[Dystopian] Experience in a Digital Society

Posted on: July 25, 2017 by Rob Price

I wake up to find Julie next to me. At least it was her. She’s probably not there now. Just a motionless Experience Android, a hollow reminder of the night before. We’ve only known each other two weeks, and yet the relationship feels so real. I don’t know where she lives, or how she looks, or how she talks. I only know the persona that she casts into my Android. I’ve given her the controls to configure her to the shapes and movements that she wants me to experience. She’s picked her voice, her tone … and yet I don’t know if it is how she sounds, or how she feels. It’s just the physical persona she’s designed for me to experience.

All that I know is that her words are her words, and that in return, she hears my words. I picked the setting that was true voice. I’ve nothing to hide. You never know though. When everything is digital, how can you truly know? We are playing with perceptions, with hopes and fears, with dreams and fantasies. We are buried in alternate realities, no longer limited by the boundaries of our physical travels.

I reach lazily across and grab the app control, seeing who is online, awake and free to upload. No-one is there, so I switch to AI mode and we both rise, dress and go in search of breakfast. At least, it’s probably fair to say, I just move from the bed to the chair, whilst my android fixes me up. She knows what I’ll want probably better than I do. All that data uploaded over the years … shopping habits, social media likes, medical analysis and DNA … she even watches me all the time too – every expression I make, every reaction to every taste – all measured, all recorded. She knows me better than I know myself!

As I eat my porridge, I feel her move behind me and start massaging my shoulders. There’s a moment’s hesitation as I don’t know whose hands they will be, but then I recognize the voice of another virtual friend. She’s checking what I’m doing, as she’s little else to do now that so few of us work. She’s suggesting we create a new storyline through playing the latest reality game, so I leave the android to clear up and move to the (game) experience room.

Since virtual reality was replaced by full holographic projections, most of us spend hours every day immersed in experiences, sometimes travelling through places and times through the world that once was, others in the middle of fantastical and imaginary experiences. As we travel, and as we play, everything is streamed to others who want to watch. We have become a society obsessed in watching others experience as well as ourselves, to see how they think, react and respond to the game. A digital society of virtual performers, and of voyeurs.

Nearly all games and game content is geared towards adults these days. With continued medical advances and life extending technologies, more and more restrictions have emerged around having children. The planet just does not have the space. We are a continually (average) ageing society with proportionally fewer and fewer younger people. And with living longer, and fitter for longer, boredom is a real problem. In an experience economy, we all crave new experiences, new relationships, new stories. Yet, we need never leave our living space. Everyone comes to us. And with the Experience room, and the Experience Androids – what else could we ever need?

Some readers have asked me why I wrote this. What I was trying to portray? I wrote purposefully to shock, to pull together a number of dystopian technology driven threads that could be misused, creating a world that as a reader once said to me “if that’s the way it will be, I want no part in it”.

There are many articles in the technology press talking about the likely early adoption of android robots in the sex industry, and combining that with the nature of exploratory relationships in chatrooms or apps and the customization of avatars from the games industry, doesn’t seem like a step too divorced from today’s reality. Players of such games will know that the personas we create in such games are not always the personality and behaviors from reality.

Integration of massive data sensing with such robots, and predictive/even prescriptive analytics that in essence promote a laziness of culture is also a logical step. The point about ‘knowing me better than I know myself’ is a logical conclusion of massive data analytics or scenario modelling – and one that can have massive benefits, but also raises a wide range of privacy or free will concerns.

Gaming, virtual reality, recorded game play content, and the monetization of that created content, or the live streaming of that content – it’s all here now. And its use is only increasing. Don’t think for a moment that gaming is only the realm of a few geeky teenagers – we have generations who have grown up with gaming as a way of life – and revenue spend is continued on the up.

So what you might ask? The point of our Digital Society research is to consider how the technology industry as a whole can best drive the most positive outcomes that benefit society, and to help protectagainst those that destroy or subvert society. Of course, that in itself requires a view on what good and bad looks like. And this way just one way to consider a future we may not all embrace.

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About Rob Price
COO for Worldline UK&I and member of the Scientific Community
Rob is COO for Worldline UK&I, the European leader in the payment and transactional services industry. He was previously Head of Digital for Atos UK&I, is a member of the Atos Scientific Community and was a founder of the award winning CIO/CTO Atos blog, the predecessor to Ascent. He successfully melds inspiration and creativity with strategic direction and implementation, focusing on driving more efficient and effective exploitation of technology and services to drive positive business outcomes and better connect our clients with their end consumers. The insight gained through both operational delivery roles and strategic Digital evangelist roles ensures that he views the Digital Revolution from multiple perspectives. Find him on twitter @The_Digital_COO

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