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Imagine tags over people’s heads: Metaverse could make reality ‘disappear’

Imagine tags over people’s heads: Metaverse could make reality ‘disappear’
Reality will cease to exist as we know it, a prominent scientist said, warning that its augmented version will become such an integral part of peoples’ lives that they won’t be able to unplug themselves from their fake existence.

In an op-ed penned last week, Louis Rosenberg, a computer scientist and developer of the first functional augmented reality (AR) system at the US Air Force Research Laboratory, said he was “terrified” by the development of early technology. He claims that AR will “fundamentally” change our society, and not for the better.

Our surroundings will become filled with persons, places, objects, and activities that don’t actually exist, and yet they will seem deeply authentic to us.

Rosenberg says he is both convinced that augmented reality will become central to life, and it will be “magical,” but warned of negative consequences related to “legitimate uses” of the technology “by the powerful platform providers that will control the infrastructure.” He did not mention Facebook, or its operator Meta, by name. 

The scientist noted that AR could be altered by third parties who can inject their own content, perhaps as a paid filter layer that only certain people can see. Giving an example, the scientist noted that floating information bubbles could be added above the heads of fellow users to include descriptive words like “Alcoholic” or “Immigrant” or “Atheist” or “Racist.” 

“The virtual overlays could easily be designed to amplify political division, ostracize certain groups, even drive hatred and mistrust,” he contended. 

AR will become as integral to modern day life as internet access is today, the scientist suggested, adding that people will “become thoroughly dependent on the virtual layers of information projected all around us.” Rosenberg claimed that people will become so attached to their AR world that they become disadvantaged in real life, losing out socially, economically, and intellectually. 

He noted that in the current moment, people can still disconnect themselves from technology, by turning off their phones and stepping away from screens. But AR will change this, he claims. The “last bastion of reliable reality could completely disappear. And when that happens, it will only exacerbate the social divisions that threaten us,” he asserted. 

Rosenberg’s column comes after Mark Zuckerberg, the boss of Meta, formerly known as Facebook, recently announced ambitious plans to build a “metaverse.” Zuckerberg claimed that “you're going to be able to do almost anything you can imagine” on the AR platform, which hopes to be the successor to the mobile internet. 

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