We have a chance to get it right this time. All of those mistakes we made with the Web. We could start with a clean slate. Life can be better in the Spatial Cloud.
“The primary fallacy that underpins many of their mistakes is that user flexibility and control necessarily lead to a user experience complexity that hurts growth. And the second, more grave fallacy, is the thinking that exerting extreme control over users is the best way to maximize the profitability and sustainability of their networks.“
And here we are again: the early phases of a newer technology, hacking prototypes, lots of innovation in small pockets, individual developers making things up at the margins.
There’s a chance that something new could emerge. The Spatial or AR Cloud could set down some new ground rules for how we play, the protections we enjoy, and how safe we are on these new platforms.
What We Got Wrong
Anil’s post still resonates. Today’s 20 year old might not know what Technorati is but some of the broad conclusions still hold:
- Links, search and discovery have been corrupted
- We (mostly) gave up on resistance to single service sign-in. Our online identities have all been tagged back to Google or Facebook
- It’s still mostly impossible to get high fidelity back-ups of our own data.
- Instead, our content has been co-opted and used against us. The photo I upload is being scanned by the machines and used to feed back behavioural advertising
- It’s incredibly difficult to cross-link and share in a way that facilitates non-mediated discovery. Instead, it’s mediated by corporations with a vested interest in pushing you in a direction that they prefer
- The Creative Commons is still, kind of, a thing. But not really.
Now, Anil promised us it would all get better:
“We’ll fix these things; I don’t worry about that. The technology industry, like all industries, follows cycles, and the pendulum is swinging back to the broad, empowering philosophies that underpinned the early social web.”
And it’s not Anil’s fault, of course. But 8 years later the pendulum still seems to be swinging hard in the wrong direction.
Jaron Lanier on Our Enslavement
In addition to Anil lamenting what was lost as social media swallowed software, folks like Jaron Lanier were also advocating a new approach. He calls social media a form of enslavement:
“Yeah. I started to feel we’ve taken a wrong turn back then. I thought a couple things were mistakes. I thought this idea of trying to make everything free in exchange for advertising would inevitably lead to a manipulative society where there are always other people in between everything, trying to advertise, you know. And so, and I think that that prediction, sadly, has come about.
I even wrote a piece in ‘92, suggesting that some day there might be little AI programs trying to calculate how to manipulate people and those things would go to war with each other and eventually make society crazy enough to throw elections.“
And so we’re left with a bunch of broken promises:
- A web where what we own is co-opted by others and used to feed behavioural targeting machines
- Compensation for content being aggregated for Google and Facebook but not for the folks who actually create the stuff
- Identity systems that are mostly federated by corporations
What is Means for Augmented Reality
There are profound ethical questions about superrealism: what happens if violence in a VR world becomes hyper-realistic? How can vulnerable populations safely navigate these new realities?
But in addition to the ethical issues, Spatial Computing and the AR Cloud will change how we connect to technology:
- It will be at planetary scale, our physical world eventually mapped 1:1
- Our bodies will become controllers. The idea of screens and keyboards will, eventually, disappear. Ubiquitous computing will mean that we’re part of a digital landscape whether we like it or not
- The world itself will be digitally activated. The connection of the AR cloud to 5G and ultra wideband, and then THOSE networks connected to IOT devices, drones, self-driving cars and robots will digitally activate physical reality
And yet we still have a chance to change the trajectory.
AR could end up just being an extension of where we are already. Instead of AR devices (like glasses) being portals into something magical, they might just be another front-end vacuum for data collection.
If AR glasses by Facebook don’t terrify you, I don’t know what would:
“Facebook also described Live Maps in aspirational terms. According to a video, it will produce “multi-layer representations of the world” using crowdsourced data, traditional maps, and footage captured through phones and augmented reality glasses. The video shows familiar potential uses — like getting notifications projected in thin air, identifying objects with labels, or even projecting a holographic avatar to hang out with real people. It’s not totally clear how (or if) Facebook would protect privacy while collecting all of this data.“
It’s not totally clear how (or if) Facebook would protect privacy while collecting all of this data.Oh. REALLY?
Privacy in the Spatial Cloud
There are positive noises but these noises are often guarded.
Let’s decode the issues related to privacy a little bit.
The Open AR Cloud
The Open AR Cloud initiative recognizes privacy as a concern:
“The concern for privacy in spatial computing is fairly widespread amongst the Founding Members of OARC, the XR-industry, and other players in the spatial computing sector, as well as amongst privacy and digital rights activist. Still, the wider public has yet to realize how much more invasive AR-cloud technology coupled with AI/Machine Learning is likely to become than what they are used to in their existing digital lives. As the significance of this becomes apparent to more people there is likely to be strong public interest in finding robust ways of protecting privacy. We can expect a significant backlash If the industry fails in this area, resulting in resistance or reluctance against using this type of technology. OARC believes protecting privacy should be a fundamental principle in spatial computing.“
In other words, they can agree that it’s a potential PR issue. This doesn’t negate the fact that their working group views privacy as a fundamental principle, stating that “we want this group to take a lead in ensuring that the entire Open AR Cloud ecosystem is designed with protection of privacy as a fundamental principle.”
But perhaps the starting premise should be that privacy is a fundamental human right rather than a PR problem?
I’m seeing a lot of solid evangelism from the OARC on privacy. But it feels like there’s a lot of work to do.
Ethics and Research
“This has great implications for a number of applications, from storytelling to advertising to health, but it also raises important ethical issues related to privacy, data sharing, and the misuse of personal data for hacking and other criminal purposes.…
The right to privacy is the right to one’s identity in any form (including name, image, voice, preferences) remaining private, that is, not becoming publicly disclosed. Brey (2008) contrasts the right to privacy to the right to free speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of artistic expression. Whereas, the latter three deserve their own attention, it is crucial to maintain the right to privacy of individuals given that disclosure of private information may be seriously harmful to the psychological well-being and social standing of the affected person. Legislation may have to be changed in order to accommodate the type of individual data that can be stored as a result of XR use. An example of misuse of disclosed private information is identity hacking, described below; another example could be misuse of deeply personal data, such as someone’s phobias, for blackmail or other illegal purposes.“
The authors were focused on ethics, and so deserve some leeway. Philosophers gonna philosophize. But again, there is a guarded approach to privacy which says: “well, we have to balance privacy against competing needs”.
Participants in the study included a broad cross-section of industry and academic partners, including BBC R&D, Digital Catapult, Dimension /Hammerhead VR, Facebook London, NESTA, Jigsaw (part of Google), Magic Leap, Microsoft Research, and University College London.
(Say no more).
The Geeks vs. Everyone Else
Part of the problem, I think, is that we privilege the geeks over the users.
It’s how Silicon Valley works. It’s how innovative companies get funded.
We’ve seen this in virtual worlds and how “property” is treated: as a technical problem. Companies see servers and pixels while users see their little home in Animal Crossing or the new dress they bought in IMVU.
The argument back is always the same: technology is agnostic. Technology has its own plans. I’m just coding. How the policy issues get resolved is someone else’s responsibility.
God forbid that Rony Abovitz refers to the Technium:
Really Rony? The Technium? Kevin Kelly is part of the reason we’re stuck with this mess in the first place.
Technology doesn’t ‘evolve’ on its own, like Kelly believes. Technology is built by YOU, Rony. It’s built by the coders.
Someone, somewhere, decided that everyone would know each other on the Internet, and so the core principle was anonymity. Whether right or wrong it was still a values-based decision, and it was made in code.
There are no easy solutions. And a driving problem is that the Spatial Cloud is being built but no one can see it yet.
By the time we can walk down Main Street and have it look like a scene out of Star Wars it will be too late: someone will have scanned the world and tagged it, the ambient signals will be present before we can tap into their power, the companies that have aggregated your social presence on the web will already know what it means when you glance to the left or right when you talk to a virtual avatar.
We could be headed for a world of wonder. We could get some of the magic back which Anil identified as missing. We could earn a decent buck for the content we create and digitally place on your real-world street corner.
Discovery, privacy, and identity might all be solved in the future of the AR and Spatial Clouds.
Berners-Lee also envisioned that his invention could, in the wrong hands, become a destroyer of worlds.Vanity Fair
It’s in our hands whether we’ll look back, like Berners-Lee, and be devastated by what we have wrought.
No one else is in charge.