About 50 years ago, a company recording music asked ‘It is live, or is it Memorex?’ suggesting their method of replicating sound [memorex] was so authentic, it was impossible to tell the difference between a live singer and the recording.1Now, we all know there is a difference between someone singing in front of us and listening to a mechanical device, even if it may not be audible.
Experiences are huge these days. People will pay lots of money to be treated specially, to have personalized service, to be pleasantly surprised by extra touches that suggest thoughtfulness. Set on a backdrop of automation and self-serve apps, finding value in an experience, as a differentiator, is understandable.
As we careen towards all-knowing artificial intelligence, experiences will simultaneously get easier and harder to, well, experience. Everything we want to do will require less than the blink of an eye (to our invisible sensors, ordering that the lights be turned on, a peppermint tea, or to book a vacation in Jamaica). With every whim attainable, where will we find gratification? – the feeling of accomplishment, the victory of defeating an intractable problem, or the joy of a unique experience.
This train of thought emerged as I wondered which would be better, if I had the choice:
- having augmented reality correct my ‘vision’ to perceive everything around me in high resolution, or
- bio-engineering to repair my eyes to perfect function.
Augmented reality: The technology to have a sensor perceive my visual environment, to capture images of everything around me in real time, from a few centimetres away to hundreds of feet in the distance, and relay the information to my eyes in a way that my current visual acuity understands, providing my brain with a perfect picture of what’s going on around me.
Bio-engineering: The technology to biologically repair the shape, flexibility and functionality of my eyeballs to 20/20 vision without any corrective eyewear.
Based on the current status of various technologies, I project that augmented reality will be available first.
My gut says, I want my eyeballs repaired, not the tech that tells me what’s there, even if I can’t see it. Augmented reality comes from a machine, so it isn’t me. Bioengineering seems more natural, an extension of the body’s inherent repair processes.
If we become transhumans2, augmented reality has the potential to let us ‘see’ better than human perfect sight. What’s not to love?
I don’t want to rely on an external prop to function if I don’t have to3. Aside from the inconvenience of having to remember to carry and hang on to glasses or some tech4, is there really any difference between augmented reality and bioengineering? Being able to see perfectly is fantastic, does it matter how you get there?
This is where the Memorex reference comes in.
If the question is ‘is it important if it’s real or an indistinguishable reproduction?’, we could ask an art collector. Or anyone willing to pay a few hundred dollars to attend a concert when they could listen to a higher quality recording at home for $10. We know the value of an experience. Thus, the third strike against augmented reality to correct my vision, after it being an unnatural process, and non-autonomous function, is the inauthentic experience.
Using augmented reality to completely correct or get super-vision would be awesome for a while, but ultimately, not be as satisfying as it could be. The answer to the 50 year old question is: It might sound or look the same, but it isn’t.
1For a history of the brand :https://www.brandchannel.com/2016/01/11/memorex-011116/.
2Transhumans are humans with augmented abilities bestowed by technology, perhaps like Robocop.
3Because mechanical things fail. And software-based things fail worse, meaning more irrationally, with less warning, and are more difficult to fix when they do.
4 But then, the external technology can be made easy to wear and almost thoughtless to bring along. Who doesn’t have their phone within reach all the time, without feeling this is a burden, because it’s so important to have?