people who want your money.

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

I'm not sure Locumranch actually knows what AR is, judging from his comment.


He objects to the specific term "augmented", as if it implies an unqualified good.

LarryHart said...

Tim H:

I wonder what Chester Gould would've made of augmented reality, and tech development generally? Though instead of Diet Smith, we got dozens of people playing various aspects of his character...

Now we can have all those yellow labels with arrows pointing to everything like "Two-Way Wrist TV" in real life.

Life imitates comic strips.

In my AR world, random comics characters will happen by, such as Spider-Man swinging from the buildings in front of me, to Thor and the Hulk tearing up the street. Oh, and they'll also function as X-Ray Specs that really work.

(I've said too much)

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

I know AR's current incarnation and what it promises to be; I've even read Vinge's projection of it's despicable potential; and I fear (as should you all) the mind-control device that it is most likely to become as it enhances, mediates and controls your perceptions of reality.


You just perfectly described the Republican Party.

Paul SB said...

It's despicable potential? Larry, the Republican Party has been doing this since at least the Reagan era - no augmented reality required. Carefully selected "facts", charismatic liars and huge financial resources to run a propaganda machine are all it takes.

Check out this video from a few years ago, It's an episode of Frontline made around the time of the last presidential election. If you don't have time or want to watch the whole episode, just scroll to 17 minutes and watch for about the next 2 minutes. It gives a beautiful example of how the climate deniers lie to convince huge numbers of voting fools - something called 'going down the up escalator'. It reminds me of Churchill pronouncing that there are 3 kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.

Paul SB said...

And, of course, I hit send before pasting in the url...

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/climate-of-doubt/

Tacitus2 said...

Regards the potential locking up of a VR world...a music festival in the UK recently tried RFID wristbands that were supposed to be used to pay for everything. Wave your wrist and the money clicks out of your account.
Except it did not work. Hungry, thirsty, angry fans.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3119945/Chaos-Download-Festival-useless-new-cashless-payment-crashes-leaving-music-fans-unable-pay-food-drink.html

Old school for me. I buy my pints with real world cash and coin.

Tacitus

locumranch said...


As AR is not an either-or subject, there is room for every AR-related viewpoint to be correct, yet Alfred's words should give you pause when he predicts that the "Rejection" of AR could lead to cultural obsolescence, and where is the wisdom in that amount of cultural darwinism? To embrace a technology that could exclude and obsolete up to 50% of our current population.

From an exclusionary viewpoint, things are bad enough now with our growing emphasis on internet commerce. Want to to shop, catch up on world events, renew your Driver's License, review your medical record or access 'free' government services? To bad so sad, unless you're willing to 'pay-to-play' for fettered proprietary electronic-only access, and things will only get worse if & when we allow AR to 'out-source' material things like banks, store-fronts, post offices, personal identification, cash and even STOP SIGNS into the virtual ether.

Fredrik Pohl's parodic "The Age of the Pussyfoot" will come to pass, meaning that AR non-participation will become a criminal offence punishable by 'Death by Google Car': "It's as if he didn't exist. That stupid pedestrian just walked into traffic, ignoring a virtual 'Don't Walk' sign, WITHOUT a functioning personal identity transponder, deserving his fate".

I'd rather cut my own throat.


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Alex Tolley said...

@locum - "where is the wisdom in that amount of cultural darwinism? To embrace a technology that could exclude and obsolete up to 50% of our current population."

You could make that statement about almost any technology. But why that 50% figure? Why not 25%, or 75%?

The automobile had a huge impact when it was introduced, obsoleting livery stables, feed stores, saddle makers, buggy makers. Initially few could drive. Speeds had to be kept very low to prevent pedestrian deaths. Sounds like you would have led the charge to ban them.

What about television? It displaced so much local entertainment from musicians, theater actors, and the host of businesses relying on the population going out to be entertained. In addition it encouraged cocooning and isolation. And the "propaganda" that emerged too! Ban it! (I remember a time when "well-to-to" families would not have a tv in the house).

See how easy it is to cherry-pick con arguments for any technology, even those with wide acceptance today. Far better to make a list of pros and cons to at least balance the picture.

As a physician, you may be around when AR makes an impact in the clinic. It may be as effective as a Star Trek medical tricorder, of Kornbluth's "The Little Blag Bag". Of course it may obsolete the primary physician in favor of nurses, especially when teh medical knowledge accessible is far more extensive than humans can acquire, coupled with knowledge about local disease events.

Alfred Differ said...

I suspect family physicians won’t be obsoleted in the near future. They are exactly the smart appliance required to investigate the most complex questions regarding a human patient’s condition. No AI is going to replace them soon. What is more likely is an I(ntelligence) A(ugmentation) displacement and I can already see that happening with my doctors and how they use their IT equipment during my visits. IA will obsolete physicians unwilling to adapt, but I’ll receive better care most likely, so it will really by my dollars going elsewhere that obsoletes them.

In the early days of this nation, most residents were farmers of some sort or worked the farms of other land owners. Only about 2% of us do that today. Most every profession that supported our agricultural nation got obsoleted or overwhelmed. By the understandings of the people at the time, we should all be starving to death by now, but we aren’t. Instead, the world’s population grew by over 7x and true famines are getting to be quite rare. We still have issues with malnutrition due to low quality calories, but that beats the heck out of the Irish Famine of the 19th century. All those obsoleted farmers and farm support people found something else to do, prospered enough to keep (most of) their babies alive, and freed up just enough of the time each mother spent laboring during the day to educate the children beyond their formerly subsistence level life.

Obsolescence with respect to a drudge job creates the most valuable resource the history of this world has ever seen. Free time. Our high capacity intelligences wind up with nothing much to do at Maslow’s lowest levels of need. That freedom is analogous to what happened to us when we first invented fire. Calories once unavailable to us in our food could be liberated just enough to be digested by children with shorter digestive tracts than their parents. That freed calories for brain growth AND freed time in the day to forage for more food. In evolutionary terms, that’s a huge black swan. We are doing the same to ourselves right now by liberating our work time. It may sound scary and provoke our host to tell stories involving ‘purple wages’, but it’s an explosively fertile ground for a whole flock of black swans.

Don’t fear obsolescence. The work you do is not what you are now matter how much expert training/conditioning you have. You aren’t a smart appliance. You are a universal machine.

Alex Tolley said...

@Alfred - I agree that in the near future physicians will not be replaced, any more that autopilots have replaced pilots. Their jobs will become more interactive with powerful machine intelligence. You probably know about the IBM-Sloan Kettering pilot with Watson acting as a support for oncologists. However inevitably applications will replace physicians via several routes. Nurses will be able to enhance their capabilities at lower cost. Individuals will be able to get low cost diagnoses from apps connected to sensors.

All this should drive down need for physicians and, in turn, costs.

How this plays out I don't know.

BTW, when I was younger, Britain did not allow the sale of "Grey's Anatomy" to the public. All to keep knowledge with the physicians.
These days, individuals often know more about a specific disease than a primary physician.

As medical information increases, it seems inevitable to me that computers will become a vital part of medical practice, if only as a first line before you call for a physician's office appointment.

As for freeing up cognition, I agree it would be very useful. Clearly a lot of people are doing drudge jobs. But given we have 5.5% unemployment in the US, how is this cognitive surplus going to be remunerated? Availability doesn't mean it can or will be used.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

t's despicable potential? Larry, the Republican Party has been doing this since at least the Reagan era - no augmented reality required.


Well, I meant that locum's description of the potential hazards of AR sound similar to the reality of the GOP. And it's ironic that he often lauds his "Red State" opposition to liberals and progressives, but thereby embraces the very hazard he claims to be fighting.

If anyone remembers 20-year-old Simpsons episodes, it's like being opposed to Mayor Quimby, who is so corrput that he even let Sideshow Bob out of prison, by voting for Quimby's opponent--Sideshow Bob.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

Obsolescence with respect to a drudge job creates the most valuable resource the history of this world has ever seen. Free time.


It should. But much socio-political effort needs to be exerted to keep the "leisure dividend" from being legally considered as someone else's property.

If technology frees up society from the need to employ human drudge labor, then society must also be structured such that one's right to a living is not predicated on his being a useful source of drudge labor to the (private) owners of the means of survival.

Luigi said...

When I was 9 (a long time ago) we had a document called A Blueprint For Survival. I can still see it although regrettably I don't have a copy of the purple document cyclostyled I think they called it.

It told us that by the time I reached 30 (also some time ago) our problem would be what to do with our spare time, generated by robots and technology that would eliminate drudge work.

Today I work 50-60 hours a week on top of my leisure activities which do blur into my work. I continue to strive toward that day, but I know it won't happen in my lifetime. I love the reference to aging transhumanists waiting for successful life restoration from cryo always glimmering 20 years in the future.

It is so frustrating that the things we know will happen, take so long. On the other hand, perhaps we need to wait for our EQ's to match our IQ's.

Anonymous said...

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