Thursday, April 5, 2012

Project Glass Gives Me The Willies

It's coming. It's near. The Singularity.

Actually, it's probably been around for some time. Since the 60's. Maybe sooner, maybe since the Industrial Revolution (at what point on a exponential curve can one demarcate the beginning of the curve?).

It's a point of no return, really: by the time you realize you're there you've been so for some time and can no longer get out (think waterfalls and event horizons). So, we've actually been in the Singularity for a while (it would have been very difficult for me to explain to 14 year old me in 1990 how Facebook and Twitter would dominate popular interactions). For me, there's no greater emblem of the rate of technological change than interactive augmented reality. We have it on our camera phones and now we're about to have it in our field of view: Project Glass.

It's Vingean Heads-Up-Display (Fire Upon the Deep, Deepness in the Sky), it's Strossian Glasses (Accelerando), it's every first-person-shooter (Doom, Halo), it's RoboCop's targeting system (at 5:25, though the whole video is frikkin' awesome). This technology will start a bridge between the virtual and the Real. Imagine a book with blank pages. Slip on these glasses and the pages fill with text as the video feed is edited en route to your eye. Play first-person-shooters in the Real. You'll be able to handle faux-objects that exist only in cyberspace (imagine the tamagotchi they'll come up with). You'll be able to tele-presence. 3D viewers and photography will be obsolete as 3-dimensional looking objects will be able to appear in your field of view (maybe not obsolete, maybe finally rendered realistic and manageable, no need for projectors other than those in the Glasses). You'll be able to book mark locations, and leave faux-graffiti notes on Real objects for your friends who are tuned into your 'channel'. The Web will exist in the Real. You'll be able to walk into a webpage, thumb through the blog, fold up text and put it in your pocket. This is great, this is the future, this is knowledge at my fingertips. 

So, then why when I watch the video above do I feel abject revulsion?

Perhaps because of how it's presented: a better way to consume. A better way to advertise. "Where's the music section?" Seriously? That's what you're going to do with your Glasses? Ask directions to where you can buy more crap you don't need? Actually, yes, that is what you're going to do with your Glasses. Makes me feel like, "Oh, it'll be that much easier for them to advertise to me. Wonderful. All I need is Visual Spam." Reminds of a recent Stross Diary entry: 

a) All advertising tends towards the state of spam (which is merely free-as-in-dirt-cheap-and-unregulated advertising),
b) Funding content via ad sales holds our public arts hostage to a boom/bust bubble economy. Furthermore, there is an incentive for web publishers to prioritize paid ads over editorial content, and to censor editorial content that threatens advertizing revenue,
c) The idea that "most people only want to consume" is profoundly offensive and serves the interests of abusive "producers" who tend towards rent-seeking,

So, the future will be the Gap scene in Minority Report? More data gathering, more marketing? Will Google sell off what I've been looking at? Pump ads tailored from what I've been viewing in the Real? Will they sell it all to the NSA (and don't give me no paranoia/conspiracy shit until you read this)?

Another aspect of the Singualrity is something that Vinge wrote about in Deepness in the Sky: Ubiquitous Policing. We think, because of Twitter revolutions and Facebook activism (and advertising that fosters these images. Wait, what am I saying, those revolutions are the greatest ads those companies could have hoped for) that the internet exists as this system of unfettered expression, democracy, and information. And it can be. But what if the GPS in your baby's pacifier is also being monitored by a police parolee surveillance program, or is gathering data for a custody and divorce case you don't even know is coming your way? Or the urinal you're pissing in can also test for THC and can cross reference who's pissing when by querying your WiFi-enabled desk chair when you got up, and pinging your phone and Glasses for position? (If you haven't yet, take a look at episodes 2 and 3 of the BBC mini-series Black Mirror). I personally don't think it will all be this doom and gloom tech-paranoia dystopia (well, anymore than it already is). The point is, it easily could be. David Wall, in his book Cybercrime: the Transformation of Crime in the Information Age, puts it this way: "Unless checked, the 'ubiquitous policing' that follow this 'hard-wiring of society' could contribute to the destruction of the democratic liberal values". Okay, maybe that's putting it on a bit thick. But, still, watch the above, tell me it's not creepy. Tell me I'm wrong. Please. 

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