In early 1939, the world’s scientific community first learned that German physicists had learned how to split a uranium atom. In mid-summer 2016, my neighbor’s kid deployed augmented reality to trap a Mewtwo. How are these related? Each event marks a turning point in the evolution of revolution.
Following news of the German breakthrough, the United States embarked on a remarkable and successful secret project that ultimately employed over 100,000 people and cost 26 billion in current U.S. dollars. While the necessity of using these first two fission weapons is still debated, experts agree that an invasion of the Japanese mainland (planned as Operation Downfall) would have taken a fearsome toll – as many as 1.25 million allied dead and wounded with perhaps tens of millions of civilian casualties.
So how does this translate into people bumping into trees and signs while staring at their phones? Now, just like then, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Pokémon Go is a wake-up call to defense strategists and conspiracy theorists. Consider the facts: A company invented a game that results in otherwise normal people dropping everything to stare at a screen while trying to find things that aren’t there and pay money for the privilege.
But wait – there’s more.
By participating in this diabolically engaging augmented-reality quest, you also give up a few things to the parent company. Like your location. And your phonebook. And your apps. And where you’ve been. And (with a little predictive analysis) where you might be going. And where your kids are going. And who you associate with. And so on.
This treasure trove of intel is just too juicy to remain on a server farm somewhere. It will be sold and sliced and diced and sold again and again. And chances are, all of this info will be assembled and crunched and deployed in order for other companies to sell us more stuff. No one has any problem with that – big wheels have to keep on turnin’. But is there any risk in Big Brother standing idly by and watching its citizens be sold to the highest bidder?
Yes, there is considerable risk in this “wait and see” policy.
Pokémon Go is just a very clever means to get people to give up personal information, which has been the name of the digital game since dial-up. But what happens when an AR “game” comes along that is just too amazing to be true, or requires an above-average processing load or must be played during the day between certain hours? What if it is all three?
It could be coincidence, but isn’t there also a slim chance that some party is trying to keep our citizens distracted, or bog down our power grid or put everyone inside where they can be easily located and identified? Then you start considering why some party (or group, or country) would want this to happen and it gets a bit more worrisome.
Think of it: a weapon of mass instruction.
Big Brother is often the butt of jokes, but some brilliant research has also resulted from the public sector. I am certain those same minds have already sounded the alarm about the possibility of digital infiltration and identification. And they did it long before this summer. So what will they do about it?
Well, we probably won’t know for sure, since the project will certainly be Roswell’d deep into the intelligence budget. But here’s what I predict:
- There will be publicly funded efforts to study what makes sane people give out so many personal details, especially in the age of rampant identity theft. These studies will be spread among several different universities, think tanks and corporate research labs so not everything is accessible in one place.
- There will be publicly funded efforts at developing games and apps as popular as the aforementioned Pokémon Go. These efforts basically will be live tests to validate what was learned in step 1.
- To hedge its bets, Big Brother will also continue pushing for “back door” access to gaming and other applications with the potential to engage the public. Obviously, this will continue to be a problem on many levels. Tim Cook may have said it best, “You can’t have a back door that’s only for the good guys.”
- This will be a huge undertaking, employing tens of thousands of people and costing many billions of dollars. And just like with GPS and microwave ovens and cargo shorts, this research will eventually spawn hundreds of useful, entertaining and productivity-enhancing products, along with the businesses to market them.
Augmented reality is already used for training, assembly, advertising, shopping and, of course, gaming. Social media has embraced it as well. As the optics improve and the prices drop, consumer applications will explode. But its increasing acceptance into our lives comes with risk.
Jon Fisher is CEO and co-founder of CrowdOptic, a founding Google Glass partner and is managing director of Teahupoo LLC: Prior to CrowdOptic, Jon served as CEO of Bharosa (Oracle NASDAQ: ORCL), NetClerk (BidClerk) and AutoReach (AutoNation NYSE: AN). Jon is a recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of The Year Award (Emerging Category, 2007) and is a prolific inventor, named on 45 patents globally. Contact Jon at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about Jon is available at Wikipedia.