As I entered TechCrunch.com into my browser, I was expecting to be met with a wide range of stories covering the tech landscape including stories on rising startups and gadgets. However, there was one device that dominated the homepage – the HoloLens 2. For those unaware, the HoloLens was a product released by Microsoft back in 2016 which acts as a visor mounted to a head strap. The technology analyzes the environment around you to essentially create a virtual office charged with floating screens and objects that can be manipulated by using your hands.
Now what is so special about HoloLens 2? The latest version of the HoloLens has been introduced as a solution to the problems plaguing the original HoloLens “mixed reality” headset. The use of Augmented Reality (AR) is not new, yet, this product aims to redefine how AR can be applied to the workforce. The updated product, HoloLens 2, boasts a significantly larger field of view – a serious issue pressing the original device – and higher resolution along with increased comfortability. The device will soon be made available for a price of $3500.
The HoloLens 2 has improved the interaction between the user and the virtual world. Microsoft has clarified that the new technology more accurately tracks the gaze of the user so that the software can better understand where one is looking so that the overall experience is more natural. Microsoft has also made it clear that with the introduction of this device, despite past displays of games, it is not intended as a consumer hardware. Rather, its main focus is on business applications along with some minor educational applications. Enterprises can use this device to train employees for various services or to allow a group of workers to analyze a single hologram represented in this virtual world. As Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, put it, “When you change the way you see the world, you change the world you see”.
We are exponentially coming closer to an interconnection between the physical and virtual worlds as we know it. This mix will soon transform how everyone works and interacts with one another. Consequently, the ethics following this transition must be evermore considered.
Augumented Reality will soon reinvent the world we live in and it is an industry working simultaneously with artificial Intelligence that will strongly mark how the world operates. The introduction of this headset at MWC Barcelona, has had me questioning the infinite applications of such technology. It also moved to me to reconsider an article I read by Kevin Kelly, the author of “The Inevitable”, the book that I read and wrote about in one of my previous blogs.
The article, titled “AR Will Spark the Next Big Tech Platform – Call It Mirrorworld”, examines how Augmented Reality has already started to hint at a glimpse of a new world and what to expect as we approach this revolution.
I should’ve expected to have my brain be tossed around by the initial cover art that headlined the article:
The article opens with a short anecdote of Adam Savage, famous for his appearance on MythBusters, and his experience with augmented reality goggles. Savage explained that he tried on a MagicLeap headset while at home in his office one day in 2018. What came next was unexpected. After the device was able to successfully scan the room, it rendered a whale swimming past Savages windows along the street. This was just an introduction to Savage on what the Mirrorworld could really offer.
Kevin Kelly offers this story up as the foundation for what will come with the Mirrorworld. Right now, we are only seeing various virtual fragments of this Mirrorworld through these AR headsets, yet soon, everything in the real world (place and objects) will have a full-size digital twin in this world and it is this world that will become the next great digital platform. Personally, it stumps me to think about this world as a platform in itself, however, the applications of such technology, such as everything having a virtual twin, are truly infinite. Kelly believes that someday, through this technology, we will be able to experience virtual landscapes that will feel real – what these landscape architects, the scientists constructing these virtual places, call placeness. This world does not simply embody just the physical appearance of objects and places, rather the “context, meaning, and function” in which we will be able to experience it just as we do the real world.
If you’re not yet captivated by this concept, I suggest researching further. It is hard to accurately offer the insights of this technology but Kelly provides a helpful example through this brief description:
“Eventually we’ll be able to search physical space as we might search a text—“find me all the places where a park bench faces sunrise along a river.” We will hyperlink objects into a network of the physical, just as the web hyperlinked words, producing marvelous benefits and new products.”
Indeed there will be unlimited benefits to this technology, however, I am also concerned about the ethics and social considerations that inevitably arise. Could this technology be harmful by distorting how one experiences the world to such a great extent? What if one’s own mind becomes completely enraptured by this technology and even without the headset, if needed at all, one might struggle to distinguish the physical world from the virtual? Nevertheless, this is contingent upon this technology truly becoming commonplace and the experience undeniably being so realistic. In our current world, it seems as though technology has already invited so much mental illness into society that it is hard to imagine this technology without bearing in mind how this could further amplify the problems like this that we see today.
As I noted in a tweet the other day, I read an article in which one tech-savy man experimented with his technology addiction. He essentially went on a retreat and barred himself from the use of technology to see the benefits that would arise. This man, named Kevin, was enlightened as he was able to take note of things that he was unable to before as his technology usage declined. Kevin explained that he started to feel human again, a seemingly sad revelation. In one quote taken from the article, Kevin evaluates how astounding our technological progress is by comparing the wonders of the iPhone and the problems that have accompanied it, such as it being a stress-inducer, to it being “as if scientists had invented a pill that gave us the ability to fly, only to find out that it also gave us dementia.”
I found this quote to be extremely thought-provoking as it correctly serves as a testament to our current technological stage. As we further install things like Augmented Reality into our daily lives, it is necessary to be cautious in our progression and weigh the costs that may arise.
We have already come so far in this technology. Almost everyone has had the opportunity to play around with these innovations as we have seen games like Pokémon Go which took the world and gave only a small preview of AR’s power.
As devices like Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 supplement our physical world, more industries are working to incorporate the use of ‘digital twins’. As more industries make use of this technology, such as what we saw being used by Houzz, the faster the world becomes copied into said Mirrorworld. As robots increasingly become a reality, this Mirrorworld will become theirs and we will be in the same world right by their side. Siri, no longer just a voice coming from your phone, will become a full 3D representation. As one person is quoted saying in Kelly’s article, we will be able to not only use pencils as writing utensils, yet also presumably as a magic wand. A mind-boggling concept.
From gaming to creating a virtual office, Augmented Reality is transforming the world that we know. Imagine a world where everything you know is interconnected – the chair you’re sitting on will be able to detect spreadsheets. Accordingly, it is essential that we account for our human values as the real world and the virtual one further work to mend together.