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Taking the Ethical Road in an Augmented World

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Taking the Ethical Road in an Augmented World

One of our most recent research pieces at the Center for the Future of Work lays out the road ahead for AR and VR technologies....

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One of our most recent research pieces at the Center for the Future of Work lays out the road ahead for AR and VR technologies.

“Augmenting the Reality of Everything” is essentially a manifesto showcasing how business processes involving people moving through time and space will reconfigure themselves as augmented reality “Journeys”.

In my travels, many of the discussions with technologists, thinkers, academics and providers make it pretty clear the "reality of augmented reality" is probably coming at us faster than we realize.

It’s an exciting time. But there’s a potential for a dark side too.

Already, up and coming players like Magic Leap are blazing into innovations that will beam light directly into your eyes. More than a handful of companies are talking about eyeball tracking software embedded into the technology.

Think about the ramifications of analyzing data of that type for a moment. What *did* they look at? Where were people looking at it? For how long?

People are already jumpy about recent Facebook revelations, causing a rethink about the role of privacy when using other platforms like Google, Netflix, and Amazon. (And – until now – have been largely blasé about the privacy aspects). Naysayers will also argue: “Our analog world IS beautiful – why would we want to obscure it?”

The simple answer, as ever, is “all things in moderation”. When it comes to the future of work, people often imagine it as either utopian or dystopian, but history shows the reality is usually a mix of both.

We humans are becoming something of a chassis within this digital, instrumented, always-on, immersive and augmented world. Given the potential for vastly accelerated – and lucrative – analysis, it’s important to remember that down inside everything, it's real people who are generating the data. And it's not too far-fetched to think they'll start to exert ownership and control of that data sooner rather than later. The push-back will begin. That will have a profound impact on the future of ethics as well as the future of work. And drive new jobs of the future like Personal Data Brokers and Chief Trust Officers. Roles like AR Journey Builders will need ethics hardwired into their responsibilities every bit as much as technical know-how and immersive design.

AR technologies are developing especially quickly. They could make the data collection we’ve seen from social media so far seem quaint. Put into the wrong hands, AR journeys that track our every move and overload us with an onslaught of too much information, a cacophony of commercials, popups and texts could wind up being a hellish sensory overload -- at best.

At worst, it doesn’t take too much a leap of the imagination to see how – in the hands of a dictatorship – technologies like eyeball tracking could slip off the slope into Orwellian territory very quickly

Since most of us reading this live in liberal democracies, our work right now is to get the right ethics baked into the new models early - while there is still time. It’s heartening to see academic institutions like the University of Southern California (and others) endowing professors of ethics for the new technologies of AR/VR immersion. USC professor Philip Lelyveld’s presentation on the ethics of AR was one of the best I attended at last year’s Augmented World Expo.

In our whitepaper, we laid out a six-element model to help get the phasing of AR journeys “right” and as minimally jarring as possible. Everything from the initial immersion (or, “Intro") as well as getting back out again (the "Outro") with a soft landing into the “the real world”.

Additionally, because AR headsets allow users freedom of motion and the ability to remain productive with other tasks, it'll probably end up being the medium of choice (unlike full immersion VR).

Watch this space. Promising case studies show the unqualified good these technologies are bringing, from helping improve ecology to putting smiles on the faces of the elderly in nursing home. The list goes on and on. The right ethics will chart a pathway towards a hopeful future that leverages immersive technologies for the good of people, business and creativity.

Privacy is a central ingredient in the equation – especially today when the headlines about all-things-Facebook remind us of the central importance of good ethics. Business leaders, futurists, and policymakers need to look at the interplay of privacy, ethics and trust again and again. Every day (and twice on Sunday). Timing is everything, and now is the time. It’s critical to get ahead of the curve now BEFORE business models of the future are hardcoded and established.

We’ll be writing more on this subject in the coming weeks and months, so stay tuned!


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