Augmented Reality and our World in 2040

There are lots of predictions on the market and buyer trends, but are we doing enough research on how technology is affecting us?

At this time of year, all eyes are set on the future. Predictions for 2021 are rampant, as are predictions for the next 5 to 10 years. 

Let’s jump the gun and travel to 2040. 

The world looks the same through any biological lens, but the city is overlaid with AR that changes everything about how we perceive the world and one another. What we see through these future augmented reality lenses is limited by our position in society and surveillance marketing that gently and ever so kindly is there for our every need. 

MOA: My Own Assistant 

Meet MOA, My Own Assistant. This vision of 2040 is a scene out of the mobile AR experience adapted from the novel Les Furtifs by French science fiction writer Alain Damasio.

Contrary to popular sci-fi concepts of AI, MOA is more symbolic of Siri, Alexa and our other handy assistants. She’s gentle, kind, really sympathetic to our needs and genuinely cares about us. Instead of having many apps to choose from, in MOA, we just have the one. 

As a publicly funded experience, MOA raises awareness about technology, advertising and our relationship with it. It’s an opportunity to explore how technology is impacting us now and in the future.  

A Portal to the Future

It was in Paris earlier this year, at the NewImages Festival, that I put aside my mobile phone and traded in it for a device with MOA installed. In the middle of a great shopping complex in a concrete courtyard, an area was partitioned off for a few days to make way for a portal to 2040. 

Plugging in the audio jack and holding up the phone, MOA’s gentle voice greeted me like a new best friend. We talked for a little while through the mobile interface where I could pick certain reactions to her banter. MOA was awesome. She gave me interesting information and supported my choices, she offered upgrades and even premium memberships. 

MOA was actually so nice that I felt a little guilty about not wanting to pay more, subscribe, or start a free trial for a gym membership. I felt guilty for being a second rate citizen with limited city access and dollars to spend. 

“During the experience, you establish an emotional connection with the artificial intelligence,” says Marie Blondiaux, producer at Red Corner studio that developed MOA. “When it works, you don’t even know it.”

The Future is Now 

So here I am, standing in the Forum des Images, looking through my mobile device with MOA. I see a shopping mall with still and digital billboards, flashing lights, ads, shoppers and a host of goods, all combined with minimal AR overlays. Add in some neon, max out reflection, glare, exposure, put a few haggard-looking mercenaries on the street and boy are we ever living in Cyberpunk 2077 with a little less violence and public indecency. 

But this realization comes with a warning that our culture may be hunted, tracked and shot down just like any one of the unfortunate characters in Cyberpunk— another fictional world set in a not-so-far future with a dystopian twist. 

Environmental extinction, global warming, overpopulation, raging inequality, thick and polluted fog that covers the tops of brutalist buildings, glittering neons to harsh glows from abusive advertisements —  are we looking at a world that’s any worse than MOA’s proposed digital utopia? While Cyberpunk 2077 takes things to the extreme, the threat and reality of MOA’s subtle influences are just as deadly. 

“AR will free people from screens and provide direct access to a lot of services. This could be cool, but what if you have all aspects of your life driven by one AI?” says Blondiaux. 

Understanding New Media

“It’s important to have these immersive experiences that make you question your reaction in the story. Information is not enough, because we have too much of it,” says Blondiaux. 

After I trade in MOA for my own device, receiving it with a little bit of trepidation, Blondiaux outlines three types of reactions that people have from media:

  1. Knowledge: you have information but won’t change your behavior. 
  2. Reaction: you have a tangible experience that enables you to understand and relate to the information, ie. what it’s like to be dependent on the AI.
  3. Action: you experience engaging interactive content that enables you to take action and make changes. 

“We are more and more aware. We know that advertising in society is not good for us,” says Blondiaux. 

But it’s a battle of nature versus nurture, or knowledge versus reward hormones. Our phones are supposed to be a tool that we understand how to use and benefit from, but MOA turns the tables. In MOA’s digital society, we are the tools, receiving little doses of dopamine produced by our own biological factories that power the consumption of goods and services. 

As our interview wraps up, Blondiaux says that media education is the best thing that we could give to people right now. Her team’s vision is to have MOA distributed in public libraries, accompanied by an assignment where visitors write a letter to their phone as an opportunity to understand their relationship with it.

“Technically MOA is very simple, it gives people the chance to reflect on their relationship with their phone,” says Blondiaux. 

However, for many of us who are already aware that technology can bring out both the best and worst of human nature, what’s stopping us from acting on what we tacitly already know? 

It’s herd behavior, safety in numbers, whatever you want to call it. 

Tipping the Scales 

What a ride we’ve had from MOA. It was a story well done. We’ve talked about utopia and dystopia, culture and capitalism, democracy and bureaucracy, technology and society, among many more themes. 

While augmented reality ads are on the rise, persuasive media still and will come in all shapes and spatial dimensions from articles, emails, gifs, stills, videos, games and heartfelt messages, just to name a few. 

Some of these serve valuable content that provides utility, public awareness, positive engagement, social experience, and entertainment. However, it’s the subtle psychological undertones that are laying down a code that will dictate our future for better or worse. 

Around the World 

It’s not all doom and gloom. I’ve previously written about France’s and the United Kingdom’s approach to funding public projects, and there’s good news there to support good tech and projects such as MOA

For the United States I’m optimistic that, despite the fact that there’s just as much cultural as there is social support, the country will pull through for a strong 2040 with positive change. 

As we compare MOA to the present, is the potential for such a world so far as 2040, or are we pretty much already there? As we all keep our eyes peeled on the road ahead, what can we do in the here and now to make sure we take the right turn? The road to the future isn’t always a one way street. 

You can download MOA on the Google Play and Apple store for free. I recommend that you try it (with health and safety in mind!)outdoors in a city or in a commercial building for maximum effect. 

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