• Google Pixel Buds and augmented reality in the age of fake news

    A while ago, machine learning artist Mario Klingemann, soon after Google Pixel Buds were announced, tweeted about time translation technology can turn into a tool to tweak reality to please its users.

    The new Google product is not the first to offer real-time in ear translation, but if the quality they promise is to be believed, we can expect it will be the first to see major adoption. And if so, that would be the beginning of a not so distant future in which technologies will directly mediate our perception of reality.

    Smartphone apps are already capable to do so to an extent, for instance with Google Map, whose maps are different depending on our previous activities. But if smartphone-based personal reality is offered to us in a somewhat laggy real-time (as dictated by those: pick from the pocket, unlock swipe, tap app icon moments, etc.) new AR devices will adapt our perception of the world to our personal setting in instantaneous speed.

    And so we’ll start by augmenting our ears, but fast forward 5-10 years and it will be our eyes. Mobile devices as AR platforms are for Google, Apple and Facebook just a gateway for the device that all of them are already working on: AR glasses. And after that our digital tools will be refactored for the always-on, real time capabilities of augmented reality.

    It’s at that stage that things might get problematic. Because those same companies with the resources to actually deliver immersive AR technologies are the ones that recently had issues with the of content that they algorithmically, deliver to their users. Without getting into the detail of what those issues are (Alexis Madrigal wrote extensively about it in relation to recent events, for instance here), the core of the problem is to me in that critical balance between assuring reasonably “good quality” information versus maximising our “engagement” with the information we are proposed to “consume”. And as advertisers, the main source of income for those platforms, pay per clicks, news feed algorithms have been created to favour the latter.

    So, if we are concerned about social bubbles and echo chambers now, how will it be when the same principles of “maximising engagement” will be applied in transforming in real-time the world we perceive? I bet that Millenials turning critiques into “you are very special and deserve an award”, will happen but it will also be the least of our problems.

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