Should We be Augmented Human?

When I think about technology, I want to be inspired. I want to look forward to how my world will be positively augmented by technology. Lately, I can only think of the downsides. I keep thinking back to the episodes of Black Mirror depicting humans’ negative tendencies with technology. 

There are social media faux pas and related drama, negative impacts of screen time on children, and my own quest to reduce daily cell phone use to mitigate distracted parenting. Not to mention the different bias built into tech (intentionally or unintentionally). There are privacy concerns and new age internet pirates who hold your data and personal information for ransom.

Luckily, there is hope. Technologists like Helen Papagiannis, author of
Augmented Human, address these concerns along with the many benifts of an augmented world. Papagiannis quotes Tim Berner-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, as envisioning “the internet as a place to share experiences in new and powerful ways”. Lee wanted to make, “a collaborative medium, a place where we can all meet and read and write” (Papagiannis 21).

While this is technically the internet we have today, many of the platforms we use to meet, read, and write are owned by companies with agendas. We live in a world where you can be de-platformed for saying the wrong thing by someone else’s terms. In the United States, we have freedom of speech as protected by our constitution. We’re in a tricky time now where we post our thoughts on private company’s platforms. If companies have the ability to gang up and write us out of the internet (see Alex Jones or Sargan of Akkad) what happens when they control a whole augmented world? Will companies have the ability to write us out of reality? Will the government?

Who will author the new reality?

Papagiannis asks similar, critical questions such as, “who will be authoring this new reality? Whose Mediated Reality will we be privy to…will we be part of a read-write environment, or read-only?” (Papagiannis 21). She writes that “AR will need to find ways to mirror the original vision for the World Wide Web to largely be inclusive, not exclusive” (Papagiannis 21). In order for that to happen, our culture needs to be one of true inclusivity. That means being open to hearing other’s thoughts and opinions without muting, blocking, or reporting them out of reality.

When Mark Metry asked me if in the future when virtual reality was seamless with our own world, would I ever leave it? I said yes. I would still stay in reality. Only in reality are we truly free – that is until The Circle, with promises of positively augmenting your life, bust in and inadvertently ruin it. I’ve seen tech do a lot of good. Having worked in tech, I implemented software that had a positive impact on the bottom line. I configured systems that helped operators build record numbers of gadgets while simultaneously minimizing quality issues.

In Augmented Human, Papagiannis shows us that augmented reality (AR) is more than displaying the digital over the real world. It’s any tech that seamlessly augments our real world. This can be done with smartphones, glasses, or haptics, or smart clothes. Papagiannis says, “we are well overdue to revisit what AR is and what it can become…” (Papagiannis 4). AR is becoming “smart” by combining with other technologies like the Internet of Things, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. This is similar to what we saw with Robotic Process Automation. One type of tech is significantly improved and made more powerful when combined with parallel emerging technologies.

Augmented reality is any technology that seamlessly augments our real world.

Papagiannis, Augmented Human

I love the idea that interacting with technology will be more natural because the “technology disappears and the experience becomes central” (Papagiannis 7). However, this chapter, with all its beauty in describing a seamless more helpful world, made me wary. If technology is too seamless, too inherently easy, will kids today know how to tinker with it and build upon it? I read in an article that kids don’t know how to type because they’re growing up with point and click smartphones. Yes, a baby can point and click to hit buttons but do they know why that works? I hope as kids grow up they have the curiosity to take apart their phones (if possible) and build their own apps. I wonder as the easier technology gets, will the more “technology dumb” people become?

The biggest concern I have about augmented humans is for our children. I, a Millennial, am the last generation to grow up without a smartphone being part of my childhood. I grew up on the cusp of the social media internet (hello Neopets and AIM) but have few photos of my high school years (maybe that’s for the best). I had a digital camera but did not know about backing up photos before my parent’s computer crashed. I grew up teaching myself HTML and CSS, how to publish Notepad files named Index.html onto my Geocities site. Our school didn’t have wifi. We had “laptop carts” that the teachers had to call dibs on for the class on an as-needed basis. My dad once gave me his HP Pocket to take to school but there wasn’t much I could do with it.

Side affects of augmented reality

In the race to get laptops into the classroom, we didn’t stop to ask what the side effects of “learning through screens” might be. Some classes are even bringing in virtual reality for education without really knowing the side effects of young brains in VR. We learned at VR Day Atlanta, that young minds and memories are manipulated by VR. The added benefit of being in virtual reality for education it isn’t proven.

With smartphones affecting our parenting and our kids, we learn that software icons like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates limited their kids’ tech use. I took social media apps, Twitter and Instagram, off my phone at the end of December. I had taken Facebook off my phone months earlier but this time I deleted all the cookies from my phone’s browser so I couldn’t check it that way. I remember taking a picture of a dinner I was particularly proud of but remembered I had nowhere to post it. Since then I haven’t missed social media on my phone at all. Making my smartphone “dumb” by turning off notifications and removing social media was one of the best things I’ve done. I feel like a more engaged parent.

Already though, my 10-month old son wants my phone if it’s within reach. We video call family or he watches a recorded video of his dad reading to him. My son lights up when he sees his dad on the video call. In an augmented world, his dad might be able to be in the kitchen with us, even though he’s technically somewhere across the world. I want to be the parent who influences my son by reading a pysical book, not a Kindle or my phone. So, I read him Augmented Human (sorry Helen, he doesn’t find it as entertaining as the Christmas Tree book that plays Jingle Bells).

Technology grows at a rapid rate. Papagiannis makes great points about how AR lets disabled people “see” with wearable technology or sound. AR has a lot of benefit for the enterprise but I think we’re seeing technology negatively affect our personal lives. Papagiannis too warns that “we are already bombarded by technology and notifications”. Certain types of AR has the potential to, “foster a culture of avoidance and even ignorance. We should not turn a blind eye to the realities of reality” (Papagiannis20).

This post is part of the VR Book Club Series. This month we’re reading Augmented Human by Helen Papagiannis.

Read Part 2: Is Smell-O-Vision the Future of AR?

Read Part 3: Designing the Best AR for Humanity

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Should we be augmented human?

3 responses to “Should We be Augmented Human?”

  1. some genuinely interesting points you have written.


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