17 June 2018

Privacy in the age of Augmented Reality

It is said that the stone age lasted 2.5 million years.
The agricultural age lasted a few millenia.
The industrial age lasted a few centuries.
The digital age lasted a few decades.

Now we are said to be at the brink of a new age: "The age of Augmented Reality".

We are already there. We have virtual reality headsets. We pick up our phone to internet-search for answers when we have questions.
More importantly, we are at the doorstep of mind-controlled devices. Microsoft has already applied for a patent. You could eventually even communicate with people or animals without having to speak a word.

While it's fascinating to see what technology has to offer, there's also the element of loss of privacy. Governments and corporations got access to our homes via the internet. Now they have even more intimate information of us via our smartphones. With brain controlled devices, they are posed to have access to the very depths of our thoughts.

I had an SMS conversation with a friend about a cab service and in a couple of hours and on the next day I received SMS advertisements about that cab service. I have never received ads about that service before in my life. So now the harsh reality is that even if you avoid messaging apps, your mobile phone service providers are monitoring and monetizing on your SMS'es and perhaps your conversations too.

There's plenty more.

In-spite of knowing this, most people happily allow companies and governments to have access to their personal data. Because the services are free!
Given the way my data was used without my consent for sending me an SMS ad, I wonder if we would have privacy even if we paid for using GMail, Facebook, WhatsApp etc.

Are our thoughts going to remain private?
I'm very sure that companies designing mind control apps and devices will also be devising an elaborate strategy to convince people to happily give them access to their minds and thoughts. In the same care-free way we do with free email and messaging services.

People born before the 1950's used to envy us when they saw how fascinating the digital age was. They weren't able to adapt quickly enough to use it, but they wished they could. They told us how lucky we were to be born into the "jackpot generation" which is witnessing a phenomenal change in technology.
Some people don't envy us though. They envy our grandparents, saying that maybe they lived in a world with lesser access to medical facilities, information, travel and a lot of other things we enjoy. Even then, they lived happier lives where life moved at a more comfortable pace. Food, air and water were purer. Privacy was something they had a lot more control over.

There will come a time though, when people will ask if privacy is really so necessary? A time when information and thought will be so pervasive that it'll become a lot easier to trust someone because you already know everything about them. This would remove barriers of communication and basically the entire world, not just humans, but even animals and perhaps trees and plants would be able to function as a single cooperative entity, sharing knowledge and purpose. Perhaps leading to a time when we finally answer the ultimate question of why we exist in this universe!