IoT and virtual reality: What’s next?

IoT virtual realitySmart doorbells, clever fridges, talking TVs, intelligent manufacturing, self-driving cars – all pretty cool. The IoT, in fact, is chock full of potentially very cool things, many of which we should expect to see becoming the norm within the next couple of years, if not sooner.

But, what could be cooler than mixed reality? That is, the merging of our senses with virtual reality gear, such that we get not just a walled off world of virtual stuff, but a mixed, mingled world of the physical and the digital. A world where, should one be wearing the appropriate tech, we can see and interact with digital objects that appear to coexist with the physical space around us.

An article in Wired is a great overview of the topic, and touches on one of the more interesting startups trying to blaze a (digital) trail in this new world, a company called Magic Leap.

The article describes the likely path towards Mixed Reality (MR) technology becoming part of our normal lives, especially some of the technical challenges that face the seamless interlacing of data streams with rather stubborn objects, like tables and chairs, which despite their solidity do tend to get moved around a lot (have you ever thought about how often the stuff on your desk gets rearranged during a work day?).

Now take a further leap forward, beyond the end of the Wired article. Picture a world in which, not only are there mixed reality data streams pouring into the cool glasses we’ll all end up wearing (perhaps one day your time truly will come, Google Glass), but also equivalent data streams flowing from a myriad of objects around us. Your MR glasses will know where you are looking, and the door will get a heads up that you’re thinking about leaving. Peer out the window for a few seconds, and your car will turn itself on in readiness for you to walk down to the parking lot.

The author, Kevin Kelly, already makes the point that, should MR become the norm for interaction (and it’s hard to see how it will not) we are potentially walking into a global surveillance state:

“Inevitably, however, some will graduate to view this immense trove of personalized data as a commercial treasure. The familiar puzzles of its legal status, who has access to it, what government claims apply, and what can be done with it will occupy us as a society in the near future.“

With our every glance being tracked and analyzed, it will not be difficult to imagine that the information will be of great interest to corporate bodies and government entities, alike. Add the capability to track a vast amount of other data, gathered from around us, and you have the potential for immense harvesting, and analysis, of highly personal information.

As always, Amazon is peering over the technological and societal abyss and figuring out what it might look like. The recent Amazon bricks and mortar stores have plenty of stuff in them to buy, but no price tags.

If you want to know what something costs, you use the Amazon app to check the price online. Now, imagine mixing that model with MR, in which you could simply glance at objects and get, in that instant, a personalized price, just for you, based on your buying experiences and preferences. The store will know who you are, the things on the shelves will be smart (as will the shelves themselves, of course), and your interactions will be monitored and enhanced by the MR device you wear. All for a price.

I’ve written before on the privacy issues associated with the IoT, and the risk we run as a society when it comes to unfettered gathering of information. There is, and always will be, a tradeoff between privacy and the value of the information we exchange. In short – make the world a sufficiently compelling place for me to share my data, and I probably will. Adding a technology such as Mixed Reality takes that level of personalization of data to a much deeper level.

Like Faust, who made that most dangerous of bargains with the devil, “A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart.” With Mixed Reality, we will both see in the world around us the things we desire, and at the same time, we’ll also share those desires with the world.

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