The viral popularity of Pokémon Go, and with it the abrupt arrival of Augmented Reality in the mainstream has prompted me to track down a short story I read a few years back: To Hie from Far Cilenia by Karl Schroeder. It’s about the combination of two kinds of AR: Augmented Reality and Alternate Reality. Augmented reality superimposes additional information on the real world, and in the story, this is used to construct parallel societies. Imagine a future “game” where you don’t just have to go to certain places, but rather get directed to do certain things:
… they tended rooftop gardens or drove vans containing produce from location to secret location. Everything they needed for basic survival was produced outside of the formal economy and took no resources from it.
With AR glasses seemingly just a few years off, this does not seem like a particularly futuristic idea.
While tracking down this story, I finally got around to reading the entire anthology it was published in: Metatropolis, which is excellent. The book’s second story, Stochasi-City by Tobias Buckell, contains some fascinating ideas about the combination of AR and the gig economy (called turking, after Amazon Mechanical Turk). The ability to get instructions in real-time, from a potentially anonymous source, could be devastatingly effective in organising a crowd-sourced insurgency:
All you did for a turked army was to put a brick down by the side of a road. And maybe all it took was a few hundred other bricks placed to create a roadblock. Individually, you could claim you were just making a buck […] as a whole, a vast and complicated and decentralized attack, they could bring armies down to their knees before anyone knew what had happened. […] I could see [him] opening fire on some starving teenager with a toy gun, while the cameras relayed the horrible results live to some hungry, waiting news service. Then after the cameras shut off, the kids with the real guns, who looked just like the others, moved in to attack.
Of course, this doesn’t need to be violent — later in the story, the technology is used to organise a protest, keeping ahead of the police with superior coordination. Pokémon Go has already been shown to be able to almost instantly mobilise large crowds — it does not take huge leaps of imagination to connect this to protests. In fact, PoGo players were lured to an anti-anti-immigration protest just recently in Germany (link in German).
I don’t really have a big message here — I just had to get those quotes out of my head. Pokémon Go might be the first popular AR game, but it probably won’t be the last, so it’s interesting to consider where those technologies might lead.