Future Visions Debunked, Part II: Why the Future Will (Still) Be a Messy Place
Keiichi Matsuda has done what others struggled to achieve: To paint a realistic picture of our future. While lots of people say his Hyper-Reality is “dystopian” or just plain crazy, I think it’s closer to the truth than the polished corporate future visions that we are used to see. Let’s explain why. It’s probably best to follow the video along with my commentary.
“Hyper-Reality” aka Why The Future Will Not Be Nice and Clean
When we look at the usual future visions, oftentimes we’ll see a cleaned up and well structured image of how our society will look like in some years. This is mostly due to the fact that corporate future visions try to sell you something and as such cannot paint a negative picture of the future. On the contrary, dystopian visions mostly emerge from groups of artists that are free from commercial pressure. And these groups probably create the more realistic visions: Looking at our current environment, it’s a safe bet to assume that some of the irritations, conflicts and distractions we are experiencing every day will stay with us for a long time. So while clean future visions are nice to look at, they miss the point that the world is essentially a messy place, governed by forces with different agendas that are hard to unify. Matsuda acknowledges this in his vision and intensifies it in a scary way. It’s a future vision on crystal meth, a bold attempt to overaccelerate current trends.
0:08 Distraction, everywhere
The viewer is thrown into the hyper-realistic world of Matsuda. Straight after the glitch-filled intro, we find ourselves looking at some board game, surrounded by UI layers for gamification, job search, messaging and even an incoming call notification. All of this is arranged in a VR-like overlay, merging with the world surrounding the protagonist. This is not the clean virtual world many of us imagine when thinking about the future, but rather a pimped up Asian-Android-with-a-thousand-plugins-enabled version of UI design. It’s horrible, and that’s why it’s realistic: Most of the interfaces surrounding us today are, in fact, horrible. Think of your ATM machine, think about addictive games, think of the on-screen controls of your new TV, think of attention-grabbing infographics, think of the 90s style interfaces of recent cars — now throw them all into a blender, wait 10 years and you arrive at something similar to what is depicted in Matsudas hyper-reality.
00:31 Your job sucks
Negating the potentially beneficial impacts of technology on civilization, Matsuda paints a picture of the average worker in the future. The gig-economy is in full motion and freelancers will see the ugly side of the uber-isation of everything. If you are not one of the top 5 to 10 percent in a certain skill group, you will hunt for small jobs that still can’t be automated. This is indicated in the conversation above, as our main character seems to have studied to be a teacher. It’s interesting to read the open job descriptions: Posing as a mascot, buying groceries, elderly care, proof reading, user testing. Even though many of these things could be automated, it might be cheaper to send a human instead. Microjobbing includes having to report to an “inspiration guru”, that tracks your every step and punishes you for wrongdoing with a bad rating. It’s fun to see a future version of our current Snapchat filter craze being applied to our guru. He must really like the tropics.
01:29 City points, loyalty levels and rebooting identities
Gamification plays a big role in the future — not as a gimmick, but as a strong social and societal dynamic, quantifying your skill levels and social status. These basic psychological tricks work incredibly well, as you can see in the current success of games like “Candy Crush Saga”. We don’t have to look far to see the first steps into the direction in our current lifes: Your creditworthiness is determined by a score since decades, your Apple Watch urges you to fill up activity rings and the number of followers on Twitter might influence if you get that job as a Social Media manager. These dynamics are currently isolated and will eventually come together in a reputation system that determines big parts of your social life. Trust will be digitized, in much stronger ways than we experience it now in our AirBnB reviews or eBay ratings. Back to the story: Frustrated with her job situation, the main protagonist considers “rebooting” her profile, but hesitates when faced with a dialog box that reminds her that she would loose all her loyalty points when doing so.
2:20 Commercial hell
Here, the vision excels. That’s how shopping could actually look like in a mixed reality setting. And this is probably why people are sent shopping for their richer counterparts, who probably pay good money to ad-block everything in their vision. If you watch closely what happens in the following seconds, an interesting aspect of our future is shown: A joghurt, seemingly targeted towards a female audience (“beautiful you”), experiences a glitch and it’s VR representation morphs into a “MAN-YOG” (“for real men only”).
Currently, the producers of fast moving consumer goods at least have the decency to alter the package design to appeal to different target groups with the same shitty yoghurt. In the future, that probiotic bullshit might change and optimize its own appearance perfectly for the shopper that is looking at it. I didn’t think that the current perverted reality of branding nonsense could be intensified much more, but this opened my eyes. Marketers, your jobs are safe (as long as you don’t let nasty ethics ruin your game). The same kind of customization can be experienced when facing customer service representatives: Do you want the busty redhead or the professional guy asking you if you plugged in your device properly? Personalization awaits at every corner and it’s spookier than ever before.
4:00 The naked truth
What happens when your AR device shuts down? You are confronted with the skeleton of the digital world. It’s a bit like when your browser needs too long to access a webpage and shows you the basic html view instead — all the necessary information is there, but without fancy CSS and visuals to augment it. QR codes seem to finally have found a purpose here: As markers for interactive AR content, they could actually deliver some value. The vision contains a simple truth: No matter how technologically advanced our future will be, the fallback solutions still have to work, even if there is no electricity and augmentation. Let’s not start to talk and think about backwards compatibility and legacy support here (or you might refrain from buying that fancy Oculus thing this year).
5:03 Crime and camouflage
We are getting closer to the really dark side of things. First of all: Will everyone have a marker floating above their heads, making instant identification (and thus mass surveillance) possible? And if so, who will have access to cloaking devices, identity blockers and protection? Will it be a crime to hide yourself? Or will it be an option that is only open to the wealthy? Not only the insurance industry is interested in your data to assess your risks better and adjust premiums accordingly — everyone from potential partners to your boss will request access to some of your vitals, achievements and prior experiences. So pay higher prices for control over your data or be a slave to corporate entities just to get that 20% rebate — your choice! Criminals will take advantage of this and take your data and accounts hostage — unless you pay them a pretty sum to decrypt your assets. Even now, when your hard drive is taken hostage, the FBI advises to just pay the ransom and get on with your life. And I don’t expect that power balance to change significantly — I mean, even nowadays, big companies are shopping for bitcoins to pay hackers to get back their data. Expect this to evolve into a full-blown industry with hundreds of thousands of “employees”.
5:39 Religion as a superstructure
As we experience complexity rising everywhere, basic values and simple beliefs can be seen as a welcome relief. Our protagonist, after having lost her loyalty points and prior identity due to some hacking incident, sees her only way out of her misery in joining the church. After some swipes, she is in — that customer journey had to be optimized anyway. In “Hyper-Reality”, it’s good old Catholicism that is front and center. Next to these “classic” belief systems, I expect new religions to pop up that modernize religion. The uprising of AI will create autonomous entities that will actually be “god-like”. This will mark the beginning of new belief systems that are centered around technology and are “indistinguishable from magic”.
The verdict for “Hyper-Reality”:
I love “Hyper-Reality” and I think Keeichi Matsuda and Fractal created an incredibly rich piece of art with it. It is pretty much the complete opposite of the Microsoft vision I took apart in an earlier post. My sympathy does not come from a genuine hope that the world will end up like this, but because I think there is a real chance that our future will look similar for a big part of our population. While the well-off will sit in their corner offices, speaking to Siri’s grandsons and daughters to order their custom made Italian leather shoes for the big night out, the majority will have to eat digital dirt to get through the day. The widening gap between the rich and the poor will create scary and depressive worlds for those who cannot afford to live in the clean future we often catch ourselves fantasizing about.