« June 2011 | Main Page | August 2011 »

Monthly Archives

July 26, 2011


Yesterday, on Twitter, I posted this:

When the present is filled with tragedy and idiocy, focusing on the future is my way of staying sane.

That was my oblique reaction to the terrorism in Norway and the disastrous efforts to deal with the debt ceiling in the United States. With the first, you have a hardcore Christian terrorist attempting to kick-start a war against Muslims and Secularists in Europe by attacking "race traitors." With the second, you have a hardcore Teahadist movement in the U.S. House of Representatives refusing to act to avoid what will end up being a major economic catastrophe, seeing it instead as an engine of political change. The first was a spike of murderous violence, while the second would likely kill more people over time. That both come from a right wing perspective is secondary to the fact that both embrace the idea that the only way forward is through intentional chaos.

(And I don't buy that the two perspectives are inherently linked. I've met enough self-identified conservatives who don't want to destroy the world, and enough self-identified progressives who see disaster as a mechanism for changing climate policy, to know better.)

My post resulted in some welcome, and very thoughtful, replies. The most salient boiled down to the observation that the future is a result of the present, and that what we do now shapes what we can do in the days and years to come. Such observations are, of course, quite correct.

But what I was trying to express was something a bit different. What focusing on the future does, here, is provide context. When tragedy and idiocy are so visible, it's easy to forget that these aren't permanent conditions, nor are they all that's out there. But these stories so quickly become a smothering shroud, blocking out all else and making any thoughts about the future seem pointless. It's a trap, a distraction at best and a pit of despair at worst.

Focusing on the future is a way of reminding myself that these aren't stopping points, and that--awful as they are now--they will, in time, be largely forgotten. Not that they're not serious, not that they're not important... but that they are, ultimately, a part of history, not the end of history.

Nothing ever ends

July 13, 2011

Sight Licenses

BERG's Matt Jones asked if I'd be willing to contribute a short essay to a print item he was designing, a little something called SVK. Written by Warren Ellis, drawn by D'Israeli, foreword by William Gibson. Yeah, let me think about that and get back to you.

Because the plot of SVK concerns an unusual form of augmented reality technology, Matt asked if I'd do a little exploration of some of the other impacts of AR. Here's what I came up with:

Sight Licenses

With early prototypes already in the labs, augmented reality (AR) contact lenses promise to be a commonplace tool by sometime in the next decade. Most AR enthusiasts talk about environmental information or social networking as key uses of the technology, but they’re missing the larger vision: AR lenses will allow real-time control -- and pricing -- of what we see.

AR lenses would work by putting a visual layer over what you’re looking at, as identified by a combination of location information and local transponders. That visual layer can be anything from mapping info to text bubbles to animations; as the technology improves, limits such as data rates, graphic resolution, and image placement precision will become non-issues. By the time AR lenses become commonplace, the experience could be seamless.

Right now, we control what can be seen by putting walls -- physical or technological -- around that which we want to limit. These mediated experiences are exceptions to the normal rule that, if it’s in public, you can see it. But with AR lenses, all visual experiences can be mediated, no matter the place or the format. By adding a transponder or locative data, anything we look at -- buildings, scenic vistas, people, clothing, anything -- can have an augmentation overlay. That means the visual experience of anything we look at can be controlled. And if I can control access, I can make you pay for access.

In many cases, this will simply lead to the further expansion and sophistication of visual advertisements. Changing, targeted ads will blanket walls, roads, even clothing. Reality becomes a sponsored app.

As annoying as this would be, however, it pales in significance compared to the ability of commercial and/or governmental gatekeepers to charge for visual access to everyday experiences.

Architecture, fashion, art, all of this and more could be declared protected design, for reason of copyright or security, and the ability to see it limited by license or law. You want to witness Lady Gaga’s latest get-up? Pay for it. You want to gaze at the majesty of a new mile-high tower? Buy a license. Some designs may be impossible to use otherwise, the interface and affordances apparent only to those who have topped up their accounts.

What about the “analog hole,” removing the AR lenses to see unfiltered reality? The likelihood that the full extent of the design would only be visible with augmented vision is one limit; the hassle of taking out contact lenses out in public is another. Not using AR lenses at all would be unthinkable -- if the utility of AR is great enough to lead to widespread adoption of the technology, going without would be as socially, economically, and even politically crippling as going without a mobile phone today.

This mean that the current technology fights -- between jailbreakers and phone makers, between DRM advocates and open source activists -- aren’t going away any time soon. The battlefield, however, will shift to our eyeballs. As a result, any hope of a shared vision of the future should be set aside. Instead, we’ll be fighting over an increasingly fragmented, splintered view of the world in front of us... and paying for the privilege.

Jamais Cascio

Contact Jamais  ÃƒÂƒÃ‚ƒÃ‚ƒÃ‚ƒÃ‚¢Ã‚€Â¢  Bio

Co-Founder, WorldChanging.com

Director of Impacts Analysis, Center for Responsible Nanotechnology

Fellow, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

Affiliate, Institute for the Future

Recent Posts


Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Powered By MovableType 4.37