Sunday, 15 February 2015

Microsoft HoloLens - Is this the future we've been waiting for?

I was just saying to my wife the other day that I'm bored with modern technological developments - every iteration of computing or mobile cellphone technology, for example, is a little bit better and faster, but it doesn't enable you to do anything new.

It seems that the last big invention was the Internet, waaaaay back in the 1990s. Everything else we have now that we take for granted is just a logical extension of that basical premise of connectivity: Netflix (on-demand video), Facebook (on-demand social networking), Google (on-demand search)...

Google Glass seemed at first like it might be a truly new technology, until its pricing made it completely inaccessible. Also it didn't seem that cool, did it? It was just a *screen* in front of your eyes, but that was it ... so what if it shaved off a few seconds off you having to pull your smartphone out of your pocket? It wasn't essentially new.

That looks like it's changed now.

Ladies and gentleman, let me introduce you to the Microsoft HoloLens.

1: Start here, get your mind blown: Introductory Video

2: Go behind the scenes, meeting the people: Deeper Down the Rabbit Hole

3: Finally, click here to see that this actually IS a real thing: Microsoft HoloLens Website

My initial thoughts are that this is awesome. I fully agree that staring at a screen (or a variety of them) has always felt too restrictive. We need technology to wrap around us to become truly interactive, rather than just simulating that. Finally, we might have it.

Is this going to change our lives, however, and will it be for the better?

My wife is uneasy about it. She rightly pointed out that it's going to lead to people hating their 'real' lives even more, as they wrap themselves into false digital realities. I don't have to be a psychologist to say that there's going to be very real psychological strain as a result.

That's nothing new either though. We're already feeling the pain of information overload, and this new technology promises to take that to a whole new scary level ... assuming the head-set gets smaller and less intrusive, we're going to be opening ourselves up to living in an 'always on' digital world, while our physical minds just don't have the capacity to process all that information.

I'm not advocating living 'off the grid' with tin-foil wrapped around your head, but I do think that it's going to be a very dangerous technology for a lot of people who lack self-control. Look around you: does 'self-control' come to mind as a term which we'd describe modern society anyway?

I currently don't have Skype open all the time. I currently have very few Facebook friends. I currently don't bother following Twitter. These are all active efforts I'm taking to protect myself from digital overload - or the psychosis of staring at a screen and hitting 'refresh' constantly, hoping that somebody, somewhere, will say something that improves my life dramatically for the better (and of course that never happens).

That won't change for me in a more interactive digital world. But I do wonder what the costs will be for playing Grand Theft Auto in full immersive 3D, for example, and shooting an endless stream of gangsters in the face. Will I feel guilty? Will I feel less discouraged about murdering people in real life? Will the line between reality and make-believe become even more blurred?

I wonder how much the developers of this technology are thinking about its ethical consequences, and to what extent they can even be held accountable for however people end up utilising it. Does the maker of the very first gun turn in his grave whenever a child shoots another child in a 'gang' incident? Or would that have happened anyway, and we're just accentuating the flaws that humans carry in them anyway?

It's exhilarating. It's scary.

The next step will be crossing the divide completely ... uploading human consciousness into a digital realm. Immortality? Why not.

Is my generation going to be the one that never has to die? Let's wait and see. I think that's coming with Windows 20.

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